Every March, I eagerly await the crocuses in my front garden. One year, the yellow and white varieties came up but not the purple ones. There is only one grouping by …
Every March, I eagerly await the crocuses in my front garden. One year, the yellow and white varieties came up but not the purple ones. There is only one grouping by the kitchen door and for over 15 years they have flowered. I thought it very strange.
I got busy and forgot about it. Then the blooms faded.
I was raking below a large patch of yarrow about 10 feet away on the other side of a flagstone walkway. There, under the leaves, were the purple crocuses just beginning to open.
"Gophers!" I said out loud.
I silently cussed them and marveled at their engineering at the same time. A few weeks later, I found some daffodils and Muscari blooming 25 feet in the opposite direction.
The pocket gophers used to make an appearance only in the fall. A few signature mounds would pop up around my vegetable beds. Over the last several years, though, their numbers and frequency have dramatically increased. Not only are they in my yard, they have moved out into the dozen acres of sage where I walk. The heavy rains three years ago gave them soft dirt to tunnel through and luscious greenery to fill their bellies, and they've never left.
Pocket gophers vary widely in appearance. According to New Mexico State University, they can be anywhere from 5 to 14 inches long, with fur that is white, beige, brown or black. This makes it hard to identify them. But a cluster of mounds in your yard is clear identification.
Pocket gopher mounds are fan shaped around a hole that is plugged with soil. These are lateral tunnels that come to the surface from the main tunnel, which is about 18 inches down.
Although pocket gophers can live in all kinds of soils, they prefer fluffy, fertile soil that's in production -- the kind in your garden.
Dirt like this is easy to dig through and full of yummy things to eat, such as roots, bulbs and tubers. Gophers may come one body-length out of their tunnel to eat plants on the surface, but mostly they spend their lives underground. I once saw a pocket gopher snacking on a small hollyhock, which he then pulled down into the hole!
Pocket gophers are loners. Each mound cluster is one tunnel system, where only one of them lives. Six to eight gophers per acre is considered high density. However, if left unchecked, they can number in the dozens.
Gopher-plagued friends of mine have used various deterrents with mixed success.
I have pushed mothballs down a lateral tunnel to the main tunnel. This moved the gophers away from that area, but only about 50 feet away. I have unsuccessfully tried kitty litter (not the perfumed kind) around and in the holes.
Flood irrigation may drive gophers out or drown them. Someone told me he runs a garden hose from the exhaust of his truck to the tunnel system to gas them. Someone else places several pieces of rebar a few feet apart and eight inches into the ground. He hangs plastic drink bottles upside down on them to rattle in the wind.
Along those lines, many people said simple pinwheels stuck into the ground successfully deter gophers. There are other vibrational tools you can buy at the hardware store, too. The trick is to make sure the support goes down into the tunnel, not to place them where you don't want gophers to move in.
Alliums and garlic work for some people, but not me. I planted garlic one fall, and the gophers decimated it over the winter. I was sure it would deter them.
My cat and dog have killed a few gophers over the years. A friend in Kansas has a cairn terrier and a border terrier, which take care of rodents on his land. Other friends have Jack Russell terriers and rat Terriers, which also make excellent gopher hunters.
If you want to get right down to eliminating pocket gophers, though, trap them. You can buy traps at any hardware store. The Victor Black Box seems to be popular among homeowners.
Fresh mounds, mostly seen in spring and fall, mean the gophers are stirring. When mounds appear, dig down the lateral tunnel to the main tunnel. Place two traps, one facing in each direction, and tie them to a stake at the top to keep them in place and make it easy to retrieve them. Cover the hole with cardboard letting in a tiny bit of light. The gopher will go to the light to fix the hole and run into the trap instead. It will be killed instantly.
Not only is trapping the most effective and long-lasting means of gopher removal, it is the most humane. It also eliminates the need for chemicals or pesticides, which can linger and impact other wildlife and humans.
Gophers are opportunists that will take over abandoned tunnels of any ground dweller. Leaving the body of a trapped gopher in the tunnel will deter other gophers from moving in. This may be best done once you're sure you've removed all the gophers.
If you don't want to do the trapping yourself, hire someone. They will assess your situation, set the traps and check back until all the gophers are gone. See the sidebar for local trappers.
Once you have gotten rid of the gopher population, use preventative measures to keep them from destroying your landscape.
Hardware cloth with small holes is readily available at any hardware store. Lay it in the bottom of garden beds and use it to line planting holes for trees and shrubs.
Use landscape plants with many fingered root systems, so if one part gets eaten, there is still enough to keep the plant alive. Every year, gophers kill some of my hollyhocks, which have one big, fat, delicious taproot. That said, gophers can fell huge trees by consistently munching on the roots.
Do not work your soil too deeply. Till the surface instead of plowing.
Build habitats to attract natural predators, which are skunks, weasels, rattle snakes and bull snakes. If someone wants a bull snake removed from their yard, go get it and bring it home.
It's not all bad
For all the negatives about gophers, I did notice some benefits where they had rearranged my bulbs.
Because they had tunneled the entire length of this bed and aerated the soil, the plants grew much better that season. They gophers had root-pruned the shrubs, making them stronger and healthier. And I'm sure they increased the soil fertility with their waste and by adding plant material to the lower layers. Pocket gophers are little rototillers that just need to know some boundaries.
Now if I could get them to stop eating my bush beans ...
BREAK OUT BOX //
Ranchos de Taos
Patrick Shanley (south side of Taos only)
(623) 606-8409 (text first, please)
Santa Fe (They come up to the Embudo Valley)
For more information on pocket gophers:
Taos County Extension Office
202 Chamisa Road, Ste. B, Taos
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