Imagine pulling out your radishes or carrots after growing them for a couple of months and finding out gophers have eaten the edible roots. Sounds frustrating, right? With gophers being strict herbivores and each one capable of consuming about 60% of their body weight per day, they can do a lot of damage to your farm or yard. However, even if you want to eliminate the problem, it’s impossible to control their population or set gopher traps if you don’t know much about these rodents.
Furthermore, they share a few characteristics with other rodents, so what you may think is a gopher problem may be something else entirely. That said, there are still between 10 and 13 species of gophers in the U.S. and Canada that you may need to be wary of, and you can learn to identify them below.
Physically, gophers have a fairly similar head shape to other rodents found in the U.S., like the tuco-tuco, groundhogs, and even the American beaver. Additionally, they have small ears and eyes, which makes sense given gophers spend most of their time underground and mostly rely on touch.
Something else gophers share with the two other rodents mentioned above is big front incisors that grow continuously. However, they all spend their lives chewing and gnawing on things, including food, to trim their incisors and keep them at a manageable length.
Gopher bodies range from 5” to 14” long depending on their age and species, with their weight varying according to size as well. The heaviest gophers weigh about 2 lbs, although they could also weigh as little as 6 oz. Fur is another variable that depends on species, with colors ranging from black to white to light brown.
They’re sometimes also called pocket gophers due to their external cheek pouches. These can be used to carry either nesting materials or food underground. Other notable characteristics include short necks and long claws, which come in handy when burrowing.
Most people can’t tell gophers and groundhogs apart. Consequently, you may be learning how to get rid of gophers when you need to learn how to get rid of groundhogs instead and vice versa. Gophers are herbivores while their groundhog counterparts are omnivores, something you wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at their teeth. Nevertheless, there are some size, weight, and color differences.
One is that groundhogs are much bigger than gophers, typically ranging from 16” to 27”. With increased length and size comes a heavier body, with these creatures weighing from 5 lbs to 14 lbs. Lastly, Rutgers University notes that their fur ranges from yellow-brown to brown. This is in addition to having white-tipped guard hairs that give the animal an overall brownish-grey look.
Gophers and groundhogs share some habitats. For example, according to National Geographic, groundhogs can be found in Alabama. This is also home to the Southeastern pocket gopher, so if your state is home to both types of rodents, it might be prudent to have a more thorough investigation before deciding on countermeasures.
Despite there being ten or more gopher species in the Americas, you won’t see all of them. The different species live in different habitats and regions, and of course, some are more common than others. For instance, the National Wildlife Federation highlights the plains pocket gopher as North America’s most common gopher species.
Depending on their preferred habitat and the areas where you’re most likely to find them, some gophers are more problematic to homeowners and farmers than others. After all, these creatures can’t cause you problems if they live nowhere near you. Some of these harmless gopher species are mentioned below as well as those that you need to be wary of.
First, on the list of gophers you won’t need to get rid of in your yard is the yellow-faced pocket gopher. The Natural Science Research Laboratory describes this species as one of the larger pocket gophers with dull yellowish-brown fur. Additionally, their teeth feature a deep groove on the outer side of each upper incisor, and they have darker feet than most other gophers.
In addition to the eastern part of northern Mexico, Yellow-faced pocket gophers can be found in eastern New Mexico and the Panhandle and Trans-Pecos regions of Texas. Nevertheless, this species of gopher seems to shy away from human activity. Instead, it prefers short-grass prairies and areas outside towns, and therefore you’re unlikely to see it destroying your tulips, carrots, or yard grass from underground.
Another harmless species is the smoky pocket gopher. This species typically has grey fur and prefers to live in dry grasslands in southern Mexico. The Llano pocket gopher is another species that lives in Texas, although it prefers Central Texas.
Lastly, there’s the Merriam’s pocket gopher, another species endemic to Mexico. Mostly found in the Valley of Mexico, about a 27-mile drive from Mexico City, this species is unlikely to be prevalent in residential areas.
