Pocket gophers are a headache in the yard, but controlling them with rodenticides can feel worrisome. Rodenticides are an effective gopher control method, but they also threaten wildlife, pets, and humans (especially children). Fido might dig up the rodenticide, or a friendly fox might experience secondary poisoning by eating a gopher that consumed the bait.
Our guide on how to remove gophers naturally covers four control methods that don’t involve toxic chemicals.
- How to control gophers naturally
- What do gophers look like?
- Where do gophers live?
- Why are gophers bad for my yard?
- Signs you have a gopher problem
- How to find a gopher’s main tunnel
- FAQ about natural gopher control
- Learn more about natural lawn treatments
How to control gophers naturally
When a pesky gopher is ravaging the lawn, many homeowners will turn to rodenticides for an effective solution that nips the problem in the bud.
But rodenticides pose a significant threat to wildlife, pets, and humans and should only be used as a last resort. The poison bait often contains flavorings, such as peanut butter or molasses, making it highly attractive to animals (including your dog or outdoor cat).
Here are four natural ways to get rid of gophers and block them from certain areas of the yard.
If a gopher is stealing your veggies or nibbling on your tree’s roots, you can deny access to your plants with underground fencing.
- First, you’ll need 3 ½ feet of hardware cloth or ½- to ¾-inch wire mesh.
- Bury 2 ½ feet of the material into the ground with the bottom 6 inches of wire bent at a 90-degree angle away from the plants. 2 feet of the wire will be straight, and 6 inches of the wire will be bent.
- Keep at least 1 foot of the wire aboveground in case the gopher tries its luck overland.
- Maintain a minimum of 2 feet between the fence and the plant to prevent the plant’s roots from growing into the wire mesh.
Underground fencing is not a 100% effective gopher control method. Ambitious gophers might still manage to dig beneath the fence and enter the forbidden space.
Protect underground cables
You can help keep gopher damage under control by protecting your underground cables and irrigation system.
The Colorado State University Extension recommends enclosing buried utility cables and irrigation lines with lead or PVC larger than 2.9 inches in diameter. Alternatively, crushed rock or gravel greater than 1 inch in diameter can also be placed around the underground cables and lines for protection.
Trapping is an effective gopher control solution that doesn’t require the use of chemicals.
Yet this control method might not be for you if you don’t want to sacrifice the gopher’s life. Live traps might sound tempting if you wish to preserve the animal’s life, but live-trapping a gopher and transporting it to a new location almost always results in the animal dying.
If you’re interested in installing gopher traps, here’s how to do it:
- Step 1: Locate the intersection between the lateral tunnel and the main tunnel with the help of your probe (we’ll talk about probes and how to find a tunnel later in this article)
- Step 2: After you find the tunnel, dig a hole to reveal where the lateral and main tunnel meet. You’ll likely see two open holes that lead into the main tunnel. The lateral tunnel typically won’t have a noticeable hole because the gopher often fills it with soil.
- Step 3: Insert two traps –– one in each entrance –– about 6 to 8 inches deep into the tunnel. Setting traps in the main tunnel is usually more successful than setting a trap in the lateral tunnel.
- Step 4: Secure the traps with a wire and stake so you can easily retrieve the trap. Securing the trap also prevents predators from taking off with the gopher.
- Step 5: Cover the traps with soil if other animals and humans frequently visit the area. Otherwise, leave the traps uncovered to help attract gophers. Gophers don’t like open burrow systems, so they’ll almost always fill open holes up with soil. As they attempt to plug the hole, they will trigger the trap.
- Step 6: Check the traps frequently, especially if you’re using a live trap. If you don’t catch a gopher within 48 hours, move your trap to a new location.
Flooding a gopher’s tunnel system with a garden hose creates an inhospitable environment for the pocket gopher. Place the garden hose inside the tunnel entrance and turn it on full force. Flooding will either drown the pocket gopher or force it to flee the tunnel and expose itself to predators.
What do gophers look like?
Look! Out in the yard! It’s a vole! It’s a mole! It’s a pocket gopher!
When controlling gophers in the yard, it’s essential to identify the rodent correctly. If you misidentify the animal, your control methods won’t be as effective. (A vampire hunter’s garlic cloves won’t do much against the regular bats in their attic, you know).
- You can easily recognize a gopher by its exposed, yellow front teeth.
- The rodent has small ears and short legs and is usually 6 to 10 inches long.
- Gophers get their name ‘pocket gopher’ from the fur-lined, external cheek pouches they use to carry food.
- Their tiny eyes are sensitive to light, which is why you don’t often see these critters scurrying aboveground.
- Fur colors typically range between brown and gray, depending on the species.
- A pocket gopher’s fur is short and doesn’t cake in wet soils.
- There are many different species of pocket gophers, which means not every pocket gopher across the U.S. looks identical.
What do moles look like compared to gophers?
