We’ve all seen the scene in Caddyshack – Carl Spackler detonating the golf course to try and knock off a gopher who is making his life difficult. While we don’t recommend that sort of removal method if you’ve got gophers in your yard, but if you’ve got the pests, you know they can drive you to that point. In the past, we’ve covered moles, voles, and chipmunks – today, we look at the common gopher.
What are Gophers?
Gophers are small, burrowing mammals that can be found throughout North America. They are usually 6-8 inches in length, range from 8 ounces to 2.5 pounds in weight and have brown or gray fur. They generally live to around 3 years of age, although certain species have been seen to live twice that long. They are solitary and territorial, although during breeding season this will change.
How do Gophers Cause Damage?
Gophers are considered agricultural pests, and are one of the worst nightmares for small farms. They burrow through the ground and attack crops, particularly lettuce, carrot, radishes, and vegetable and fruit crops that have juices. The tunneling isn’t all that terrible – the tunnels themselves are far enough under the ground that you won’t see tracks in the grass as with moles and voles. However, the holes for the tunnels can be dangerous – stepping in one can cause a break or sprain in the leg. It’s the eating and hoarding that is the problem, as gophers will take and hide food for later as well. This means a gopher or three can destroy a garden as fast as the plants produce.
Are Gophers Beneficial to a Lawn?
Not one bit. The only arguments against the total elimination of the gopher species is because of their importance as prey in ecosystems, and the fact that they have a certain cuteness to them.
There are a number of methods that are thrown about as far as getting rid of gophers. To start with, don’t bother with Spackler’s dynamite method. That’s just a terrible idea.
- Natural Predators – Cats, foxes, dogs, or even humans armed with a firearm are all efficient, environmentally sound ways of taking out gophers. Introducing an outside cat to the area can get rid of a gopher quick. Just make sure it is a large outside cat, as gophers can be nasty when attacked.
- Poison – Put down poison bait, but make sure to use the baits laced with anticoagulants, not with strychnine – if a predator finds a gopher killed with strychnine and eats it, that predator will be poisoned as well.
- Box traps – Dig into the tunnel system an but two traps back-to-back in the middle of the system. Make sure to wear gloves so your scent isn’t on the traps. The gopher will eventually wander in to one of the two traps. Once trapped, you can either kill it, or drive a good distance away and release it – preferably in an area with no crops or homes.
- Castor Oil Granules – This won’t kill them, but will cause them to turn tail and find a different source of food. This can also be used to create a sort of funnel to direct gophers towards box traps.
- Flooding the Tunnels with Carbon Monoxide – Gopher tunnels are incredibly complex, so the likelihood of you being able to gas the little guy out is unlikely. The gopher will escape from one of the other exits, and come back when your car is out of gas.
- Flooding the Tunnel with Water – If you want to turn your yard into a swamp, feel free to try, but a complex of tunnels could easily need hundred of gallons to flood – not a cheap, easy, or short task. Also, the gopher can pop out of another exit.
- Gopher Flares – Same issue as trying to gas them out with carbon monoxide.
- Gopher Spurge – A plant that will poison the gopher if they eat it. Unfortunately, it spreads quickly, and most gophers will only eat it after you’ve removed any other source of food from their territory.
So now you know how to identify and deal with gopher problems. Next time you see one of the critters pop their head up, you’ll be prepared to spring into action and get rid of them before they do too much damage to your lawn, garden, or crops.