How to Get Rid of Gophers in Your Yard

close-up of a gopher in grass

Your scarecrow might ward off the crows and blackbirds, but it can’t scare underground carrot thieves. Gophers will stop at nothing to get your vegetables and will build a tunnel fortress beneath your lawn in the process. But you can get rid of gophers in your yard with the help of our handy guide. 

From underground fencing to setting traps, many gopher control methods will send these critters packing. Here’s what we’ll cover so you can create the best strategy to take back your yard: 

What do gophers look like?

Don’t let these furballs fool you. Gophers might look like your pet guinea pig, but they’ll do a number on your lawn. Also known as pocket gophers, gophers are medium-sized rodents with small ears, short legs, and exceptional digging skills (thanks to their powerful forequarters). 

Gophers have fur-lined, external cheek pouches which they use to carry food –– it’s no wonder we call them pocket gophers! You also can easily recognize a gopher by its exposed, yellowish-colored front teeth. 

A gopher’s tiny eyes are sensitive to light, which is why you don’t often see these critters traveling above ground. Their large-clawed front paws are great tools for digging, and their short fur doesn’t cake in wet soils.

There are many different species of pocket gophers, with fur colors typically ranging between brown and gray. Most gophers are 6 to 10 inches long, including their short tail. 

But don’t confuse gophers for another pest: Pocket gophers look similar to many other small animals in the yard, mainly moles and voles. Read on to learn more about these stealthy look-alikes. 

What do moles look like?

Unlike gophers, moles are meat-eaters. Their diet consists of grubs, insects, and earthworms. 

Moles are typically 4 to 7 inches long and have paddle-shaped feet with prominent claws for digging. They have small eyes, no external ears, and a long, pointed snout. 

Their blackish-gray fur has no grain, which means there is no resistance in whichever direction you pet it. This trait allows moles to travel both backward and forward through the soil. 

What do voles look like?

Voles are typically 5 to 7 inches long and have stocky bodies, short legs, blunt snouts, and short tails. They have small black eyes and prominent ears which don’t extend above their fur. 

Their fur is often a mix of chestnut-brown and black. Their mouse-like appearance can help you distinguish them from gophers and moles. To tell them apart from mice, look at the tail: voles have short tails while mice have tails nearly the size of their body length. 

Where do gophers live?

Pocket gophers dig their tunnels in rangelands, roadsides, and alfalfa fields. They’ll also invade lawns, gardens, and flower beds. 

Ultimately, gophers love an environment where they can get their paws on a good food source. The herbivore feeds on the roots of trees, alfalfa, grasses, bulbs, and dandelions. If a gopher finds your garden, it will have a field day munching on your root vegetables, including carrots, sweet potatoes, and garlic. 

Why are gophers bad for my yard?

Gophers might look harmless, but they can cause considerable damage to a well-manicured lawn. They fill the yard with piles of soil as they excavate their tunnels, which can interfere with mowing and ruin your lawn’s appearance. Their burrow system can cover anywhere between 200 and 2,000 square feet in size, and a single-pocket gopher can create several mounds in one day.  

And you don’t want these rodents discovering your vegetables either –– they’ll pull your veggies underground as easily as one, two, three!

Pocket gophers also have a habit of destroying underground utility cables and irrigation pipes. If you just spent money on a brand new sprinkler system, the last thing you want is a gopher digging at its pipes. 

Signs you have a gopher problem

Piles of fresh soil are the best sign of a gopher living in your yard. As the rodent digs its tunnel, it pushes the dirt up to the surface, creating a crescent or horseshoe-shaped mound when viewed from above.

On one side of the gopher mound, you’ll likely find a sealed depression of soil –– this is the gopher’s entryway. Gophers will plug up their entryway with soil to block out light and keep predators at bay. 

Gophers don’t hibernate, which means they’re active year-round. However, you’ll spot the most gopher activity in spring and fall because that’s when the soil is most optimal for digging.  