It’s easy to mistake a mole for a pocket gopher if you don’t know what characteristics to look for.
|Moles have big, paddle-shaped feet with large claws to help them dig.||Gophers have strong paws for digging, but they’re not shaped like wide paddles.|
|They’re typically 4 to 7 inches long.||Gophers are usually 6 to 10 inches long.|
|Their eyes are so small it almost appears they have none.||Gophers have small eyes, but they are visible.|
|Moles have no external ears.||Gophers have very small ears, but they are external.|
|Moles have a long pointed snout.||Compared to moles, a gopher’s snout is blunter.|
|A mole’s blackish-gray fur is typically darker than a gopher’s fur.||A gopher’s fur is often lighter than a mole’s fur, ranging between brown and gray.|
|Moles are meat-eaters that love to snack on grubs, insects, and earthworms.||Gophers are herbivores that love the treats in your vegetable garden.|
What do voles look like compared to gophers?
Voles are another gopher look-alike. Here’s how to tell the two apart:
|Voles have a distinctive mouse-like appearance.||Gophers are not easily mistaken for mice.|
|Voles are typically 5 to 7 inches long and have a much smaller body than gophers.||Gophers are often 6 to 10 inches long. Although their lengths may sometimes be the same, a gopher’s body is larger than a vole’s.|
|Voles have a mix of chestnut-brown and black fur.||Gophers have brown to gray fur, depending on the species.|
|Voles have visible eyes and ears.||Gophers also have visible eyes and ears.|
Where do gophers live?
Pocket gophers like to dig their tunnels where a good food source is available. You might find their heads popping up in grasslands, pastures, roadsides, and alfalfa fields. Your lawn, vegetable garden, and flower beds also make inviting habitats.
Pocket gophers feed on the roots of trees, alfalfa, grasses, bulbs, and dandelions. If a gopher invades your garden, prepare to say goodbye to your root vegetables, including carrots, garlic, and sweet potatoes.
Why are gophers bad for my yard?
Not only can gophers steal your vegetables, but they also destroy a lawn’s appearance. A single gopher can dig multiple holes in one day, sprinkling the lawn with unsightly mounds of dirt. Their tunnels can cover anywhere between 200 and 2,000 square feet in size –– imagine that kind of fortress underneath your yard!
Your underground utility cables and irrigation pipes are susceptible to gopher damage. The last thing you want is for a gopher to destroy your new sprinkler system.
Signs you have a gopher problem
- Mounds of fresh soil in the yard are the best sign that an active gopher is living underground.
- These mounds are crescent or horseshoe-shaped when you view them from above.
- The gopher hole is on one side of the mound and appears as a soil plug in the ground. Gophers seal up their entryways with soil to protect themselves from predators and to block out light.
- The mounds appear in spring and fall. Pocket gophers are active all year round, yet spring and fall are when the soil is best for digging.
How to find a gopher’s main tunnel
You’re itching to send that troublesome gopher packing. But before you can implement a gopher control method, there’s one thing you need to do first–– find the gopher’s main tunnel. Locating the gopher’s tunnel can take some trial and error, so don’t get too frustrated if you can’t find it right away.
- Step 1: Find a probe tool. The probe tool is what you’ll use to find the gopher tunnel. Shovel handles, pipes, and broom handles all make good probes.
- Step 2: Locate a fresh gopher mound. The tunnel leading into the main tunnel is called the lateral tunnel, and it will be on the side of the mound where the plugged entryway is.
- Step 3: Poke the ground 4 to 10 inches away from the mound’s base on the side of the entryway. The main tunnel is usually 4 to 12 inches below the soil’s surface, so you’ll need to insert the probe deeply into the ground. When you feel the probe give way to a sudden two inch-drop, you’ve discovered the main tunnel.
FAQ about natural gopher control
There are many online home remedies and commercially available products which claim to be gopher repellents. But according to the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, no repellents have proven effective at repelling pocket gophers from gardens or other plantings.
Many home remedies suggest that plants such as Euphorbia lathyris, castor beans (which make castor oil), and garlic can repel gophers. But there is no research to support their repellent effects.
Placing chewing gum or laxatives in gopher burrows is also not an effective control solution.
Your neighbor might be putting up wind chimes to scare the gophers away, but these critters don’t frighten easily. They’re often exposed to loud lawnmowers, vehicles, and sprinklers, which means noise repellents likely won’t scare them.
Setting up owl boxes in hopes of attracting barn owls isn’t a reliable gopher control method. An owl’s hunting grounds can extend beyond your lawn, and there’s no guarantee the owl will target your gophers.
Hiring an exterminator can save you lots of time and stress if you have a severe gopher infestation. After all, who wants to get their fingers snatched in multiple gopher traps when an experienced professional can handle the job for you?
Learn more about natural lawn treatments
Saying no to rodenticides and taking the natural route is a great benefit to the environment. But it doesn’t have to stop there. Other natural lawn care methods include:
- Organic pest control in the lawn and garden
- Organic lawn fertilizer to achieve a chemical-free lawn
- Homemade fertilizer recipes for greener grass
Don’t have time to fertilize the lawn or mow the grass? Hire a local lawn care professional to do the dirty work for you –– including repairing your lawn after gopher control. All that digging and probing can make a mess in the yard, so put down the shovel and let a pro handle the rest.
Main Photo Credit: veverkolog | Pixabay