Cambrian: Opinion

Gophers can damage gardens; here’s how to respond

A pocket gopher lives underground in a maze of tunnels, runs, burrows and holes.
A pocket gopher lives underground in a maze of tunnels, runs, burrows and holes.

Little geysers have sprung up throughout the garden with recent rains. Water flows through gopher tunnels that drain from the open space beyond our property. Gophers must have taken up refuge elsewhere, I assume, or perhaps drowned.

We’ve already had our share of gopher damage this year. The little critters began building and renovating their tunnels and burrows (or dens) with the first fall rains. They pushed up hills of horseshoe-shaped mounds as they struggled beneath to clear their runways.

One gopher can create tunnel systems that can cover more than 2,000 square feet. Pocket gophers burrow 6 to 12 inches below the soil surface, creating lateral tunnels and runways that slant deeper into the earth (up to 6 feet). There they create a burrow or nest, to house their one to three litters per year. That’s a lot of gophers. Gopher populations in irrigated fields can number 60 or more per acre.

The horseshoe-shape of the hills is what identifies the culprit as a “pocket gopher.” The pocket gopher is so named because of the “pockets” inside its cheeks. It stores soil in these pockets as it digs through the earth until it reaches the surface, where it empties its cheeks.

Gophers don’t hibernate and are active year-round. They use their sense of smell to locate food, consisting mostly of the roots of young trees and herbaceous plants. They seldom leave their tunnels and, when they do, they venture only a body length or so from their tunnel opening. These openings are lacking the usual mound of dirt.

Gophers face natural predators such as cats, dogs, coyotes, foxes and owls. Having these around helps to keep the population down. One of our labradoodles has caught several gophers, flipping them into the air until we “dispatch” them for her. Unfortunately, the dog leaves behind huge holes, mayhem and destruction for us to clean up.

There are many ways for us to contain the gopher population in our gardens. Unfortunately, they require time, energy and money.

Whatever method you choose, you will need to start early and be consistent.

Get ready. Gophers will find the moist earth their “personal paradise” this spring.

Lee Oliphant’s column is special to The Cambrian. She shares her garden and chickens online at centralcoastgardening.com and backyardhencam.com. Email her with gardening questions at cambria gardener@charter.net.

Tip of the month:

Choose your weapon carefully

There are ways for homeowners to control gophers (if you have the stomach for it).

Traps give you the satisfaction of knowing when you are successful in eliminating a gopher. Understanding the tunnel system is helpful.

Poison bait is an effective way to kill gophers requiring little time. It may be the most practical approach if you have large areas that are continually infested. The gardener must be particularly careful when dispensing poisons.

Gassers are small gas-producing sticks that smolder. The gopher is killed by fumes or lack of oxygen. When administered correctly, these are effective about 50 percent of the time.

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