Wild animals are part of what makes nature so magical, and watching them can be highly enjoyable. While it’s important to coexist with animals in relative peace, they can cause countless problems when they take up residence in our homes or gardens. In this series, our Wildlife Management Specialist, Shawn Weeks, will educate us about some common household pests, and share some strategies for keeping them under control without dangerous chemicals.
Today we’ll look at the infamous gopher.
Habitat and History
Gophers are native to the “New World.” There are 13 species of them found throughout most of the Midwest, the west, southern portions of Alabama and Georgia, and Florida. They are also found in parts of Alberta, Canada. Gophers are burrowing creatures that prefer light soils. However, they adapt well to many different terrains and soil types.
Most burrows are made close to the surface, but can be found as deep as two feet below the surface. Gophers use their teeth and/or claws to make their tunnels, depending on the species. They then tumble over in the tunnel and push the soil to the surface.
Gophers are herbivores. They feed exclusively on plants. Feeding occurs in their tunnels, where they consume the roots of plants and vegetation. The bulk of their diet is made up of forbs and grasses, and they are particular to alfalfa. Dandelions are an important food source for gophers. They will pull the entire plant into their tunnel and eat it in its entirety when they can.
Gophers have one litter per year in their northern range, with three to five young. In their southern range, they can have two litters per year.
Problems, Solutions and Health Concerns
While gophers can be an occasional nuisance to gardeners and homeowners, they can cause extensive and significant damage to local ecosystems and agriculture. The amount of soil disturbed by a single population of gophers in one area is usually measured in tons due to the amount of damage they can cause.
There are a few machines that can eliminate gophers on large farms and agricultural land. Some of these machines have long hoses that are hooked on one end to a running car or tractor, with the other end inserted into a tunnel. Others include combustion devices that create explosions in the tunnels. Of course, these machines are expensive and only practical for large properties where farmers must protect their livelihood. These methods should also only be used where it is safe and legal to do so.
Trapping or shooting gophers can be successful in certain circumstances, although neither method offers any solution for preventive maintenance. Rather than simply getting rid of a wildlife problem once it’s presented itself, it is always beneficial to be pro-active and diligent when trying to prevent or manage human/wildlife conflicts.
A few simpler methods of eliminating gophers from your property include over watering your lawn, planting shrubs and plants they do not eat, and/or applying repellents and homemade solutions that bother their senses of smell and taste. A few plants that are believed to repel gophers include natal plum, lavender, salvia, catmint, oleander, penstemons, rhaphiolepis, rosemary, and strawberries. The most popular natural deterrents are peppermint oil and castor oil. Some people also report success with stuffing scented fabric softener sheets into gopher tunnels. There are also a number of commercial gopher repellents on the market.
Some of these applications can be successful if you are diligent and change things up every week or so. Gophers will become accustomed to repellents if you do not use a combination of different ones on a regular basis. The biggest problem people have when using repellents and homemade mixes is finding a gopher’s main tunnel. If you are applying products to escape routes and secondary tunnels, such products will be less effective, or even totally ineffective.
If you are trying to defend a specific area, like a vegetable garden or a flower garden from gophers, the best strategy is to dig a two foot deep trench around the perimeter, lay down 1/4” of hardware cloth, then bury it. This will prevent gophers from burrowing into the area.
Shawn is a lifelong New Englander. He lives in Canton, Conn., with his wife Tami, mother, sister, and her three children. He and his wife have two grown children and two grandchildren. Shawn is an avid hunter, fisherman, and gardener. He is also a writer, a nuisance wildlife professional, small scale farmer, and scout leader. You can email him at [email protected].