A Question About Gophers

Pocket gopher, courtesy of Wikipedia

We’re putting together a short vegetable gardening pamphlet and could use some advice, specifically about gophers. Thankfully, we don’t have any experience dealing with them. Something about our neighborhood, either the lead in the soil or the police helicopters, seems to have made gophers extinct here.

Standard advice when planting a tree or installing a raised bed in gopher infested areas is to use galvanized hardware cloth or gopher wire as an underground barrier. We even mentioned this in our first book. The main problem I have with this advice is that the galvanized metal used for hardware cloth and gopher wire leaches significant amounts of zinc as it breaks down. Zinc, in high quantities, is toxic to plants. And, when using cages for trees, I’d worry that the cages would not break down soon enough, causing the roots to circle.

Plastic, I’m fairly certain, would not work as the gophers would chew through it. And stainless steel is really expensive. Yes, you can trap gophers, and I’ll include info on that. But does anyone know of an alternative material for use as an underground gopher barrier? Extra points for pointing to a peer reviewed study.

Note: We just learned a new fact: “gopher” is a generic term that encompasses a few different critters. In other words, your gopher may not be my gopher. There are pocket gophers and a variety of ground squirrels who get called gophers. All are pesky. But the pocket gopher is sometimes called the “true gopher.”

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17 Comments

  1. I have had an ongoing battle with these nasty critters for ten years. I won’t bore you with the details, but in the end the only really effective situation was a combination of solar powered gopher beepers, as we call them, and a natural born burrowing dog, our Deagle (Doxie/beagle). She just won’t give up. I put her poop at the opening the gopher holes for an extrabit of kick. Most of them are gone, as far as I can tell, and all my fruit trees are prducing. The peas, however, were a lost cause.

  2. I’d not heard of zinc problems from galvanized wire. Though it makes sense that it would leach, I’d be interested to see the evidence that it’s significant. In one of his books, Joel Salatin describes putting layers of chicken wire (which is generally galvanized) down under movable rabbit pens to keep the rabbits from digging out. The wire isn’t attached to the pen, because that way it doesn’t knock down the rabbits’ forage as much; after a few years enough new topsoil has been formed that they need to put down another layer of wire. I’d hate to have to dig it all out one day, but in the meantime, it seems to work well for them, if the book is accurate.

  3. The picture is of a Columbia Ground Squirrel.

    I’d like to know how to grow a garden with them as neighbors too. I’m trying to invite Hawks and Owls by putting up perch poles but I haven’t noticed any serious decline the the population. The upside is that they’ll be hibernating soon.

    • So it is! That’s a little embarrassing. Erik probably grabbed it off the Wikipedia page for gopher without reading the fine print. The article says sometimes ground squirrels are referred to as gophers. I replaced the photo with one of a pocket gopher.

      Clearly we don’t have gophers in our yard because we hardly know what they look like!

  4. That is a great question and I am curious too.

    We have moles on one side of our street,lucky us we live on the mole free side.Funny thing is the people on the other side of the street are much fussier about things than we are.Mole revenge?

  5. Gopher snakes would do the job below ground and great herons above.

    I’ve seen the beginnings of gopher action in our South Forty, and yet I keep planting. I’m at a loss for ideas too. I don’t want to use poison and I’m too cheap and lazy to use the stainless steel method.

    In the case of gophers, optimism and denial are my convenient tools in the garden.

  6. When we created our garden beds, we made them extra large containers. The bottoms are lined with pavers, the sides are lined with pavers. They are 3′ x 15′ x 18″ containers. That did not stop a gopher from getting into the garden from the top though. BUT it did make it possible to get him out without chemicals, etc. Just dug out the dirt and destroyed its home. Have two beds this way. The third bed has hardware cloth at the bottom. While there will be some zinc leaching from it, do not think it will be significant as probably as much leaches down and out as up into the roots. Again, that bed is 18″ deep. My fourth bed is totally raised, on a platform, with several layers of landscape cloth at the base, and then a “kit” frame of molded plastic. it is 4′x4′ and again, 18″ tall. Don’t expect much to get into this one.