How to find a gopher’s main tunnel

Before you can start controlling the gophers in your yard, there’s one skill you’ll need to master –– finding the gopher’s main tunnel. Locating the tunnel can take a bit of practice, so you’ll need plenty of patience in your tool kit. 

  1. Find a probe tool. Pipes, shovel handles, and broom handles make great probes. 
  2. Locate the gopher’s soil mound. The lateral tunnel, which leads to the main tunnel, will be on the side of the plugged hole. 
  3. On the side nearest the plugged hole, stick the probe into the ground 4 to 10 inches away from the mound’s base. The main tunnel is usually 4 to 12 inches below the soil’s surface. When the probe hits the gopher’s tunnel, you’ll feel the probe give way to a sudden 2-inch drop. 

How to control gophers in the yard

Once you get a bit of practice finding the gopher’s tunnel, it’s time to get that rodent under control. 

Pocket gophers are solitary creatures, which means there usually is one gopher per tunnel system. If you get rid of one gopher, chances are good there are no more in that particular tunnel. The only exception is during the breeding season or when female gophers are caring for their young. 

Exclusion

Do gophers manage to invade your vegetable garden year after year? Installing an underground fence should help throw them off their course. This control method can prove difficult, so you might find it helpful to call a local pest control professional

  • You’ll need a minimum total of 3 ½ feet of the fencing material. The fencing material should be hardware cloth or ½ to ¾-inch wire mesh. 
  • Bury the fencing at least 2 feet deep into the ground, with an additional 6 inches of wire fencing bent at a 90-degree angle away from the plants. In total, you’ll bury 2 ½ feet of the material. 
  • The fence will act as a barricade and deter pocket gophers from digging any further. In case the gopher decides to move overland, keep at least 1 foot of fencing above ground.  
  • When installing the fencing, maintain a 2-foot distance between the fence and the plant. Creating this distance helps prevent the plant roots from growing into the wire mesh. 

This control method is not foolproof. Stubborn gophers might still manage to dig beneath the fence and enter your garden. Exclusion is the ideal solution when you want to protect a specific yard area without using harmful chemicals or killing the animal. 

Protect underground cables

If gophers are regular lawn visitors where you live, it’s a good idea to keep your utility cables and irrigation system well protected. 

The Colorado State University Extension recommends enclosing buried utility cables and irrigation lines with lead or PVC exceeding 2.9 inches in diameter. You also can place crushed rock or gravel greater than 1 inch in diameter around cables to help protect them from pocket gophers. 

Traps

Trapping a gopher may take a few attempts, but it’s an effective way to get rid of a gopher. There is a wide variety of traps available, including live traps and traps that kill the gopher. 

The following tips can be a helpful guide to setting a gopher trap, but always read and follow the instructions that come with your specific trap type. 

  • Using your probe, locate the intersection between the lateral tunnel and the main tunnel. 
  • After finding the tunnel, dig a hole to reveal where the lateral and main tunnel meet. You should see two open holes leading into the main tunnel (the lateral tunnel is often full of soil). 
  • Insert a trap 6 to 8 inches deep into each hole of the main tunnel. Setting traps in the main tunnel is typically more successful than setting a trap in the lateral tunnel. 
  • Secure the traps with a wire and stake to easily retrieve the trap and prevent wildlife from taking off with the gopher.
  • Covering the traps with soil is usually only necessary if other animals and humans frequently visit the area. Otherwise, leaving the traps uncovered will attract the gophers because they don’t like open burrow systems. As they attempt to plug the hole with soil, they will trigger the trap. 
  • Check the traps frequently, especially if you are using a live trap. If you don’t catch a gopher in 48 hours, move it to a new tunnel system. 

Remember: Before setting any traps in your yard, you must check your local and state laws. In some areas, it is illegal to trap animals without a license. 

Flooding

Another control option is to flood the burrow system. Flooding will either create an inhospitable environment and drive out the gophers or drown them. If the gophers manage to leave their burrow system to come above ground, they become exposed to predators. 

