Gophers, or pocket gophers, are tiny North American rodents that spend most of their lives feeding and living in their extensive networks of underground tunnels. Although they play an essential role in the ecology of a place by aerating the soil and adding organic matter to it, they can also pose quite the headache to farmers and homeowners with all the destruction they can cause.
There are several strategies that can be employed to get rid of gophers once they have been located. Some of these include trapping them, using natural repellants to drive them away, using chemical repellants, populating the area with plants that gophers don’t like, introducing predators in the area, using physical barriers, scaring them away with noise, modifying their habitat, or poisoning them.
To successfully get rid of gophers and make sure they do not re-infest your space, you first have to understand them, their behavior, and the tale tell signs that will allow you to quickly spot any signs of gopher activity. This will instantly give you the upper hand.
How to Get Rid of Gophers in Your Yard
The first step to figuring out how to get rid of them is to have a good understanding of why they are there in the first place. Gophers are herbivores, so any plants and fruits you may have are a prime food source for them. Gophers feed predominantly on the roots of plants, including carrots, alfalfa, grasses, dandelions, potatoes, tulips, radishes, and tree bark.
Another important factor that determines their presence is the soil quality. They love soil with a lot of moisture and a high concentration of clay. They do not like sandy soils because these soil types have a much higher potential for caving in. Plus, sand is a terrible insulator when temperatures get extreme.
Now that you know why they are there, you need to know what signs to look out for as you inspect for gophers. Gophers are destructive in three main ways:
- They destroy crops and gardens
- They destroy agricultural equipment
- They destroy underground utilities and pipes
Some of the clues you can look out for include the damage they do to plants and crops and the ground level changes they cause. On the ground level, you will see horseshoe-shaped mounds of dirt. These are left as the gopher claws out the dirt while building its burrow. A single gopher can create about one to three such mounds every day.
The next step is to probe for the gophers. Gopher probes usually go for about $30 or less. Locate a mound with a plugged opening, then aim your probe a small distance from the plug. The burrow will run about 12 inches underground with a noticeable two-inch drop. It is common for beginners to have to drive several times into the soil, but you will get better at it with practice.
To get rid of them, employ one or more of these strategies:
- Scatter your pet’s droppings in their tunnels. Since cats and dogs are gopher predators, when the gophers smell their droppings, they will think that a predator is nearby and will avoid that general direction.
- Trap them. Chances are you will only be dealing with one or two gophers in your garden. So set a trap, capture them, and release them far away from the property. To determine the size of the trap to use, measure the diameter of the burrow holes in your garden. Once your trap works, be sure to follow up with other methods that prevent re-infestation.
- Use repellents. Repellents are great both as preventive measures and as a solution to your gopher problem. The smell of most typical rodent repellents will usually turn them off. They usually contain castor oil, traces of predator urine, among other chemicals in liquid or granule form. Use them on plants to stop gophers from eating them or spray them directly into gopher burrows.
- Other smells that gophers don’t like include fish, mothballs, dryer sheets, and tabasco sauce.
- Plant plants that gophers do not like. This will make them avoid certain areas in your yard.
- Feed them some gum. For some reason, Juicy Fruit bubble gum has proven quite effective in taking care of gophers. They love the taste of the gum, but they cannot digest it, so they die in their burrows. All you have to do is put on some gloves to mask your scent and leave a few gum pellets in the gopher holes.
- If all else fails, poison them. This could also be your best bet if you suspect that there are multiple gophers in your yard. However, keep in mind that poisons are also dangerous to pets, children, and other animals that you might not be trying to eradicate. They can also be dangerous to you if you do not handle them carefully. So be sure to read the instructions and follow them to the latter.
- If this still doesn’t work, it might be time to hire a professional to take care of the problem for you.
How to Keep Gophers Away from Your Garden
- Use physical barriers. You can either use a fence, mulch or gravel, or gopher baskets. Wire mesh fences are effective as long as they extend about a foot underground. Mulch and gravel are effective when placed around plants, where gophers have a tougher time trying to dig through. Plus, they don’t like the smell. Gopher baskets are highly effective if you have young plants. They allow them to stay planted without being vulnerable to gophers.
