Cottony and cold, you almost want to reach out and grab a hand full
Cottony and cold, you almost want to reach out and grab a hand full
Push thru and look down into one of our fog cloaked valleys.
How to Control Gophers
It is very hard to control gophers, let alone kill them. Especially if you do not want to use poisons.
Old timers have told me to just plant more and learn to live with the little demons. I do plant extra for the pocket gopher to eat, but I‚Äôd rather not. I work hard in my garden to grow what I do. Well, if I must live with gophers, then I want to know how I can make the best of it. I tried a number of strategies…
Scare those gophers
Sadly, most of the scare tactics I attempted to get rid of gophers have had limited results. I’ve tried pouring two mixtures, one of fresh cayenne and soapy water and the other of castor oil and soapy water, around my plants all along their beds. This seemed to work like a charm for the intended bed, but the gophers only showed up next door in my tomatoes. If your garden is small enough this will work, at least for awhile, but if you have 30 beds, it can become a chore. In an effort to avoid this constant mixing and applying, I tried companion-planted castor bean plants in my rows. Unfortunately, the results were nearly the same; any plants within a few feet of the castor beans were OK, but my vegetables were at risk again outside the protective influence of the castor bean’s dense root system. And, of course, my veggies don’t actually like being crowded by the rambunctious castor bean and, well, the bean is poisonous.
I have not been pleased with thumpers, windmills or bottles thrust down holes in the runs; the gophers seem to grow used to them, if they cared at all. But you might collect your cat’s poop (ewww!) and drop it down their holes – this should get them running. Maybe you could get a cat, if you don‚Äôt already have one. I have seen my own barn calico, Johnny the Killer, stalking gopher holes so I know that the gophers take these predators seriously.
Trap those gophers
I do not suggest the live traps that are available. You can use them, but I want to kill gophers. What are you going to do with the live gopher? Your neighbor will not appreciate any gophers you might release. I guess you could take them out into the woods – bless your sweet heart. For me, nothing quite satisfies the primal need for revenge as pulling a trap out of the ground to find a gopher in its jaws.
You may think I exaggerate, but wait till all your work goes to ruin. Use traps that are effective. The biggest advantage of traps is that you know for certain that you have one gopher less to deal with. Since the creatures are territorial, you know that you will have at least a short period of relief before new gophers discover the vacant run. The spring type wire-trap (McAbee or Victor) is unquestionably one of the best on the market. I’ve never had much luck with the box type, although some of my friends have, and I have heard them praised. Have fun setting your McAbee the first time.
For complete success, you should follow a definite ritual when you install and remove the traps – whatever kind you use.
Take care to leave no human scent on the trap or your tools – boil your traps, wash your tools regularly, and rub dirt on your gloves before handling anything. If the corpse has lain in the trap for very long, be especially careful to boil the trap.
The next step is to find a main run or a lateral run; either one will work, but a main run is best. I take a thin piece of rebar and poke in concentric circles around the horseshoe-shaped mound that is so characteristic of the gopher. You know you have the right place, probably a lateral run, when the rebar sinks into the ground easily(about 6″ to 18″). The main run isn’t all that easy to find as it is often the deepest underground.
If I can’t find the run, I have had success just digging up directly on the mound itself. I use a trenching shovel to dig my hole by carefully sinking the shovel on four sides and then gently lifting the center out. I then use a long-handled spoon to poke around for the tunnels leading into my hole. I place a McAbee trap in each of the tunnels that I find, shoving them as far down the tunnel as I can.
Be sure to attach a length of bailing wire to your traps; link them to each other or to a stake above ground if you don’t want to risk losing your trap. Be sure to bait your hole; garlic pieces, some fresh vegetable leaf or the remains of what the gopher has devoured already will work. I have also found that gophers are avid for Juicy Fruit chewing gum. Place the bait in the center of your hole. Remember, no scent!
Finally, cover the hole so that it is light-tight by using boards, burlap, newspaper and dirt. The gopher will backfill the trapped tunnel with dirt if he sees light or smells human scent, so you must be careful to leave his underground home seemingly undisturbed. I am especially careful to fill in any openings with dirt. I tie my traps to a stake and I make a habit of tying a brightly colored ribbon to the stake so that I can easily find the traps and boards later.
If you have had no luck within 24 to 48 hours, you probably don’t have an active run. I usually wait at least that long before I check for sprung traps. The moment you open your carefully prepared trap hole, you diminish your chances of catching your gopher when you try to re-close it. Often it is better to just establish a new trap hole. Sometimes the same trap hole will catch a second gopher, but don’t count on it; remember, they are territorial and it will probably be a while before another gopher comes by. Some gardeners shove the dead gopher down the run to discourage other gophers, but I think the other gophers just clean house by shoving dirt up over the dead one.
Trick those gophers
I have tried a number of ways to trick the enemy by capitalizing on their weaknesses. I have had fairly mixed results. I have consciously encouraged snakes in my garden; they are absolute killing machines, but they only eat one gopher at a time and they spook me out a little. I really think the best way to encourage snakes is to NOT use poison.
I discovered that the gopher is a hemophiliac and if he is cut, he will surely bleed to death. In order to use this hemophiliac weakness against the pest, I grind glass and mix it with peanut butter and cornmeal to make small balls that I drop into the runs (I must admit that creating and handling the ground glass was not very pleasant.) No scent, use rubber gloves. Rather than dig large holes to place these balls, you might try making little entry points with rebar in the runs you find. I hadn’t used this technique many times before I lost patience.