As for the species of gopher you should be learning how to get rid of in states like California or Florida, they’re mostly the Botta’s pocket gopher and the plains pocket gopher.
Plains Pocket Gopher
As the most common type of gopher in North America, the plains pocket gopher is a pest in Arkansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, parts of the Dakotas, and eastern Texas. These gophers are on the small to medium-size scale with dark brown fur and fur-lined cheeks. While you may see other gophers occasionally standing on their hind legs, the plains pocket species prefers staying on all fours. Another defining feature is a pointed nose and a short tapered tail with sparse fur.
Plains pocket gophers prefer the roots of growing plants, making this one of the most dangerous pests on a farm. Additionally, while most other gophers live alone in their burrows, this species is open to sharing. The rodents can extend their burrows by about 65 feet per week, with the tunnels often ending up with insects like carrion beetles. Also, given how close they live to human settlements, the tunnels may inevitably lead to your house.
Botta’s Pocket Gopher
As for the Botta’s pocket gopher, you’ll find the species mostly in southern and the Central Valley of California. Botta’s pocket gophers don’t seem to struggle with the different soil types and can dig burrows almost anywhere. However, they prefer irrigated alfalfa farms in the Central Valley.
With the exception of plains pocket gophers which sometimes share their burrows, most other gophers live solitary lives except for when they’re mating. Also, they don’t live very long, with a lifespan of between one and three years. They mature fairly fast, mate, and give birth before their eventual death. How often gophers give birth depends on the food available. As such, if they’re wreaking havoc on your farm, they’re probably multiplying much faster than if they were in the wild, and you should look to get rid of them as soon as possible.
Their lifecycle begins with an 18-50 day gestation period depending on the species. Some examples include the plains pocket gopher, which gestates for 18 days, the northern pocket gopher for 19 days, and the Botta’s pocket gopher which gestates for 24 days. The Southeastern pocket gopher is one of the species with a longer gestation period, typically lasting 40-50 days.
Each litter’s size is different, with some species giving birth to more offspring. That said, you can expect anywhere from three to six pups, and Live Science notes that in irrigated areas, females can give birth to up to three litters annually. Conversely, in the wild, they may only give birth once a year.
Natural predators like owls, foxes, bobcats, and badgers help whittle down the population over time. However, depending on species and food availability, you can find up to sixty gophers on an acre of land. Of course, the more they are, the more damage they can do.
With the more common plains pocket gopher, for instance, we’ve mentioned they prefer the roots of growing plants. Consequently, you may be planning for a huge harvest once you’ve planted on your farm, only for the plants to never reach maturity. Each gopher eats almost half its weight daily, and with up to 60 on a single acre of land, you may not have much of a harvest to look forward to.
Of course, the damage will take a different, more cosmetic form if you don’t have a vegetable garden in your backyard. You’ll have mounds of dirt and plugged holes popping up everywhere as the pests continue to burrow. On a farm, this can be disastrous for farming equipment and may even damage your tools in the long run. Furthermore, given their consistent need to gnaw on things, they also cause significant damage to irrigation equipment and piping.
They’ll likely also bring fleas and ticks, which will be transmitted to your pets when you take them outdoors. In the case of the plains pocket gophers, they may even burrow underneath your house, inevitably making it more accessible to insects like crickets.
Notably, gophers don’t just pop up and start burrowing in your yard or farm for no reason. Often it’s a combination of factors that allow and even encourage them to make your home there. Knowing about them can give you an idea of how to get rid of gophers humanely or even where to place gopher deterrents and repellents to keep them from coming in.
Having a food source nearby is one of the biggest reasons a gopher will prefer your backyard over your neighbor’s. You may have just started a vegetable garden to save on groceries or a flower garden to make your backyard nicer for relaxation. Ultimately, this means there’s plenty of food for the rodents for a couple of months. Also, even if you don’t have a garden, they’re still herbivores and will eat grass if they have to.
