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Least-Toxic Control of Gophers Choose a different pest

On This Page:
Identification
Is it a problem?
Pest prevention practices
Monitoring and record-keeping
Non-chemical and mechanical controls
Biological controls
Least-toxic chemical options as a last resort
Chemicals to Avoid

Identification

Pest type: Animals

In-depth information:

According to UC IPM:
Pocket gophers, often called gophers, Thomomys species, are burrowing rodents that get their name from the fur-lined, external cheek pouches, or pockets, they use for carrying food and nesting materials. Pocket gophers are well equipped for a digging, tunneling lifestyle with their powerfully built forequarters; large-clawed front paws; fine, short fur that doesn’t cake in wet soils; small eyes and ears; and highly sensitive facial whiskers that assist with moving about in the dark. A gopher’s lips also are unusually adapted for their lifestyle; they can close them behind their four large incisor teeth to keep dirt out of their mouths when using their teeth for digging.

Is it a problem?

According to UC IPM:
Pocket gophers often invade yards and gardens, feeding on many garden crops, ornamental plants, vines, shrubs, and trees. A single gopher moving down a garden row can inflict considerable damage in a very short time. Gophers also gnaw and damage plastic water lines and lawn sprinkler systems. Their tunnels can divert and carry off irrigation water, which leads to soil erosion. Mounds on lawns interfere with mowing equipment and ruin the aesthetics of well-kept turfgrass.

Pest prevention practices

Remove food sources
Remove potential habitat
Foster natural resilience


In-depth information:

According to UC IPM:

Reducing gopher food sources using mechanical methods can decrease the attractiveness of lawns and gardens to gophers. If feasible, remove weedy areas adjacent to yards and gardens to create a buffer strip of unsuitable habitat.

Underground fencing might be justified for valuable ornamental shrubs or landscape trees. To protect existing plantings, bury hardware cloth or 3/4-inch mesh poultry wire at least 2 feet deep with an additional 6 inches of mesh or wire bent at a 90-degree angle away from the planting. This will help keep gophers from digging around the fencing boundary. Also extend the fencing at least 1 foot aboveground to deter gophers moving overland. This method is not perfect, however, because persistent gophers can burrow below the wire; also, the wire can restrict and damage root growth of trees.

You can protect small areas such as flower beds by complete underground screening of the bed’s sides and bottoms. When constructing raised vegetable or flower beds, underlay the soil with wire to exclude gophers. To protect individual plants, install wire baskets, which you can make at home or buy commercially, at the same time you are putting the plants into the ground. If you use wire, use one that is light gauge and only for shrubs and trees that will need protection while young. Leave enough room to allow for the roots to grow. Galvanized wire provides the longest-lasting protection.

Six to 8 inches of coarse gravel 1 inch or more in diameter around underground sprinkler lines or utility cables also can deter gophers.

Monitoring and record-keeping

According to UC IPM:

To successfully control gophers, the sooner you detect their presence and take control measures the better. Mounds of fresh soil are the best sign of a gopher’s presence. Gophers form mounds as they dig tunnels and push the loose dirt to the surface. Typically mounds are crescent or horseshoe shaped when viewed from above. The hole, which is off to one side of the mound, usually is plugged. Mole mounds are sometimes mistaken for gopher mounds. Mole mounds, however, are more circular and have a plug in the middle that might not be distinct; in profile they are volcano-shaped. Unlike gophers, moles commonly burrow just beneath the surface, leaving a raised ridge to mark their path.

One gopher can create several mounds in a day. In nonirrigated areas, mound building is most pronounced during spring or fall when the soil is moist and easy to dig. In irrigated areas such as lawns, flower beds, and gardens, digging conditions usually are optimal year round, and mounds can appear at any time. In snowy regions, gophers create burrows in the snow, resulting in long, earthen cores on the surface when the snow melts.

Follow-up

Once you have controlled pocket gophers, monitor the area on a regular basis for reinfestation. Level all existing mounds after the control program, and clean away weeds and garden debris, so you easily can see fresh mounds.

It is important to check regularly for reinfestation, because pocket gophers can move in from other areas, and damage can reoccur in a short time. If your property borders wildlands, vacant lots, or other areas that serve as a source of gophers, you can expect gophers to reinvade regularly.

Be prepared to take immediate control action when they do. It is easier, cheaper, and less time consuming to control one or two gophers than to wait until the population builds up to the point where they cause excessive damage.

