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Pocket Gopher Control: How to Eradicate Them in the Garden

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Pulling your hair out over these underground garden pests? Here’s what you need to know about pocket gopher control. Gophers are not a problem here in the islands, but as a longtime California gardener, I know how damaging a pocket gopher can be.

If you’re new to gardening, you may not have given these underground pests much thought – yet. One minute, there’s no sign of them; the next minute one of your pampered plants has completely disappeared. That’s right; a pocket gopher can pull an entire bush bean or tomato plant into their hole! If they’re working on a larger plant and can’t pull it into the hole, they’ll quietly gnaw the roots until the plant is damaged beyond saving. I’ve lost a fair number of young fruit trees this way.

pocket gopher sticking its head out of its hole

Is it a gopher?

Signs of gophers are easier to spot than signs of moles. You’ll need to know the difference to have any success with pocket gopher control. Gophers leave behind mounds of dirt that can be up to 12” in diameter where they’ve pushed the dirt out of their tunnels. Moles leave long trails of slightly raised dirt across the ground’s surface.

Moles can make a lawn unsightly and do occasional damage to plants as they tunnel by, but they’re generally not as damaging as gophers. In fact, moles actually eat underground insects so technically, you could consider them to be “organic pest control.”

Related: Natural Aphid Control in a Pesticide-Free Garden

pocket gopher holes on a grassy hill

Related: 7 Organic Pest Control Methods

Pocket gopher control

So, how’s a backyard gardener to contend with pocket gophers? You’ve got to get rid of them! The tricky part is how. Some methods are, shall we say, tidier than others. For those of you with a humanitarian bent, there are sonic deterrents. These are the least likely to cause any harm to the furry pests, but also – in my experience – the least effective. Driving gophers over to the neighbor’s property by making yours undesirable is just like sending them on vacation; eventually they’ll come back home.

How to catch a gopher

I was much more successful with traps as pocket gopher control. It’s not the gentlest part of gardening, but when the gopher population gets out of hand, I consider it something that must be done. I’ve always used Macabee traps, but my dad (who’s a black belt gopher eradicator) has recently converted to the Black Hole Rodent Trap.

When you spot a fresh pocket gopher mound, notice that it’s slightly horseshoe shaped. The gopher pushes dirt out of his burrow from the open end of the horseshoe. Dig a shovelful of dirt about 12” behind the opening and look for signs of a tunnel. You should see a small hole in the face of the dirt. Dig a bit more to uncover where the tunnel goes in two different directions. Once you’ve found the tunnel, it’s time to place the trap.

Related: Pest Problems: Common Problems and How to Solve Them

pocket gopher sticking its head out of its hole

What to know about pocket gopher traps

With the Black Hole, you’ll place the trap at the tunnel entrance – one in each direction – and seal it off with dirt, making sure that the vent is left uncovered. It’s important that no light is visible around the trap. The business end of the Macabee traps need to actually fit inside the tunnel, so you may need to use a tool to gently make the tunnel wide enough (without collapsing it). Once in place, cover the tunnel opening with a big clod of dirt or sod to block the light. In either case, remember to rub the trap in loose soil, to disguise any human scent.

The pocket gopher is most active during the evening and morning hours, so I recommend setting the trap in the late afternoon and leaving it in place until the next morning. If you haven’t caught a gopher in that amount of time, move on to the next mound.

Are gophers a problem in your region? How do you manage pocket gopher control?

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Meet the Author

Kris Bordessa

Kris Bordessa founded Attainable Sustainable as a resource for revitalizing vintage skills. Her book, Attainable Sustainable: The Lost Art of Self-Reliant Living (National Geographic) offers a collection of projects and recipes to help readers who are working their way to a more fulfilling DIY lifestyle.

17 comments… add one
  • Heather Anderson Jul 16, 2011, 12:45 pm

    We moved on to bare land that had just been unused fields for years. We were absolutely over run with gophers! My son set many traps but barely made a dent in the population. We got out door cats (fixed as to not create a cat population problem) and within one year our gopher problem was under control. Cats are not a solution for everyone, but out here in the country, it was the best solution for us.