Gophers also need to be able to burrow into the ground if they’re going to make the area around your home their habitat, and the soil composition plays a big part. First, the soil needs to be sandy enough that they won’t struggle to burrow it out of the way. However, the soil can’t be too sandy either, as it can cave in and doesn’t offer enough insulation and protection from extreme temperatures. Additionally, gophers can’t dig through rocks, so they’ll avoid rocky soil.
Moisture is equally important, with some gophers even going as far as to gnaw on irrigation equipment. However, this may also be an attempt at keeping their incisors the right size.
Lastly, the gophers may prefer your backyard because it offers the most protection from predators like owls. This may be in the form of bushes, fence lines, and trees that keep them out of sight even when they’re out of the burrows.
Once you suspect there are gophers in your farm or backyard, it should be easy to tell if they’re actually there or not. After all, they leave evidence of their presence even if you don’t see them. Unfortunately, it might take some time to notice, and by then, they may already have done irreparable damage. Nevertheless, here are the main signs of gophers in your yard or garden.
The biggest sign of gopher activity is mounds of dirt next to plugged holes. While this sounds remarkably similar to how moles present themselves, there are some differences, especially where the mounds of dirt are concerned. Moles dig out the dirt in chunks, so you might find solid blocks of soil on the mound. Gophers, on the other hand, only bring out finely textured, broken-up soil.
Mole mounds are symmetrical and conical, while gopher mounds are crescent or horseshoe-shaped. Gophers also plug their holes and can do this on the soil level or underground.
Next, you may notice your plants drying and dying out, especially if the rodents have already eaten the roots. Sometimes they pull parts of the plant underground as the creatures are hoarders, and they even have food storage chambers in their burrows.
Irrigation Equipment Damage
One last sign that may be difficult to see is damage to underground utility pipes and irrigation equipment as the rodent uses them to maintain their incisors.
Nevertheless, if you see plugged holes and crescent-shaped mounds of dirt, you may need to look for a probe and investigate the area around the hole. The main burrow will be about 8” to 12” from the plug, and you might need to probe a few times before you find it.
As for the size of gopher burrows, it again depends on the species. As mentioned above, plains pocket gophers can add up to 65 feet of tunnels to their burrows a week. With that, you often find that most burrows cover between 200-2000 square feet underground, and with more than one rodent, this area will only increase. Typically, there’s one main tunnel with several branches.
Also worth noting is the nesting and food chambers are often among the deepest parts of the burrow and can stretch up to six feet below ground. That said, the plugged hole’s diameter should be fairly small, between 2½” and 3½” wide.
Unlike groundhogs, which hibernate for about three months in the winter, gophers are active all year round. However, they do become less active with cooler temperatures. This is also why you’re likely to notice more mounds and plugged holes during the spring and fall seasons. Late winter is when most of the breeding happens, with the pups leaving to build their burrows as soon as they can care for themselves.
According to Oklahoma State University, pocket gophers are not protected by the law; therefore, killing them for causing damage shouldn’t lead to any legal repercussions. However, hunting them for fun is out of the question as they’re classified as non-game animals. Also, learning how to get rid of gophers humanely and without killing them is an option.
If you opt for getting of the rodents humanely, your main options include trapping and releasing them into the wild, using their senses against them, and reducing their food supply.
Using no-kill traps can be one of the more effective tools at your disposal, and it allows you to see the progress every time you catch one of the rodents. Traps are fairly affordable, and you can re-use the same one several times as long as it’s sturdy enough. We’ve listed some of the best gopher traps that’ll allow you to catch the rodents without harming them.
How to Use a Live Trap
Traps should be placed in the main tunnel once you find them. Additionally, use food as bait, although this requires some knowledge of what gophers eat. Vegetation, including Carrots, alfalfa, potatoes, etc., are all viable options, although peanut butter could also work. Using traps is labor intensive, and you’ll need to move the device after about two days if it doesn’t catch the rodent.
