Eliminating Gophers From Your Garden

by

The Arsenal

I know, all you experienced gardeners out there are saying to yourselves, “eliminate!!?  What the heck is he talking about?”.  Well I admit eliminate might be too expansive a word to use in the same sentence as gopher, but with a bit of perseverance and work, you can come close.  First I suggest you read my two earlier posts on my gopher trouble.  This will get you up to date on my battles with this little feller and set the stage for what you might learn from this article.  The older post was How to Trap Gophers, and as you will see when reading, was perhaps titled incorrectly.  The second post, Gophers in the Garden, was just written a short while ago and summarizes the problem that drove me to gophercide.

The first this to know about gophers is that they are very territorial.  One gopher can establish and defend a territory much larger than the average home garden.  So even if you see lots of destruction and tunneling in your yard, there is a good chance it is all from one or two gophers.  Trap those and you might be surprised to see the damage stop.  Now other gophers might eventually move in, but if you are vigilant and ruthless persistent, you can control those too.  I have heard of people trapping several gophers from the same tunnel or hole but that has not been my experience so far. Usually once I catch a gopher, the damage in that immediate area stops.

Gophers in my garden do their destruction in two ways.  First and perhaps most damaging are the tunnels themselves.  These can be a Wilted Zucchini from gopher damage to roots.labyrinth just beneath the surface of the soil, invisible, but deadly to your plants.  Often the first sign of a gopher is a plant that wilts and does not respond to being watered.  (See the photo to the right of the wilted zucchini.)If you use a post or stick to poke the soil around the plant, you will cave in the tunnels and have your direct proof of a gopher.  Because excavation of the tunnels has removed the dirt from around the plant’s roots, they can not take up water and will soon die.  Pushing down the tunnels is not a good solution because the little excavator gopher will soon return, cleaning out the old tunnels and building new ones.  The gopher itself must be eliminated if you are to have any hope of saving your garden.

The second way gophers do their damage is by eating the plants themselves.  I remember noticing once my corn plants were wilting and seemed shorter than they had been.  Upon investigation, I realized they had been eaten from underground, pulled down into the soil from a gopher tunnel below.  The roots and several inches of the stem were gone and the corn was dead.  Last week I found a yellow summer squash plant that was very wilted.  When I touched it I realized it had no roots.  The gopher had eaten the roots right up to Yellow squash plant eaten by gopherthe soil surface, killing the plant.  Look at the photo to the left and you can see the brown scar where the squash plant above ground had once been joined to its roots below ground.  When I found this I realized that even if it meant no sleep for days, I was going to get this gopher out of my garden.

I had been setting traps for this gopher for a couple of weeks.  The activity was first in the lawn, under an apple tree, and under a grape vine.  All this was about 25 feet from the back vegetable garden.  A week earlier I had noticed a different gopher in the front vegetable garden, a couple hundred yards away.  I set some traps for that one, catching it the first night.  Little did I know that some gophers are more trap smart than others and the one in the back garden was not going to be so easy to catch.  That gopher avoided all my traps by either springing them without being caught, or simple burying them in the dirt he excavated from his tunnels.  I tried all the box traps and the little snap traps in the photo at the top of this post, all without success.  Then I realized that it seemed the gopher was springing the traps and not being caught because it was small enough to fit between the trigger and the jaws without being snared.  This was hard for me to believe as judging from all the damage, I was sure this gopher was the size of your average Great Dane.

In any case, after some more research, I decided to purchase two “Cinch Traps” and try those.  Of course, being the idiot that I sometimes am, and having a gopher problem to fix, I purchased the traps labeled as being for gophers.  When after the first two nights, these traps were also sprung without a gopher being caught, I realized that these traps were also too big for our Western Pocket Gophers.  I called the company to complain and was told that in order to catch these pocket gophers, I needed the mole trap not the gopher trap.  Duh, of course I should have known if you want to catch a gopher, don’t buy gopher traps, buy mole traps.  Anyway you are more fortunate, (and educated), and now know… to catch a pocket gopher, buy the mole traps.

Shows the difference in size between the gopher and mole cinch trapsYou can see the distance difference between the trigger and the jaws of the gopher trap and the mole trap in the photo to the left.  The photo below shows you the difference in the size of the trigger ring.  The smaller ring of the mole trap is perfect for Pocket Gophers.  The company that makes the traps, “Cinch Trap” markets a trap for gophers, but it is too big to catch the average pocket gopher.  The mole trap works in exactly the same fashion as the gopher trap, itShows the difference in trigger ring size between the gopher and mole cinch traps just has a smaller trigger and less distance between the trigger and the jaws of the trap.  I you live in western states like California, Oregon, Washington, etc. this is the mole trap you want, not the gopher cinch trap.

Once I received and set the mole trap, I caught the gopher the first night.  I have now collapsed all his tunnels, watered the garden well, and await newly armed for the next gopher that thinks it can get away with setting up shop in my garden!  I do hope my bravado is not misplaced.

