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.