You can then relocate the gopher in the wild before setting the trap in a different spot. Notably, relocating gophers requires that you wear protective clothing and avoid getting bitten as much as possible. While they aren’t particularly known for carrying diseases, they could be rabies carriers, and if they bite you, it’ll necessitate a trip to the doctor. Often they don’t bite, but if they feel threatened, such as when they’re trapped, they could react aggressively.
It’s also recommended that you repair holes, refill the tunnels and add a few extra preventive measures to keep other gophers at bay. While gophers don’t hibernate, the reduced activity during the cold season makes it harder to catch them in the winter. Consequently, spring and fall are the best periods to use live traps.
Liquid and granule repellents can be as effective on gophers as on other burrowing rodents. Often, gopher repellents are a combination of chemicals and organic elements like castor oil and predator urine, which help keep gophers at bay. Find out which gopher repellents will be the best options based on where you plan to spray them, and you can easily solve your rodent problem. That said, it’s best to use these repellents in conjunction with other countermeasures that keep the animals from migrating to other parts of your property.
We’ve selected the best gopher repellents out there – from natural sprays to ultrasonic spikes. Make sure to check our selection out.
One reason for the inclusion of castor oil in liquid and granule repellents is that rodents find the taste and smell disconcerting. It can therefore be used as a standalone deterrent, especially if you mix it into the ground around your plants. Placing castor oil in burrow entrances can also prompt the gopher to move to other areas.
Another similar solution is spicy sprays with peppers and hot sauce being just as uncomfortable to gophers as they are to humans. If you want to create a spicy spray, you can dice some peppers and soak them in warm water. Mixing various types of hot sauce with water will also create the same effect. After that, put the spicy water in a spray bottle and spray it on your plants.
You can also get rid of gophers naturally by using something you’ll use almost every day: coffee grounds. Mixing them into your vegetable garden after brewing your morning pick-me-up allows them to act as organic fertilizer and a deterrent.
Despite being pets, dogs and cats are actually predators, which means the gopher is going to be afraid of them. Therefore, placing pet droppings in their tunnels may indicate danger close by and help put them off. This is an excellent deterrent if you have it on hand. Having outdoor pets may even prove more of a deterrent as the dog or cat will chase the gopher as soon as they see it.
Given that they’d prefer to avoid predators in general, they might take that as their cue to move out of your property. That said, some dog species aren’t very effective against gophers, although species like the Jack Russel terrier are perfect for the job.
Others even opt for more extreme measures, such as releasing snakes into their backyard. However, they have to be non-venomous, and they carry a significant risk if you have smaller pets as they might turn their attention towards them.
The chemicals in sewage-based fertilizers have also proved unpleasant enough for groundhogs to avoid them. Therefore, using them around the perimeter of your plants helps keep the gnawing rodents at bay. Digging a 12” deep trench around what you want to protect and putting the fertilizer there is quite effective due to the chemicals leaching into the soil whenever it gets wet. Of course, if you use an irrigation system, the fertilizer will get wet daily.
Despite being herbivores, there are some plants that gophers don’t take too kindly to, and one is the gopher spurge or “Euphorbia Lathyris.” You can get it at a nursery near you and plant it around your vegetable garden. Alternatives to the gopher spurge include castor beans, marigolds, oleander, and daffodils.
If their sense of smell isn’t enough to get them to back off your yard, you can use their hearing instead. Alternatively, you can use both senses to get them to look for a home elsewhere. As for creating a noisy environment, you have several options at your disposal. One is to use a speaker of radio.
Putting it in a resealable plastic bag and sticking it far into a tunnel while playing music might make the gopher’s burrow uninhabitable. Wind chimes have also proven to be just as effective.
These devices emit a high-pitched noise that is supposed to be bothersome to gophers, causing them to leave the area. You can find these repellents online or at some home improvement stores. When choosing an ultrasonic gopher repellent, be sure to choose a model that is specifically designed for gophers. Some of the best gopher repellents use a combination of vibrations and ultrasonic noise alongside motion detector technology. Since they emit high-pitch frequencies, they might not be a good idea if you have pets around. However, if you don’t, they could activate whenever a gopher passes by.