Keep in mind that this method is not always reliable, and it does put the gopher’s life at risk. If you don’t want to kill the animal, then this control solution may not be ideal for you. 

Rodenticides

Only use rodenticides as a last line of defense after implementing other gopher-control methods, such as exclusion and trapping. When using rodenticides to control pocket gophers, it’s essential to perform this method correctly and safely. Otherwise, you risk harming pets, wildlife, children, and yourself. 

According to the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, strychnine-treated grain is the most effective type of bait for pocket gopher control. The bait generally contains 0.5% strychnine and is lethal with a single feeding. Gopher baits containing 2.0% zinc phosphide are also lethal after a single feeding.

When using rodenticides, always read and follow the product’s instructions. You may only apply rodenticides inside the gopher’s main tunnel. Misapplying rodenticides is illegal and dangerous. 

WARNING: Do not use rodenticides in vegetable gardens. The root vegetables could come in direct contact with the poison bait and expose people to the rodenticide. 

How to control gophers with rodenticides

  1. Correctly identify the pest you are trying to control. 
  2. Read and follow the rodenticide’s instructions. 
  3. Wear protective clothing and equipment, including chemical-resistant gloves, eye protection, lung protection, long sleeves, and pants.
  4. Don’t smoke or eat while handling rodenticides. Wash your hands thoroughly after application. 
  5. Probe the ground and search for the main tunnel. After you’ve found the tunnel, enlarge the hole by rotating the probe or inserting a large stick. 
  6. Following all instructions, place the bait carefully into the hole without disrupting the tunnel. You can apply the bait using a spoon and funnel reserved only for that purpose.
  7. Be careful not to spill rodenticides onto the ground. Otherwise, pets, wildlife, or children may come in contact with it. 
  8. After placing the bait in the main tunnel, close the probe hole with a large rock or other material that blocks light but doesn’t make soil fall onto the bait.  
  9. Repeat this process a few times with the same main tunnel. Several bait placements within the main burrow system will increase the likelihood of poisoning the gopher. 
  10. Follow the label’s storage instructions. Always store rodenticides away from pets, wildlife, and children. Never store rodenticides near food items for pets, livestock, and humans. 

FAQ about controlling gophers

1. How can I repel gophers?

According to the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, no repellents have proven effective against pocket gophers. Your neighbor might recommend repelling the gopher with castor bean or garlic, but insufficient research supports their gopher-repellent effects. 

Frightening away pocket gophers with vibrating stakes, wind chimes, or pinwheels might not prove effective either, as pocket gophers are often exposed to loud noises and vibrations from sprinklers, lawnmowers, and vehicles. 

The best way to prevent pocket gophers from accessing a specific area is with exclusion. 

2. Does fumigation control gophers?

Fumigation with smoke or gas cartridges is not a reliable gopher removal method. Gophers will typically seal up their tunnels as a defense before the fumigant overcomes their burrow system. 

3. Can I use predators to control gophers?

Relying on predators to control your gophers may not provide the results you want. Some homeowners install owl boxes to encourage barn owls to nest. Yet barn owls won’t necessarily limit their hunting grounds to your lawn, and there is no guarantee they will target your gophers. 

Recover your lawn after gopher control

The only thing worse on your lawn than a gopher infestation is gopher control. After probing your yard for the tunnel and digging holes to set traps, your lawn is bound to look like a mess. 

After you’ve taken care of the gopher, let a local lawn care professional handle the rest. They can patch up your yard, overseed the affected areas, and promote new growth. But it needn’t stop there –– a pro also can handle your mowing regime, fertilize the lawn, and keep it in tip-top shape year-round. So say goodbye to those gopher holes and hello to your new beautiful landscape. 

Main Photo Credit: Lubos Houska | Pixabay

Jane Purnell

Jane Purnell is a freelance writer and actor in New York City. She earned her B.A. from the University of Virginia and enjoys a warm cup of French press coffee.