Non-chemical and mechanical controls

Create a barrier
Remove debris and habitat


In-depth information:

According to UC IPM:

Probing for Burrows

Successful trapping depends on accurately locating the gopher’s main burrow. To locate the burrow, you need to use a gopher probe. Probes are commercially available, or you can construct one from a pipe and metal rod. Probes made from dowels or sticks work in soft soil but are difficult to use in hard or dry soils. An enlarged tip that is wider than the shaft of the probe is an important design feature that increases the ease of locating burrows.

To find burrows, first locate areas of recent gopher activity based on fresh mounds of dark, moist soil. Fresh mounds that are visible aboveground are the plugged openings of lateral tunnels. You can find the main burrow by probing about 8 to 12 inches from the plug side of the mound; it usually is located 6 to 12 inches deep. When the probe penetrates the gopher’s burrow, there will be a sudden, noticeable drop of about 2 inches. You might have to probe repeatedly to locate the gopher’s main burrow, but your skill will improve with experience. Because the gopher might not revisit lateral tunnels, trapping them is not as successful as in the main burrow.

Trapping

Trapping is a safe and effective method for controlling pocket gophers. Several types and brands of gopher traps are available. The most common type is a two-pronged, pincher trap such as the Macabee, Cinch, or Gophinator, which the gopher triggers when it pushes against a flat, vertical pan. Another popular type is the choker-style box trap.

To set traps, locate the main tunnel with a probe, as described above. Use a shovel or garden trowel to open the tunnel wide enough to set traps in pairs facing opposite directions. Placing traps with their openings facing in opposite directions means you will be able to intercept a gopher coming from either end of the burrow. The box trap is easier to use if you’ve never set gopher traps before, but setting it requires more surface excavation than if you are using the pincer-type traps, an important consideration in lawns and some gardens. However, box traps can be especially useful when the diameter of the gopher’s main tunnel is smaller than 3 inches, because in order to use the pincer-type traps, you will need to enlarge small tunnels to accommodate them. This can add time to the trapping process.

It isn’t necessary to bait a gopher trap, although some claim baiting might give better results. You can use lettuce, carrots, apples, alfalfa greens, or peanut butter as bait. Place the bait at the back of a box trap behind the wire trigger or behind the flat pan of a pincer-type trap. Wire your traps to stakes so you can easily retrieve them from the burrow.

After setting the traps, you can exclude light from the burrow by covering the opening with dirt clods, sod, canvas or landscape cloth, cardboard, or plywood. You can sift fine soil around the edges of these covers to ensure a light-tight seal. Alternatively, you can leave the trap-sets uncovered, thereby encouraging gophers to visit these trap sites as they seek out these openings to plug; gophers do not like open systems.

The influence on capture success of covering versus uncovering trap-sets is unclear. Leaving trap-sets uncovered will allow you to set traps more quickly and check them more easily. However, you always should cover sets when using box traps, since gophers likely will plug tunnels before hitting the trigger wire of these traps if you leave them uncovered.

Check traps often and reset when necessary. If you haven’t captured a gopher within 2 days, reset the traps in a different location.

Other Control Methods

Pocket gophers easily can withstand normal garden or home landscape irrigation, but you sometimes can use flooding to force them from their burrows.

Biological controls

According to UC IPM:
Because no population will increase indefinitely, one alternative to a gopher problem is to do nothing, letting the population limit itself. Experience has shown, however, that by the time gopher populations level off naturally, they’ve already caused much damage around homes and gardens.

Predators—including owls, snakes, cats, dogs, and coyotes—eat pocket gophers. Predators rarely remove every prey animal but instead move on to hunt at more profitable locations. In addition, gophers have defenses against predators. For example, they can escape snakes in their burrows by rapidly pushing up an earthen plug to block the snake’s advance. Relying solely on natural predators might not control gophers to the desired level.

Some people have tried attracting barn owls to an area by installing nest boxes. Although barn owls prey on gophers, their habit of hunting over large areas, often far from their nest boxes, and their tendency to hunt areas with abundant prey, make them unreliable for gopher control. When a single gopher, which is capable of causing damage rapidly, invades a yard or garden, a gardener can’t afford to wait for an owl to arrive. It is better to immediately take effective action, usually through trapping.

No repellents currently are available for successfully protecting gardens or other plantings from pocket gophers. Plants such as gopher purge (Euphorbia lathyrus), castor bean (Ricinus communis), and garlic have been suggested as repellents, but research has not substantiated these claims.

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Sources

UC IPM