How to Use an Ultrasonic Gopher Repellent
Step 1. Place the ultrasonic repellent in the ground. It is important to place the device in an area where you have seen gopher activity in order to be most effective.
Step 2. Turn on the device according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Most devices will need to be turned on and left on for 24 hours a day in order to work properly.
Step 3. Monitor the gopher activity in your yard. After a few days, you should start to see less gopher activity in the area where you placed the device. If you don’t see any improvement, you may need to try a different type of repellent or take additional steps to get rid of the gophers.
Listed among the reasons for a gopher infestation is the presence of food. If you’re a farmer, you may not be able to get rid of the plants as they’re your livelihood. However, if you only have a small flower or vegetable garden attracting the gophers to your property, you can get rid of them for a few months. This will encourage the current gopher population to move as they look for food elsewhere. After that, you can devise measures to ensure they can’t access your next batch of tulips or carrots.
If getting rid of the rodents humanely is not an option for you, and you’re trying to learn how to kill gophers, there are ways to do that as well. However, the solution you use depends on factors like whether you have children or pets. Nevertheless, the more popular options are listed below.
Kill traps are not all that different from live traps and might even have similar structures. Furthermore, you’ll need to set them up the same way that you do with live traps. This includes finding a recent mound and hole, using a probe to find the main tunnel, digging it up, and setting up the trap with a piece of bait. After that, you cover up the trap and wait for a catch. The only difference is the device will kill the gopher instead of keeping it alive.
This method works if you have nowhere to release the gopher after you catch it. It may also work better if you’re dealing with a larger gopher population that you need to get rid of quickly, e.g., when you just planted daffodils, one of the rodent’s favorite foods.
Another very effective kill method for getting rid of large gopher populations is to use poison baits. Like most other poisons, you don’t want to accidentally get it on your hands as it could cause problems later, so wearing latex gloves is advisable. Other than that, you need to pay extra attention to the instructions provided.
Often, you position the poison baits in the same place you would live or kill traps: the main runway tunnel.
Nevertheless, poison baits should work just fine if you don’t have pets or kids to worry about.
Notably, there’s another reason for using latex gloves besides protecting yourself. It keeps your scent from the bait, which might spook the gopher. This is also why it’s advisable to use gloves when setting traps.
Another lethal remedy that might get rid of your gopher problem a lot quicker is burrow blasters. They come with instructions on use, and once you throw them into the burrow, they fill it up with a mix of propane and oxygen that’s lethal to the rodent. These blasters seem to work against most kinds of burrowing pests, including badgers, prairie dogs, etc., so they should be effective even if you aren’t sure what kinds of pests you’re dealing with.
An alternative to using burrow blasters is something you likely won’t have to buy from the store. You can gas the rodents using poisonous carbon monoxide from your car, and all you need is gasoline and a working battery. Of course, this doesn’t work with electric vehicles since they don’t put out fumes.
Nevertheless, for this to work, you need to plug all the other holes in your yard except one, therefore, blocking any exits the gophers might have. This will also keep the carbon monoxide gas within the burrow. After that, you attach a large hose to your car exhaust and push the other end into the burrow. Finally, turn the car on and leave it running for up to 30 minutes.
It may also help to cover up the last hole after you remove the hose.
Although it’s not guaranteed to work, you can try flooding the gopher burrow. To ensure effectiveness, you must plug any escape routes the rodent might have, including other recent holes. Once done, push a garden hose into the remaining hole and open the tap. Leave it running for a while, and if they aren’t drowning, some gophers might try to escape. You can use this opportunity to catch or kill them.
Let the water run for up to half an hour, although your yard may become water-logged, something that other burrowing rodents like ground moles love. Consequently, you need to know beforehand whether you’re dealing with groundhogs or gophers.
