• Outwitting gophers in the Sierra foothill garden

    by  • February 4, 2012 • Garden, Sierra Foothills, Wildlife • 7 Comments

    Pocket gopher-Wikipedia, Gillian Bowser

    Pocket gopher-Wikipedia, Gillian Bowser

    Gophers and other living garden pests can drain the enthusiasm from the hardiest gardener in the California Sierra foothills.  To have your beloved plants eaten from below can be very discouraging.  Once, while relaxing on the patio, I came suddenly alert by a waving plant in the distant garden bed.  On a windless day, a leafy plant,…waving??  Upon closer investigation I noticed that the plant had also become shorter!  It was being dragged underground before my very eyes. Gophers are fearless.  I noticed a nearby crunching sound one day and watched as one popped up and ate leaf after leaf of a dandelion as I sat up on the hill and didn’t feel bad at all about that.

    One way is to use traps.  ‘Gopher John’, from North Fork, digs a hole in a gopher tunnel , secures a baited trap set with a screwdriver sunk in the ground and attached to the trap to prevent the gopher from pulling the trap further into the hold. He covers the hole with a cedar roof shingle to darken the hole.  He says, “If there isn’t a gopher trapped within an hour or two, I try another tunnel.  He ha succeeded in trapping more than 50 gophers in a week this way.

    Another way is to plant primarily California native and herbal plants, which gophers find less tasty.  Daffodils are not eaten by any living creature.

    Poppies bloom brightly behind the protected Iris bed

    Poppies bloom brightly behind the protected Iris bed

    Mary Ann and Larry from Mariposa have a method of preventing gophers by constructing hardware ‘cloth’ wire lined flower beds among the stunning boulders in their back garden.  hardware cloth is wire mesh with 1/4 inch holes. Pocket gardens of bearded iris, Million Bells®, Calibrachoa, and purple verbena flourish there and the tender roots are protected from hungry pests by the large wire ‘baskets.’

    Iris, calibrachoa, and purple verbena have proven to be quite deer resistant in our foothills, where they are quite common.

    Wire lined iris bed

    Wire lined iris bed

    First, they dig down a foot to eighteen inches and then lay the hardware cloth down forming rolled edges to protect the gardener from scratches while walking or working around the plants. The beds are sized and terraced to fit between the boulders and are then attractively edged with landscaping block.

    Planting beds between the boulders

    Planting beds between the boulders

    Newly planted iris bed shows the rolled edges

    Newly planted iris bed shows the rolled edges

    Protected and planted beds

    Protected and planted beds

    Below is the stunning beautiful result in the first year.  As the iris fill in,…even better.

    Mary Ann and Larry's rock garden

    Mary Ann and Larry's rock garden

    One more way to prevent a population of gophers is to have your very own Gopher snake (Pituophis melanoleucus catenifer) in the garden.  I was startled to see one in the orchard, while watering last summer, and although wary, I knew that this was a good thing. No snakes for you?  Cats, maybe?

    About

    Sue Langley, a passionate gardener and photographer lives and gardens with her husband and Corgi, Maggie on 7 acres just south of Yosemite, Zone 7 at 3000 feet. She also manages the Flea Market Gardening Facebook page and website.

    7 Responses to Outwitting gophers in the Sierra foothill garden

    1. February 4, 2012 at 10:10 pm

      My parents have cats and also gophers. The cats do sometimes hunt the gophers, but only some of the cats are any good at it, and even the good cats are usually only good at it for four or five years when they’re sufficiently past kittenhood to have developed patience but still young enough to have excellent speed.

    2. February 5, 2012 at 8:51 am

      I agree with Gayle. Good cats are the best gopher control. Unfortunately, cats can be almost as destructive as gophers. Out of our four cats, two are good hunters, one I hardly ever see, and one is a big happy fatty who squashes my plants and never has time to hunt. Mary Ann and Larry’s rock garden is very pretty. Definitely worth the extra work of lining the beds. I love the gopher snake idea.

    3. February 6, 2012 at 9:56 am

      Yep… using gopher baskets is the only way to keep them out… until they crawl across and get back in the basket! I’m in Half Moon Bay, CA – and it’s so frustrating.

    4. February 6, 2012 at 12:31 pm

      Gayle, you’re right, our cat ‘retired’ from hunting…but not before laying a gopher under my bare feet as I worked at the table sorting photos. Wondered what she was doing…
      Katie, that’s true. a pet has its favorite spots to lay down and not always in a good spot for you. Have you tried poking sticks in the ground like spikes. Sounds mean but that can make it inhospitable for them.

      DG, I have heard of that,…gopher crawling over the top of wire baskets and why not? Not much to do except get out the shotgun. 🙂

    5. February 6, 2012 at 8:22 pm

      Sue, between the gophers, bunnies, squirrels and slugs, it’s a never-ending battle of the wits (although slugs don’t have any, but are still mind-numbingly hard to extirpate). It’s amazing how we gardeners manage to keep our sanity at times! After losing a number of young fruit trees and other plants to gopher predation, we now always use gopher baskets for the more susceptible plantings. To keep the gophers from crawling into the baskets, we leave about 3″ of it above ground (the Root Guard brand has the upper portion painted green to demarcate that part of the basket that should be above ground). We also staple hardware cloth onto the bottoms of our raised beds for the same purpose. Hana’s actually killed a gopher once before when Gil just happened to be walking her near some gopher mounds – the unfortunate bloke stuck his head out just as she was passing by and didn’t have a chance. But since we’re not going to let her run loose on the grounds to hunt for gophers, it’s a moot point. Repellants, smoke bombs, and the sonic spikes haven’t worked for us and are, IMHO, a waste of money. I was tempted to buy & plant some gopher spurge once before, but wonder if they’re really effective. Probably not.

    6. February 7, 2012 at 3:49 pm

      Arleen, you have tried it ALL! Do you ever see gopher snakes or coyotes there? Hana’s a good hunter,..she didn’t have much time to think from what you say. Pure instinct! We don’t let Maggie run loose either. She’s a runner, just follows her nose and besides,…stickers!

    7. Desiree
      February 18, 2012 at 1:14 am

      Please inform Mary Ann and Larry that I now have a case of serious rock garden envy! Not sure I’ll be recovering from it any time soon, either!

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