- Use raised plant beds. This is a cost-effective way to gopher proof your plants because it offers the plants the room they need to grow while making them less susceptible to gopher invasions.
- Use a sewage-based fertilizer. All you have to do is dig a shallow 12-inch-deep trench around the area you want to keep gophers away from, then fill the trench with the fertilizer and cover it up with soil. When it rains, the fertilizer will leach into the soil and repel the gophers.
- Introduce predator pets. Gophers are not dangerous to cats and dogs. Your pets will chase them off, and the smell of their fur and urine will make the gopher avoid your garden. However, keep in mind that gophers have ticks and fleas, so monitor your pets as they go after the gophers.
- Modify their habitat. If you have a vegetable garden, try reducing the number of plants you have. This will make them less likely to venture into your garden in the first place. Then pack the dirt as much as possible, for example using a lawn roller.
- Gophers are tiny rodents that are always constantly alert for new noises and scents. This makes them very easy to scare off. Simply get a decently-powered radio, seal it inside a plastic bag, then drop it into one of the burrow entrances. Play any type of music or radio show.
- Use a spicy spray. Gophers have similar reactions to them as people do. Hot spices cause them difficulty in breathing and watery eyes, and they will try to avoid the source at all costs. You can make your own home-made spicy repellant by mixing some hot sauce with water or chopping up some chili peppers and soaking them in water. Pour this solution in a spray bottle and spray your plants and the ground.
- Use castor oil and coffee grounds. Castor oil has an odor that gophers find foul. Pour some of it near gopher entrances and mix it into the dirt around your plants. Used coffee grounds are also just as effective when mixed into the dirt in your garden.
Are Gophers Dangerous?
The CDC does not recognize gophers as potent carriers of any major viruses and diseases. They do not even transmit rabies, which many small mammals are known to transmit.
Gophers are also quite scared of humans, and will always run and hide when approached. However, when they are cornered or captured, they can react by biting. If you or someone you know gets bitten by a gopher or any such small animal, tell your doctor about it and get the bite examined. Gophers are rodents, which means they can carry diseases like hantavirus, leptospirosis, and plague.
The good news is that since gophers are almost always underground, it is very rare for them to come into contact with humans. They are more likely to affect you indirectly by transmitting fleas and ticks to outdoor pets.
What Plants Do Gophers Hate?
Gophers can do a lot of damage to most plants. However, there are a few plants that can do without any special attention or extra protection from gophers. These plants somehow have their own natural resistance to gophers. Here is a list of a few of them:
- Euphorbia genus
The Euphorbia genus is a diverse family of plants that have equally diverse looks, from cactus-like succulents to leafy shrubs. They produce a toxic milky white sap, and this is their main defense mechanism. In fact, getting some sap from one of these plants on your arm, for example the Euphorbia tirucalli, will result in a very itchy sensation that could even trigger a rash.
That being said, different plants in this genus have saps with different potencies. While some are extremely potent, others are quite mild and fair game to gophers. Perhaps their roots simply just taste a little spicy to them.
Examples of euphorbias that will grow with zero disturbance from gophers include the Euphorbia milli, the Euphorbia tirucalli, the Euphorbia obesa, the Euphorbia mammillaris, the Euphorbia grandicornis, the Euphorbia horrid, the Euphorbia anoplia, and the Euphorbia ingens. Apart from being gopher free, Euphorbia Lathyris is actually a gopher repellent, so pant several of them in gopher infested areas to drive them away. Castor beans are also great for this.
- Most Lavender varieties
Gophers will stay away from almost all lavender varieties. However, if they get hungry enough, they may opt to go for some lavender varieties, such as thee English Lavender. However, under normal circumstances, lavender plants are generally safe from gophers.
- Rosemary and garlic
These fragrant plants will have gophers steering completely clear of them. The smell they produce is off-putting to gophers, which is why they would rather dig and eat around them as opposed to coming into direct contact with them.