You might also try to clog up their intestinal tracts by serving them that Juicy Fruit chewing gum I mentioned. Just put it right in a run. I have a suspicion that the gum literally “gums” up their delicate little intestines.
If the weather is moist, you might place a burning charcoal briquette or a ignited kerosene-soaked rag down their holes – the noxious gases drop into the lowest tunnels and asphyxiate them. Be sure to have a water hose standing by.
Avoid those gophers
Why not avoid the problem altogether by creating growing situations where the gopher isn’t a factor? Most of these ploys involve extra labor on your part and they must be done carefully, but if you succeed, you can come very close to complete victory!
One year I lined my elephant garlic trench with half-inch chicken wire. For that year, the gophers left my garlic alone, but when I checked this deterrent for the next season, I noticed several holes chewed through the wire. I have built wooden boxes with heavy gauge, half-inch mesh bottoms (used for concrete work) that have worked until the wood decayed enough for the gopher to gnaw through. I planted strawberries in 5 gallon plastic buckets and they were undisturbed. I have also successfully used 25 gallon half barrels.
You could lay wire. If you intend to expend this much labor, be certain that you do it right. I once dug a trench two feet deep around a 20 by 30 foot plot and lined it with chicken wire. But I neglected to leave six inches of wire above ground and I didn’t know that the little demons could chew through the wire. Needless to say, all that work was for naught; the gophers came over the top and chewed through the wire below. A heavier gauge wire was in order.
If you are determined, you can beat the ravaging gopher. But you must be consistent and very patient when dealing with gophers. And don’t rely on only one method; you will only find success if you attack these pesky gophers with everything you have. A final word of advice: try new methods whenever you can; even an odd-ball idea like Juicy Fruit chewing gum. You never know what may work.
Doesn’t everyone love Japanese maples? And with their elegant shape and gorgeous, and seasonally changing, colors, who wouldn’t? Red, orange, yellow, the leaves stand out in the Fall…
We stick with the Bloodgood Japanese maples grown from seed – they have the classic japanese maple tree and leaf shape that we all love and a tenacity that the grafted maples do not have. Maybe once you have nurtured one of these Bloodgoods for a while you will want to try the increasingly more unique and difficult to grow grafted types. We don’t raise ours from seed since we can so easily get starts from suppliers – we use Lawyer’s Nursery.
And it turns out that seed plants do not breed true, sometimes forming the brilliant red leaf of the Bloodgood and sometimes forming a “sport” that has a very different leaf shape – it could turn out lacy, for example. This is how the vast variety of these trees have increased – nurseries or gardeners have taken one of these sports and grafted it. If you were to collect seed from a sport, that sport would generate both plants like it as well as additional sports.
Often noted for its attractive silhouette, the Japanese maple shows nicely when lighted at night – especially in winter when all its leaves are gone. The leaves start out a gorgeous bloody red when they first sprout out (don’t be surprised by the wilted look of the brand new leaves – that’s normal). As the year progresses, the leaf color tones down a little to a ruddy red that takes you all the way to the fall. And then, its blazing red or yellow or orange. The color is a big draw.
The tree will attain a 20 by 20 foot presence at a rate of about 12 inches a year.
The Japanese maple serves well along edges, particularly with plantings under it, or it can add to your deck or patio as a container planting. You can even train it as a standard, but we like it a little more free-wheeling with its own natural shape dominant. Consider placing your tree in front of dark colored conifers. Take advantage of the japanese maples striking colors by choosing a blue or green glazed pot to hold it.
You might consider the japanese maple as a bonsai candidate if you don’t want it as a specimen tree in your yard. But before you go here, take a look at “Bonsai Techniques I” by John Yoshio Naka (Bonsai Institute of California). Bonsai is quite the art form. Milewide is tooling up to offer less stressful ways to grow bonsai using either rosemary or jade plants. We will post about it soon.
As the Halls comment in their excellent “Timber Press Guide to Gardening in the Pacific Northwest”, “…ideal conditions include plenty of moisture, relatively cool growing conditions, summer sun that’s not too hot or intense, and moisture-retentive, slightly acidic loam…”. This means planting on the edges of openings in your garden or in a dappled shade. Direct sun in the morning will work, but not in the afternoon. Consider mulching the soil around your tree to cool down it roots.
Despite these needs, they are a hardy tree, down to zone 5 and 6 and are even drought tolerant – just get there in time. Its leaves will wilt, then burn, then fall off if you aren’t careful. In the early spring, their young, and early, first leaves can get bonked by the frost (yes, “bonked” is a technical term). Since you must protect them from both drying winds and direct sun, they are often situated in a place in your landscape where the frost will bonk ( ) them the least – under partial cover and away from a steady wind.
Given a well drained soil mix, they live happily in deck or patio containers with otherwise minimal care. But beware, soggy soil can be fatal. They need their water, certainly don’t let them dry out over the summer – their leaves, as we mentioned, will dry and curl up and then drop.
Be very careful with your pruning. They don’t want a lot taken off at any one time. Other than dead or crossing branches, take only a few cuts; then, wait and see before you make more. Remember: you can take it if you leave it, but you can’t glue it back on if you take it. And it really does make its own shape.