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Will Sig
1 Steve

hi Will,
I think I have about a third of your “arsenal”, specifically I’ve got several black tubes and Macabee? traps. Sometimes I get the pocket gopher, though usually I just trap dirt. I’ve read about the “cinch trap” and how good it is… and it seems that you have proven it, except that you need the smaller “mole” version and not the “gopher” version.
Have you only used your mole cinch trap once, or more times than that? And do you think it really is that effective? Steve
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2 Will

Hi Steve – I have used it twice now and caught the gopher both times on the first try. Now the yard is gopher free, (whoops, probably should not have said that). If I get another invader, I’ll let you know how it goes. The gopher I talk about in this post had been evading all my other traps for a while. The cinch trap got him. If you have a gopher I would click the link above and get a couple of them. I bet they will get it.

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3 Stephanie Suesan Smith

Well, at least you didn’t go nuts and pour gasoline down the hole and lite it. A guy showed us a video of a man doing that who blew up his house. The gopher had dug right under it, and that is where the gasoline pooled.

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4 Will

Hey Stephanie – Do you have a url for that video? I could not find it. Gasoline is a little extreme for me.

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5 Anna

Wow this is more like executing the gopher, lol. You know I really didn’t know what gopher was until I started reading more of your posts. Now I remember my grandmother used to kill them with the sharp tools, she used to go early in the morning and sneak on them. It is crazy, because tunnels were every where. Anna 🙂
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6 Tony McGurk

So where do you release them after they are caught???
You do release them don’t you???
Please tell me you release the cute little critters…

Or does the trap do the (gulp) “K” word to them???

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7 Tony

So where do you release them after they are caught???
You do release them don’t you???
Please tell me you release the cute little critters…

Or does the trap do the (gulp) “K” word to them???

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8 Will

Release them? I can tell you are not a gardener. Or at least not a gardener in a place that has gophers. Maybe it is just the company I keep, but I don’t know anyone that releases them. Maybe Steve does? Do you release them Steve?

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9 Tony McGurk

I kill mice with traps but gophers are too cute. I think I would have to release them in a nice part of the forest

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10 Tony

I kill mice with traps but gophers are too cute. I think I would have to release them in a nice part of the forest

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11 Steve

hi Will,
I’ve got a particularly pesky gopher in the backyard (and uncomfortably close to our small garden), and my current arsenal just isn’t working, so I decided to “upgrade” and clicked through on your amazon link and order the set of two mole traps. I won’t get them until Monday I think. I hope they are the magic “silver bullet”. 🙂
Have you had any further gopher issues, and have you needed to pull out your traps again? Steve

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12 Will

Hi Steve – I followed the instructions and dug the tunnel so I could put one in each direction. I inserted them as far as I could so the trigger was down in the hole a ways, but the plate with the spring was still out where it could trip freely. I have had two more move as you say “uncomfortably close to the garden”. So I set the traps and caught them both. Each time the catch happened on the first night. I have not had one trip these Mole Snaps yet and not get caught. Hope it works for you too!

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13 Isabel

I find it very upsetting that there seems to be a prevalent “us versus them” attitude about critters that are attracted to our gardens. They are not trying to hurt us or outwit us. They are just trying to survive. They can’t get their food at a grocery store as we can. They are simply looking for a safe place with nearby food. They were around long before us. We actually invaded their territory. Killing gophers is a grossly uneven exchange. They die (and often suffer greatly). We simply lose some plants and go on with our lives. If we had to scrounge for food where a huge giant was setting traps to kill us, wouldn’t we long for some empathy? There are humane ways to deter gophers that I will send in my next email. They work. Please use them. It will be good for our consciences and good for our gardens. A win-win.

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14 buzz

Stop, they are a rodent just like a rat, mole or mouse that carry diseases and do much damage to your garden, yard or structures. A gopher can have a den as big a 6 feet in diameter, have a territory over 1 acre with thousands of feet of dangerous tunnels. How would you like to have your home condemned because of a crater under your foundation. If I lived here before a gopher then they invaded MY space not theirs. Cute, maybe to some but we cant let them stay or they multiply and cause damage 10 fold. If some decide to trap without harm and free them later that’s fine for your peace of mind to do so, but for others it might not be a choice and we do what we must. As far as empathy if they are being sneaky and clever then they know they are in the bad and should just leave the area for a better safer place or be removed permanently. I understand how you feel about animals lives because I feel the same way when people cut the heads off of snakes as if they are evil creatures but gophers are just too damage causing creatures.

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15 Will

Hi Isabel – Please do let us know if there are really any ways to “deter” gophers. I actually did not have any zucchini this year because of a gopher that was causing havoc in my garden. This gopher also killed a few pepper plants and some raspberries before I trapped it and stopped the mayhem. If I could simple get them to stay away, I would. But I have never found any of the deterrence methods to work. Still, I am always open to new suggestions so feel free to advise.

Note: Isabel wrote such a great reply I used it as a guest post. Read her take on another way to get gophers out of your garden.

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16 mary

A few year ago I was boarding horses and I buried their manure about 2.5 feet deep. A year later I planted a garden on top of it and my squash went crazy producing TONS of zucs. And the gophers did not and still do not come up in that area. the other option is to dig up the whole garden and put chicken wire under the soil. that works very well.

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