The Lantana plant, or the Lantana camara, is a plant that has a wide range of flowering colors. However, its leaves and stems have a very strong odor. Different lantana types have different odors. Some people like this smell while others can’t stand it. Gophers, on the other hand, are pretty clear about what they think of the lantana. They hate the odor and will stay well away from them no matter what.
Geraniums are plants with very distinct aromas. This smell is repulsive to most animals, including gophers. However, since different geranium varieties have different potency levels, some types are more resistant to gophers than others. The ivy-leaf type of geranium is particularly susceptible to attacks.
Pomegranate are quite resistant to gophers. Although they are not particularly toxic and have no noticeable repulsive odor, gophers will steer clear of them as much as they can.
This is another plant that gives off a very strong scent that gophers absolutely hate. Eucalyptus plants secrete a lot of oils and are very strong smelling. They do not taste particularly good either, so gophers completely ignore them.
- Heavenly bamboo
Despite its name, the Heavenly bamboo, or Nandinadomestica, is not really a bamboo plant. It is a beautiful plant that can be potentially fatal to humans if ingested. The heavenly bamboo produces hydrocyanic acid, which is the main reason why almost all pests including gophers completely avoid it.
- Mexican bush sage
This plant is slightly resistant to gophers. They will dig and eat their way around it and consume everything else before finally attacking it when they run out of food.
- Pine trees
All plants in the pine family are safe from gophers. Pine sap has been proven to be a very effective deterrent for gophers.
The grevillea genus is a divers and extensive one. It includes about 360 species. They are all very resistant to gophers, thriving while other plants succumb to the incessant vermin.
- Most toxic plants
Gophers know to avoid plants that contain toxins and poisonous plants. Some of these plants include Oleanders (Nerium oleander), the Foxglove plant, Naked ladies (Amaryllis belladonna), daffodils, Coleonema, Artemisia genus, Mimulus, deer grass, palm trees, and sweet clover.
These are the most common gopher-resistant plants. Note that most deer resistant plants are also gopher resistant. However, you should know that gophers will eat just about anything if they get hungry enough. This is why experts advise that whenever you are in doubt, simply cage the roots of your plants while you plant them.
How Much Does It Cost to Get Rid of Gophers?
Getting a professional to take care of your gopher problem for you might sound expensive, but it is the cheaper option in the long run. A professional will get straight to the solution so you won’t have to burn your money trying solution after solution. With an expert, you get access to the best tools, which will go a long way in saving you both time and money.
The actual cost for getting rid of gophers will depend on several factors, such as the company you use, the size of the property, the local rates, the nature of the landscape and terrain, and the number of gophers you have.
Generally, though, the total cost can be anywhere from $50 to $500 or more. This includes the costs for an inspection and the eventual treatment. Most pest removal companies use a combination of traps and fumigation, which is highly effective.
Your exterminator may also use Aluminum Phosphide, which is a chemical that reacts with moisture to produce phosphine, which is highly toxic and fast acting. The best part about using phosphine is that although it is highly toxic, it leaves no residual poison, so even if your pet eats the gopher carcass, it will not get any secondary poisoning.
Aluminum Phosphide is the most expensive option when it comes to gopher extermination. However, it is also the most effective, and many extermination companies will offer money-back guarantees based on this.
In the end, when you finally have your peace of mind back and are no longer being constantly bothered by gophers tearing up your yard, you will realize that this is money very well spent.
Do Gophers Eat Peanut Butter?
Gophers are herbivores, which means they love most plant matter, including potatoes, carrots, most roots, and of course, peanut butter.
The fact that they enjoy eating peanut butter means that it will make a really great bait food. It works really well because it is thick and sticky, which makes it easy to apply on a vertical bait pan snap trap. These traps are usually laid out vertically to make sure that the gopher is killed by a quick snap of the neck as opposed to suffering a slow agonizing death that occurs when they get trapped by a paw.