    • Kris Bordessa Jul 20, 2011, 7:09 am

      You know, we had a couple of outdoor cats but if they were catching gophers, they were quiet about it and we never saw a reduction in population! Good to hear it worked for you.

  • Alexandra Jul 17, 2011, 3:07 pm

    This was fascinating. No gophers here, but moles, yes. I have not figured out how to get rid of them. They seem to come and go, so at least the yard is not unsightly with their passage.

  • Elaine Jul 20, 2011, 5:13 am

    I’m really glad to hear about the cats taking care of the gophers. I know they do get rid of a lot of unwanted animals. I live in a subdivision in a rural area (nw Arkansas), and there are 5 or 6 outdoor cats in the neighborhood. I have had tunnels and mounds in my front and back yards, but haven’t seen any rabbits, mice, or even squirrels here. This year, something has dug holes in the front yard, which has an otherwise nice lawn. I have no idea what it is (could be a stray dog/cat or a burrowing critter). I’m planning to just fill them in and plant grass seed, when the weather gets a bit cooler.

    • Kris Bordessa Jul 20, 2011, 7:11 am

      Oh, rabbits and squirrels. They’re another story! Good thing you don’t have them; they can do such damage.

  • brian Apr 3, 2014, 1:52 pm

    I’ve exposed the tunnel and placed a block of mouse poison. In about a week I recover the remaining block and I go to the next mound. I don’t have very many so this might be too much work for someone with acreage or a big population. It takes care of the few we get coming in from adjacent properties each year.

  • Judi Apr 3, 2014, 2:35 pm

    I have moles and contrary to the article they dig under the garden plants and expose the root to air killing the plants,,,,,Moles hate castor oil….soI make a potion of dish soap, castor oil, and water,,,,,use a gaeden sprayer to spray all of the areas Moles either leave or die of diarhhea, Have decreased the population but does require frequent sppraying….it is natural and does not affect the plants. I have been told to use the solution to water the garden as often as 4 times a week…..this is the year of NO MOLES. I also have ground hogs who will eat an entire garden in a few days I mean everything,,,,we surrounded the garden with electic fencing used for cattle and horse.. Ground hogs look in the garden but stay out as do the squirrels and rabbits. ( I just have to remember to turn it off before i go into the garden)

    • hMh Jul 9, 2017, 8:47 am

      Sounds like your electric fence solution has worked wonders for you… it’s not practical for me with the way my flower gardens are set up but it is a great idea for produce/veggie beds… are you saying you used your mixture sprayed on the soil at the openings where the critters have left a pile of dirt/obvious opening -you’re not putting castor oil near plant /roots are you ? And that alone proved to decrease the tunnelling ? I’m trying to understand how that would get ingested or if it’s the smell/or how it works ….Thats one solution I haven’t tried and I did find a drowned mole/vole in a rain barrel once so am assuming they are the culprit …

  • lynn Apr 3, 2014, 3:38 pm

    Leaving poison out is irresponsible! A neighbor’s pet cat or puppy could end up getting poisoned if the rodent eats it, but survives to end up in your neighbor’s yard. Poison could also kill wildlife that isnt bothering your precious lawn. You should find a more environmentally safe solution.

  • Naturalist Apr 4, 2014, 11:52 am

    I have to say that I find the notion that as a sustainable site the idea of killing a “pest” in your garden is considered okay. We humans think that if something is going about its own business and living its life in its own environment or habitat and we come along they should disappear by whatever means necessary. I know I too feel that way come mosquito season, but we are selfish in thinking we want to live amongst nature, but only if it fits within our idea of what that means. These “pests” are part of the ecosystem and make up or fill a need within that system. This is how we upset the balance that is nature. Agreed I don’t want them infesting my house. But we must do it in a humane or more natural way. Everything is cyclic, so we should research the area and learn what caused the population explosion and what caused the population to decrease ie. ideal conditions, abundant food supply, drought, predators, migration, etc. This information can be found in most state or provincial government wildlife/ natural resource dept. As them for information and what is the best way to live amongst nature, not destroy it and kill it because it is now bothering us when we are the ones who invaded their habitat.

