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Gophers are a pest known to many gardeners, and hated by most. They live in all areas of North America except for the far north and east.
With their front claws and front teeth, gophers dig tunnels 6-12 inches below ground that can be up to 800 feet long. These tunnels are concentrated in open fields, lawns, and the gardens we love.
While a mole will dig tunnels and eat mainly grubs and worms, gophers go right for our good stuff—our coveted produce and flowers. They aren’t overly picky, and will eat buds, grass, nuts, roots, and vegetables. Carrots, lettuce, and radishes are a favorite, although any vegetable that is juicy will do. I have a particular problem keeping them away from my young pepper plants.
In our area, with it’s short growing season, gophers have one main breeding season, and that’s usually in June. One minute we’ve got a few tunnels, and we’re planting our garden. The next minute, we’re overrun with gophers. I’ve learned over the years that if I can employ a variety of means to get rid of them in June, the rest of my season isn’t so bad.
If you live in a warmer climate, however, you could see 3-4 breeding cycles a year in your area. How do you get rid of gophers? It’s not easy to do, and it’s a task I have to tackle every single year.
Here are some ways you can try to rid yourself of these rodents from killing them to trying to convince them to leave on their own, and some other things you’ll need to think about as you consider your options.
To Get Rid of Gophers
When someone wants to get rid of gophers, most of the time, they aren’t looking for a way to get them to mosey on down the road to the next house. Most of the time, people just want to kill them. The three most common ways to do this are to trap them yourself, poison them, or to have a predator do the dirty work for you.
There are two varieties of traps you can look to in order to catch your gopher. You can try catch and release, where you catch the little buggers and call animal control to release them for you if you have this option available in your area.
Alternately, you can get a pincer trap (most common) which will kill them. This is the messiest option, and one of the more time consuming ones, but highly effective.
If you are going to use traps, make sure to get two traps so you can put one at the entrance and one at the exit of the tunnel. You’ll want to cover all the other holes and make sure your traps are far enough in the tunnel that the light can’t shine on them.
If you are going to use traps, be sure to place them according to the instructions so you don’t get small birds or other animals in them unwantingly.
If you want someone else to do the dirty work for you, you can locate a professional exterminator or you can invest in their natural predators. Predators you can choose from would include:
- Barn owls
- One family of barn owls can eat 12,000 rodents a year.
- Building owl boxes will encourage owls to frequent your area. However, when the food supply is low, they will travel to find food. If another source of food is highly available close by, your owls may choose to fly to the other food source and overlook your one or two gophers.
- Another thing to consider is the critters you have that you want to keep. If you have baby chicks, cats, or small dogs, you might not want to bring a family of barn owls in.
- Non-venomous snakes
- It’s not uncommon for those who live in the country to get a non-venomous snake (or two) for their garden at the beginning of the season.
- As the gopher (food) supply dwindles, the snakes may actually just move on by themselves.
- The non-educated individual, however, may be tempted to purchase a gopher snake as their first choice—be very careful if you are leaning in this direction. Gopher snakes are known to hurt cats and small dogs—or other small critters you may want to keep around.
- Many breeds will hunt, and even eat gophers. Many breeds will not. If you are going to get a dog mainly as gopher control, do your homework first.
- I have heard that two Jack Russell Terriers will actually work together and tag team a gopher.
- Cats are natural predators to gophers, although I’ve heard stories of large gophers actually hurting small cats.
If you have no interest in traps or predators, but you’re certain you want to kill your gophers, you’re left with the option of poisoning them.
Let me be very clear, smoking a gopher kills them. I don’t say this to be crude, but rather because I didn’t know the first time I pondered smoking gophers. I really thought they would dislike the smoke and just leave. I know they are just gophers, but I felt really bad when I found out that the smoke kills them.
Be warned if you plan to smoke gophers, that this also kills moles, prairie dogs, voles, ground hogs, ground squirrels, badgers, and any other burrowing animals you may have.
My preferred method to get rid of gophers is to use Juicy Fruit gum. I stick a piece down every opening I find. It takes a day or two, but then they leave. Because they just move a ways away, this method can drive you crazy and you’ll find yourself pulling out the gum on a constant basis, unless you just get a bunch and do it all at once looking for every hole you can find.
Grandpa did this to get rid of gophers and it still works for us. Although I’m under the impression that they just leave (since the gum is still sometimes there weeks later when I look), I have heard some people say that it kills them. I am unable to find any studies that lean in either direction.
As far as poisons, there are four worth my mentioning:
- Stychnine is not only the most common of gopher poisons, but also the most damaging to the ecosystem. The poison stays in the animal it has killed. Any other animal that disturbs the dead gopher or eats it (say a dog, or cat) will ingest the poison by a secondary method.
- I strongly urge you to consider possible consequences before choosing this route.
- Zinc Phosphide
- Zinc phosphide is used less often than strychinin because it is not as effective. It also may cause secondary poisoning.
- Chlorophacione (RoZol)
- Chlorophacione is an anticoagulant that can be more favorable to strychnine or zinc phosphide because it poses less of a threat to the surrounding ecosystem. It can be less desirable however, because it is needed in ten times the dose as the other two.
- Aluminum Phosphide
- If you call a professional exterminator to eradicate your gophers, s/he will most likely use aluminum phosphide, which reacts with moisture in the soil and the air to produce a highly toxic and fast-acting toxic phosphine gas.