Once you lace your gopher trap with peanut butter, simply place it underground in the gopher’s main tunnel. Make sure it is in a spot where the gopher has to pass through to get from one end to the other to make sure that your trap is hard to miss. This way, even if the gopher chooses to ignore your food, it still has to somehow pass through the trap. Be sure to handle the trap with gloved hands because the scent of human sweat on the trap may cause the gopher to burrow its way around the trap, avoiding it entirely.
If you intend to poison them, peanut butter can also help you do that. Here is how to go about it:
- Locate the gopher mound
- Dig it up to find the tunnel.
- Put a stick down the tunnel to see how far it goes. If you hit something, dig a little more till you find the main tunnel.
- If this is in your garden, try to dig as far away from your plants as possible. This may mean having to uproot a few plants, but that’s ok.
- Next, get some waste copy paper. Apply a few generous strips of cheap peanut butter on the copy paper. The smell of the peanut butter will attract the gophers to your trap.
- The next step is to sprinkle a few poisonous rodent pellets on the peanut butter. The peanut butter should make the pellets stick. Be very careful with this step, because these pellets are designed to make rodents bleed out internally. They will have the same effect on small animals, including your pets. So make sure you scoop up any pellets you drop, and keep your pets away from the poison. Also, wash your hands after handling them because they can be irritating to the skin.
- Cut the paper into strips and roll it up. Each strip should be quite thick and evenly spread with peanut butter and sprinkled with poisonous pellets.
- Insert the roll into the gopher holes you dug out earlier.
- Push them deeper inside with a stick, as far as you can.
- Refill the hole with earth, then tamp it down and distribute the dirt around until everything is level again.
The gopher will likely die below ground. However, if it comes out and dies above ground, make sure you find it and dispose of the body appropriately, because it can kill other animals if eaten.
What Do Gophers Like Eating?
Gophers feed on the roots and stems of various grasses, vegetables, shrubs, flowers, and trees. They love the fresh succulent portions of most vegetable roots and stems. They will also eat most plants with bulbs. Carrots, peas, potatoes, roses, parsley, California Poppy, Aster, Campanula, Lavatera, Phormium and Salvia uliginosa, among other common plants, are all gopher foods.
Their all-time favorite agricultural plant is alfalfa. They will gladly eat any part of this plant and come back for more. They love alfalfa greens but will also eat alfalfa pellets, which is the kind that is used to feed rabbits and hamsters.
Gophers also love carrot sticks, apples, celery sticks and peanut butter, which is why these foods make really great bait food.
Are Gophers Nocturnal?
Gophers will rarely be seen on the surface. They are active all year round and will burrow at any time of day. Although they are thought to be nocturnal, gophers are usually constantly on the move. Besides, despite what time of day it may be above ground, it is always dark in a gopher’s tunnel where they spend almost all their time.
For this reason, gophers are mainly crepuscular, or active at dusk and dawn, and nocturnal. They do not hibernate and remain active all year round.
They are most active in spring and slow down quite a bit as winter approaches. During the summer, they often come out later at night to avoid the day’s heat. They prefer the cover of darkness, although this is mainly because they like to stay cool in their tunnels during hot sunny days. You will often spot them at dusk and dawn before it gets too hot.
In winter, when the sun is low and it is no longer too hot, gophers will come out at any time of day.
Do Gophers Eat Fruit?
Gophers eat almost all types of plants. They mostly attack the roots, stems, and other plant parts that may be beneath the ground. However, they can also pull down entire plants and consume them in their entirety within their tunnels, leaves, fruits, and flowers included. Once in a while, especially when good food is scarce below the ground, gophers will also come up above the surface and eat the plants growing there.
That being said, gophers will rarely eat squashes, peppers, tomatoes, and berries. However, they will eat the roots of these plants, and if they are particularly hungry, they will eat the fruits too. Also, they really love feeding on the supple roots of very young trees. However, they will avoid older trees, which is why fruit trees that are older than three years are generally safe from them.
Mike Zhang. Founder of FamilyLifeShare