    Very preachy I know, but when I hear bout how many animals are killed because we humans have selfishly taken over everything on this earth as if it’s our own to do with as we please? It rally upsets me. I have heard about the shootings of wolves to the point of almost extinction, or the wild horse populations that are shot by farmers and ranchers, the bears that wander into our communities, deer, moose, elk, caribou, etc. in other areas its elephants, lions, tigers, cheetahs, rhinos, hippos, monkeys, apes, gorillas, and the list goes on for each region of the world and all the other smaller animals such as birds, squirrels, foxes, rabbits, mice, gophers and moles, etc. It really upsets me that the first response is kill it; not that we have intruded and must learn to reacquaint ourselves with nature and our primitive human ancestors. That is why we have no problem destroying or deconstructing nature to suit our own needs. This needs to be readdressed and the mind set has to change. The animals have tried and some succeeded in cohabiting with us in urban areas. Now it is we who must adjust to wanting to live and be in the wild or rural environment. Just my opinion.

    • Darlene Gargul Jul 25, 2015, 11:39 am

      Interesting naturalist perspective on the small animals that eat our garden produce. If we had not grown this produce what would they eat? would they die of starvation? I doubt it. There is still more land in North America that is uninhabited by man than these critters would require to be healthy and happy and multiply beyond what is normal. One of te questions is why are there so many of them and what is happening in the area that they are not being eaten by their natural predators.
      So ironically it seems we should plant food for the gophers and moles and then we can eat the weeds and roots in the fields that they are not eating. Perhaps we should eat them. Probably really healthy protein there resulting from the great diet they have by consuming the food we planted for ourselves.

  • Kathleen Predmore Apr 18, 2014, 5:51 pm

    Take an egg, crack it into the hole cover it. As it rots it will smell like suffer and they will run away.

    • hMh Jul 9, 2017, 8:39 am

      Really??? Have u tried this?? That SOUNDS brilliant! But wonder if it actually worked for u? I didn’t work my butt off for the last seven years establishing baby perennials (because I couldn’t afford to put in a mature Garden), only to suffer through six month winters and a very short zone 4 growing season to have voles/moles and now rabbits -or whatever they are!- tunnelling underneath all my beautifully mature plants and decimating my garden in its 7th year. I have no empathy whatsoever for rodents-I have gone to a lot of trouble to build a pollinators Garden and I have increased the Bee populations considerably over the last few years by building rest stops and Bat houses that actually get used, but when it comes to whatever is collapsing all the soil underneath my plants and leaving big air gaps around the roots with piles of dirt on the surface -it’s war !! it’s really getting me down this year as I’ve watched my garden take a turn for the worse over the last two seasons whereas before I never had this problem- just squirrels chipmunks and raccoons which were manageable and the odd Skunk digging up my lawn for grubs ….nothing’s working for me! Has anyone tried spraying nematodes to reduce grub population and a vole food source? they’re expensive and I’m on my third season doing it spring and fall but at $30 a pop it doesn’t seem to be making much of a dent! Every time I try to refill and compact the ground after finding an escape hole the come up somewhere else…I’ve even been out w a flashlight all hrs. Of the night trying to see who the culprit is! My neighbours lawn was covered in tunnels too after the snow melted and I wonder what has changed in the last two yrs. to attract this population…

  • Rebecca Clarkin Dec 23, 2018, 4:41 pm

    Grandma told me to place a stick of juicy fruit gum in their hole. They eat the gum and are unable to digest it and die.

    • Kris Bordessa Dec 27, 2018, 4:09 pm

      I’ve heard this, too.

  • Donna Mar 12, 2019, 6:04 am

    Be very careful when you put your hands in the tunnel or hole. I have seen one person who was surprised by a rattlesnake in the hole and bitten. The rattlesnake was hunting the mole or ground squirrel also.

    • Kris Bordessa Mar 15, 2019, 7:02 am

      Yikes!

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