As one of the gopher’s natural predators, barn owls can help you get rid of the rodents scurrying around under your yard. While keeping them as pets is not recommended, you can attract barn owls to your property by putting up nesting boxes. This can also prove deadly to your pets as well if they’re small enough.
Another problem with barn owls is they have no problem traveling to find food and may only use your nesting boxes as a resting place. However, they should whittle down the gopher population near you if used in conjunction with other control measures.
Chewing fruit-flavored gum has proved lethal to gophers in the past. As such, many homeowners and farmers have gotten rid of some of these rodents by simply dropping a piece of gum into the gopher tunnel. Using gloves is recommended; otherwise, the rodent might shy away from the candy due to your scent.
Even after you’ve gotten rid of a gopher infestation, the problem can recur. Nevertheless, preventing a gopher problem is possible if you’re proactive enough. If gophers are common in your area, here’s what you can do to keep them from making a home on your property.
Gopher baskets act as a personalized fence for your young plants. They’re made of chicken wire that gophers will have difficulty gnawing through to get to the plants. Consequently, if they can’t access any food, they have no choice but to look elsewhere.
Gophers also seem to have a problem with the taste and smell of mulch. Consequently, if you add some around your plants, the rodents would much rather avoid them. With gravel, gophers will have a harder time finding a spot where they can burrow into the ground and will avoid the area in general.
Rather than fencing solitary plants using gopher baskets, you can opt to fence your entire property instead. However, given that these rodents burrow underground, your fence needs to extend about 12” underground as well. They’re not good climbers. However, the fence still needs to be high enough above ground to prevent them from jumping over. Just a few inches above ground should be sufficient unless you’re also worried about other pests.
Lifting the plant beds above ground level makes them less accessible to gophers roaming underground. You’ll need to build planters and even fill them with soil before you can plant anything. However, this isn’t foolproof since the rodents can also dig into the plant beds from underground. Consequently, a little extra security is necessary.
Lining the bottom of the plant bed with a piece of hardware cloth or chicken wire should suffice.
Some natural gopher repellents you can plant around the perimeter of your property include catmint, penstemons, rosemary, strawberries, natal plum, oleander, and lavender. You can also include a few near your plant beds and among the grass for more comprehensive protection.
Lastly, you can consider digging trenches around your property. However, they need to be large enough to act as a deterrent. In some cases, they can be up to 18” wide and at least 2 feet deep. For farmers, this can take up significant portions of their farming land, and it may be better to use an underground fence instead.
Gophers can sometimes be extremely persistent. As such, no matter how many solutions you try, you may notice that you just can’t get rid of the rodents entirely. In this case, it may be time to cut your losses and call in a professional. They can assess your property and have the experience to pinpoint the major problem areas. They also have more specialized equipment for getting rid of gophers for good.
Alternatively, you could just call in a professional if you want a quick resolution to your gopher problem, even if you haven’t tried any of the DIY methods mentioned above. It’ll cost more but save a huge portion of your crop yields for the season or prevent significant damage beneath the soil surface of your yard.
Gophers are mostly active during the day, and you might even see them pop up in your yard if you stay there long enough. Also, they’re still active during the winter, although their reduced activity makes it much harder to spot them.
Often, how big a gopher burrow depends on how long the rodent has been burrowing. If it just moved into your yard, the gopher burrow likely isn’t big. However, it gets more extensive and complex with each passing day and can have up to 200 yards of tunnels. The main tunnel is typically 12”-18” from the plugged hole on the soil surface. Additionally, depending on the type of soil, some chambers in the burrow can be as deep as six feet under the surface.
If you’re looking to keep gophers away for good, one of the more effective methods is fencing both under and above the ground level. With that, you have a long-lasting solution, and you likely won’t need to dig wide trenches, use repellents or use gopher baskets. It might be fairly expensive, but it protects your crops and yard, and you never have to worry about calling in a professional to get rid of the rodents.