How to Control Gophers: What Do Gopher Holes Look Like?
Gophers in the Garden
It can be very depressing to have a home garden that is under attack from gophers. Gophers are little rodents, usually about six inches long, that create underground tunnels to get around. These tunnels have only one advantage—they can help break up the soil in harder clay soils—but the primary disadvantage of these tunnels far outweighs this one advantage.
It is relatively easy to find out if your property has gophers living below the surface; gophers leave undeniable evidence of their presence. When a gopher is creating their tunnel highway the dirt gets relocated to the surface, creating a mound of soil. If you see any of these mounds, you have gophers.
In our yard, I have known that we have gophers for many years now but I haven’t been too concerned with them, primarily because they never gave me any reason to have to deal with them, until now. My wife recently experienced the displeasure any gardener has when something growing in their garden has been munched on by a garden pest. She went out in the morning to feed the animals and noticed something had eaten a path through our almost ready to harvest cilantro. Presumably, the same attacker had uprooted a larger than a baseball sized onion, I guess the little varmint had a craving for salsa? Thank goodness our tomatoes aren’t ready yet.
If you had gophers how would you address the problem?
Getting Rid of Gophers
There are two main methods when it comes to removing gophers, lethal and non-lethal. Non-lethal methods are usually a preferred path for people who don’t want to kill the animal or don’t want to deal with disposing of the animal’s carcass after the kill.
Fortunately there are a few non-lethal options that aren’t too difficult to administer. The easiest one, and the one we are going to deploy, is getting a few sonic stakes. These stakes are put into the ground and use batteries to create an uncomfortable and annoying sonic noise in the ground. Since gophers stay in the ground the theory is that they will become bothered by the constant noise and will relocate to another area, this is an especially interesting option for anyone who doesn’t like their neighbors too much.
Many people are OK with gophers hanging around, as long as their path never crosses ours. We would see a fresh hole and our little Chihuahua loved to dig in the holes so we just let them be. Unfortunately for them they have found our garden and have forced us to take defensive actions.
Another option that is a little bit more complicated, but will last longer than any battery operated option, is to create an inviting option for owls to come live near your property. Obviously this option is difficult to use in a major city’s downtown area but rural homeowners can give this option a try. To entice an owl to consider relocating to your property you will want to learn what kind of owls are in your area. Once you know you can build an owl box to their size and typical desires. All you can do after rolling out the welcome mat is wait.
Barn owls are comfortable living close to humans and we actually have had one living in our front pine tree for many years. This might be the biggest reason gophers haven’t caused us any heartburn all of this time, because our silent little hunter has been helping to keep the gopher population under control. The owl is still up in the tree because we see the pellets but we don’t know why it hasn’t discovered this gopher so close to home.
I have also heard from many different sources that cats can help keep a gopher population in check, especially feral cats. Feral cats are used to being outside and hunting for their own food sources. This is another reason why we are OK with feeding the three little feral cats that have adopted us, besides the obvious reason that they are hungry.
For us the cost of a bag of cat food once a month is a fee that we are comfortable paying. Having the cats typically hanging around the property helps keep any mice issues at bay as well. I have personally seen one of the cats taking care of a mouse it found. I was leaving for work one early morning and I saw her in the middle of the front lawn, a location that I hadn’t seen her in before. I walked up to her to see what she was doing when I noticed she had a furry little creature in her grasps. What really stuck with me was the look in her eyes. Here was a normally sweet and mild mannered kitty who had transformed into a calculated hunter and she certainly had the look on her face to match this intensity.
On more than one occasion one of the cats has left us offerings of their hunts. I know it is something that my wife is not a fan of cleaning up but I have no problem doing it because I know that is one less creature that can cause mischief on our property.
How to Kill Gophers
There are three usual methods of lethal gopher removal, gas, poison and traps. Poison is probably the least recommended method because the poison can be accidentally consumed by a curious dog and a legitimate prey animal, like an owl, can eat the poisoned animal and become sick, sometimes fatally. Unfortunately this has become such a common occurrence it even has a label now, it is called second hand poisoning.
Gassing is done by inserting a tube, about an inch around and five inches long, into a relatively fresh hole and covering it up with dirt. The gas creates a reaction in the gopher’s internal system leading to death. This option has a much smaller chance of accidentally poisoning another animal but has drawbacks as well. The main drawback is, for it to work effectively, you need to cover-up any other holes that are connected to the one you put the gas tube into. Keeping a shovel at the ready is the best way to do this.
After activating the gas tube keep an eye open for any gas escaping in the yard so you can cover up the open hole. I have never tried this method but I somehow envision a heavily infested yard looking like it has a bunch of Old Faithful water spouts in it with all of the potential places the gas could escape.
Trapping is an effective way to remove gophers without any poisons or gases. A metal trap can be inserted into the hole and it will kill the gopher when it comes into contact with it on its way to the open hole.
This method isn’t without a few negatives as well. Many people feel that gophers can actually learn about these traps, if their contact with them is not lethal. People feel they become ‘trap smart’ and can learn what the metal feels like making them suspicious and way more difficult to trap in the future. The best way to get around this obstacle is to make the trap work, the first time.
When deploying a trap use thick gloves to prevent any human smell from getting on the actual trap; this isn’t a knock about your hygiene but these animals have a good sense of smell and can detect our presence. After successfully inserting the trap in the hole cover it up with dirt. The idea here is the gopher will do what they do and work on getting the dirt to the surface triggering the trap and killing the gopher. The traps are similar in design to mouse and rodent traps but deliver the lethal blow from both sides instead of from above.
How to Trap a Gopher
Poison bait is probably the least recommended method for controlling gophers. The main problem with using bait is how easy you can poison another animal. Cats, owls, hawks and even dogs can become poisoned if they eat the gopher after it has ingested the poison. This accidental poisoning is common when people are trying to address a rodent problem but can occur when trying to tackle a gopher problem too.
Raised Gardening Bed: Gopher Wire
Fortunately there are things that you can do to prevent gophers from attacking your vegetables, if you are considering a raised bed similar to this one. All you have to do is install a roll of metal wire at the bottom, before you fill the bed with soil and/or manure. Chicken wire is the recommended wire for this application but I would suggest you install something a little bit stronger or, at worst, two layers of the chicken wire.
Chicken wire is relatively inexpensive and installing it without the dirt is easy, removing all of the dirt and putting it in is not. Don’t shortchange this step, do it right the first time and it will last for a long time.
Gophers can chew through the hardest soils but they are not fans of metal so installing a roll of metal wire will keep them away from your raised bed.
Moles and Voles
The methods mentioned above to control and kill gophers can be deployed to address a mole or vole problem as well.
I would suggest using the treatment method specifically designed for which creature you are trying to control. In other words don't put a gopher trap in the ground if you are trying to trap a vole. Each trap, bait, etc. has been created for use against one kind of animal, unless the packaging tells you it is OK to use for the other pests.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
© 2012 David