- Many companies that use Aluminum phosphide offer a guarantee. It leaves no residual poison, so you don’t have to worry about animals or children returning to the area. It also leaves no secondary poison. If your dog or cat eats a gopher that has been killed with aluminum phosphide, it shouldn’t get sick from “second hand” poison.
Remember when using poison, that you can’t 100% control what ingests it. Consider other options if at all possible if you have children or valuable animals frequenting the same area. If you still plan to use it, always make sure it is deep enough into your tunnel ends that birds aren’t getting to it.
Gopher “bombs” or blasters are also available. I think those are self-explanatory. Be sure to follow all manufacturer’s instructions carefully, and also look into your local laws regarding these. Even though they are easy to obtain, there are local laws in some areas that make them either illegal to use or illegal to use in large quantities.
Deter Gophers From Moving In
While not nearly as effective as killing gophers, there are ways you can deter gophers away from your yard and crops. Try deterring gophers with specific plants, predators, and noise.
A border of certain plants may keep gophers from continuing further and crossing your border. Some plants to try include caster beans, daffodils, marigolds and oleander. It’s the roots in oleander plant that are offensive to gophers, so planting them with an offensive above the ground plant should yield the best results.
I use a one foot wide border of marigolds (which are supposed to be the biggest above ground offense) every year, and I still occasionally get gophers in my gardening area. Although I would highly suggest trying plants to deter your gophers, I wouldn’t wholeheartedly rely on this method alone.
Using a predator waste approach for deterring gophers consists of using waste from natural predators—namely dogs and cats—to scare gophers away. Try dropping dog and/or cat waste down in gopher tunnels and bury the hole to keep them from coming back.
This would be a technique for a flower garden, but certainly not a produce garden you intend to eat from.
Multiple noise and vibration devices are available to keep gophers away. Also, it is said that loud noise from barking dogs or playing children could keep gophers away, but would need to be employed on a frequent basis for consistent results.
Get Gophers To Leave Your Garden
If you’ve already got gophers, but you don’t want to kill them, then you’ll need to find a way to “ask” them to leave. This is the hardest of all strategies, and must be done with great patience. Strategies include decreasing their food supply, flooding them out, and using caster oil.
My first reaction when someone suggested I decrease their food supply was probably about as sarcastic as the one you had in your head when you read that. Um…hello…it’s a vegetable garden… But just hear me out.
Decreasing their food supply simply means decrease what is available to them. Bury chicken wire at least a foot down around the fence of your garden, but know that gophers have been known to burrow as deep at six feet down.
Use raised beds with chicken wire at the base, or galvanized steel wire mesh on the bottom. Regular galvanized wire can erode in 3-4 years if your water contains a large amount of iron and your soil is acidic, making it easy for a gopher to chew through it.
Make sure your raised beds are at least one foot tall to keep gophers from climbing in.
Placing a hose in the main entrance/exit of a tunnel system will flood the gophers out. This can take awhile before you’ll see the water coming up out the other end, so have patience.
Gophers will run out, but unless you manually remove them (with a trap, shovel, or predator), it’s highly likely they will return to their tunnel.
Some gardeners swear by Caster oil. This is a safe method, although not as easy as others.
Approximately one pound of caster oil granules per 1000 square feet of treatment area is needed. It can be hard to tell how much you are applying, but can start working within hours under the right conditions.
Once applied/broadcasted, get the granules wet either by spraying or waiting for rain. As the granules get wet, they will slowly dissolve, releasing an offensive scent. (This works for moles as well.)
Granules break down into Caster oil, soap, and corncob granules, making them a non toxic method to employ.
Get Rid Of Gophers In Your Farm Field
Now obviously, when we get gophers in our fields, we can’t really employ these techniques, other than keeping owl boxes on the edges of our fields—which we do. We must employ other methods to keep them out of farm fields.
When you farm organically, you aren’t using pesticides on your crops. Your techniques are going to include deep tillage and crop rotation.
If you have implements that till deep enough, you can take out large groups of tunnel systems. When a gopher in the middle of a field suddenly has all it’s tunnels taken and there is no immediate food available, gophers will usually leave.
Tilling thoroughly and deeply before planting is a way to encourage gophers to move on. Since we technically live in a desert, we try to do this right before a rain so the soil is catching as much moisture as possible. With wet soil, we aren’t working it for a bit. By the time it’s dry enough to work again, many gophers have moved on.
With our alfalfa fields, however, we can’t till them every year—which is a problem since gophers have a particular love of alfalfa. If possible, the answer lies in crop rotation.
Alfalfa is usually replanted about every seven years. A gopher that has lived on a plot of alfalfa for years isn’t as likely to move on after a deep tilling. It may stick around to see what happens and if his alfalfa comes back (and all his other gopher friends as well).
Planting a year of wheat is enough to convince a gopher it’s going to have to leave to find his coveted alfalfa plants. The next year when it’s time to plant alfalfa again, you’ll till deeply and then start off with a minimal gopher population.
It’s not a solution for the other six years, but crop rotation can be a big help in eliminating a large population of gophers on larger plots.
What various methods of getting rid of gophers have you tried in the past? What has worked? What hasn’t? Leave your experiences in the comments.