  7. The use of a layer of gravel under the root ball deters them as they do not like chewing gravel–what I have heard. Putting a little gravel in as the hole is filled would be my ploy. Gravel will not rust and disappear. It works around flower bulbs they like. The bulbs can be planted in the gravel, Enough soil will get into the gravel to support the bulbs.

    Predator urine works, so your cat waste may have something to do with your lack of gophers. Otherwise, getting fox urine would work. I have heard that daily application through a sprayer of some sort of orange oil makes them find friendlier yards.

    My experience–they all disappeared when I had a black rat snake living here a few months ago. The snake may still be here, as there are no gophers here now.

  8. i have had great success with gopher eviction by pouring used cat litter down their holes (no poop, though)– gophers are not fans of the scent of ammonia. the cat litter used was not of the clumping variety, but the more traditional sand-diatomoite-zeolite based type. 

  9. i have a world champion gopher hunter, his name is enzo (7 year old tabby cat). his record was two in one night. we live in echo park and would be happy to help if the need arises :)

  10. I tried a “natural” deterent in my strawberry ziggurat–planting onions in among the strawberries. There’s wire hardware cloth under the bottom tier, but a gopher got in over the edge of the bed. So far, gopher has eaten nearly all of the ONIONS and pretty much left the strawberries alone.

    Once in the garden store, I heard an elderly man’s angry and querulous voice a few aisles away, in the pest control section, saying, “I wanna kill them all!” There were some polite murmurs from the sales clerk about live traps and such, followed by a loud, defiant, “I wanna KILL them ALL!!!” At the time–this was before I had done much gardening–I thought it was funny. Now I might well be willing to join him in his quest for weapons of mass gopher destruction…

  11. Didn’t take the time to read the other posts, sorry if this has been mentioned…Our elderly (almost 90) neighbor, who used to have a small engine repair shop, made a set up which allows a hose to be attached to the exhaust of a small engine and then run down a gopher hole. I’m not recommending this…but he doesn’t have a gopher problem!

  12. http://www.aphis.usda.gov/wildlife_damage/nwrc/publications/05pubs/sterner052.pdf

    The above is pretty interesting. I have lived in the same house for 13 years and never ahd a gopher problem until last year. I’m not sure about the gravel thing I read above though, since these gophers come up in my flower bed and seem to bring up gravel with them. I don’t even know where it came from.

    But anyhoo, my deterrent? I shove a hose down any new hole I find and flood the tunnels for 5 minutes. Seems to work after about 3 or 4 different holes. I guess I should thank the gophers for creating an underground watering system for my apple trees and grass. :-)

  13. This is my second year dealing with pocket gophers. They always seem to go after the peas, chewing the stems off at ground level. Last year I flooded and dug new tunnels when they came up. They chewed up every last pea plant. I moved. Not because of the gophers, but was glad to leave them behind. Jokes on me because I’ve got pocket gophers this summer, too. Again, in a raised bed (incidentally, with gravel underneath), and again only attacking the peas. This time I burried Jalapeno peppers near the peas throughout the garden and they have stayed away since. I’ve noticed them in the lawn and perennial beds, but am letting them be there as I believe the aerration they provide is probably a good thing.

  14. Living near open space is great but pocket gophers are endemic and after several years of trapping, catching 1 to 3 a month, every month, and still loosing most of my zucchini, cucumbers, eggplant, and potatoes I resorted to buried wire. I dug a trench 2 feet deep around my 20′x20′ garden in which I buried a 1/2″ mesh hardware cloth “curtain” to keep the critters out. You also have to have some above ground barrier too (I have 2′ of chicken wire – doubtlessly overkill) or else they’ll simply burrow up to the wire on one side and down the other. Speaking from experience, overlap the above-ground and buried wire and tie them together or the hungry little guys will find a way through. Yes, it’s lot’s of work up-front but no more gophers! Well, in the garden anyway. But for the garden addition I think I’ll rent a Ditch-Witch!

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