Gardening Guru: Pocket Gophers

By Anne Skinner
UCCE Master Gardener

A friend was in a large hardware store checkout line, discussing his purchase to deal with gophers. Another customer stated loudly, “You know what really gets rid of gophers?” Everyone around went silent and still, listening with interest to hear the answer.

The answer is, there is no easy answer to ridding your yard of pesky gophers. The reality is it involves some work. But don’t worry; we have resources to guide you.

It helps to know a bit about your enemy. The pocket gopher is a small burrowing rodent. They get their name from the external cheek pouches, which they use for carrying food and nesting materials. Their front paws have large claws, and they have four large incisor teeth. Both paws and teeth are used for digging. Gophers are herbivores, feeding on roots, bulbs, plants, and grass they find while digging. At times they will pull entire plants into their tunnel by pulling on the roots from below. Gophers can eat 60% of their body weight each day. Gophers live up to 3 years and females can produce 2-3 litters per year with 5-6 young per litter.

Pocket gophers feed on roots, bulbs, plants and grass. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

Your first cause for concern is a mound of freshly dug soil in the landscape. The mound may be crescent or horseshoe shaped, with a soil plug off to one side. Pocket gophers live underground in a burrow system that covers anywhere from 200 to 2,000 square feet. Their nest and storage chambers may be 6 feet deep. They also have feeding burrows 6-12 inches below the ground to make quick forays out to nibble your plants.

Gopher mounds interfere with lawn mowing and the beauty of your garden. In addition to the damage they cause to landscape plants, they also gnaw on plastic irrigation lines and sprinkler systems. Their tunnels can divert irrigation water and collapse, creating hazards to walking or playing on a lawn.

One gopher can make several mounds a day, so do not delay in combating this pest. They are active underground day and night all year round, especially in irrigated areas, like our gardens. Gopher traps, available at hardware stores or online, are very effective. First, the main burrow needs to be located using a gopher probe, checking the soil 6-12 inches around the plug side of the mound. The individual burrows are about 3 inches in diameter. When the probe reaches the burrow, there will be a noticeable lack of resistance as it enters the empty space. Gopher probes are commercially available, or you can construct one from a pipe and metal rod.

Gopher traps include a two-pronged pincher trap, a choker-style box trap, and a cylindrical “Black Hole” trap. Read the trap manufacturer’s directions to avoid injury to yourself and for best success in your hunt. Use a trowel or shovel to widen the tunnel so two traps can be set facing in opposite directions. Then the gopher is caught coming from either end of the burrow. The box or cylindrical trap is easier to use, but requires more excavation to set up. You don’t need to bait the trap, but do attach the trap with wire to a 10 inch stake or nail driven into the ground. Placing a colorful flag to note the trap placement aids in locating it later. Cover the burrow opening with cardboard or wood to avoid the gopher seeing the light and just plugging the tunnel from below. If no gopher is caught in 3 days, relocate the trap to another mound. For more details on this trap, go to the shortened URL

Poison bait is another method of gopher control. It needs to be used with caution if children or pets will be able to access the area. Some bait preparations are coated on grains (barley, oats or millet) which can cause the product to resemble cereal to a child. The poison in a dead gopher can be toxic to a pet or predator if it should eat the animal. Read all the label instructions completely and follow the directions. The bait needs to be placed in the main tunnel, without spilling any on the ground surface. Close off the probe hole to keep out light. Smooth out the mound on the surface, so any new gopher activity will alert you of the need to rebait the tunnel. If you find a dead gopher, dispose of it immediately in a sealed container, such as an empty detergent bottle. Store any leftover bait in the original labeled container safely out of the reach of children or pets.

Alternative methods, such as flooding the tunnel or fumigation, are less effective and not practical during drought years. Gophers also seal off their tunnels to avoid smoke or gas cartridges. I have seen a gopher not only survive a gas cartridge placed in their burrow, but it tossed the spent cartridge out of the burrow onto a new dirt mound!

Gopher predators include snakes, owls, coyote, dogs and cats, but don’t count on them to control a gopher problem for you. Dogs in particular will often cause more damage to the lawn in their effort to get to the gopher.

At, IPM Pest Note 7433 has detailed instructions on the use of barriers, such as hardware cloth to exclude gophers from a raised planting bed, or constructing a wire basket to protect the roots of a newly planted shrub or tree.

It is possible to control gophers in your yard, but be vigilant for the appearance of new gopher mounds. It is important to level all existing gopher mounds and clear weedy areas close to your garden to make a new invasion easier to notice. Gardening always has its challenges and persistence is necessary to keep the upper hand in gopher control.

The UCCE Master Gardeners will be available to answer your gardening questions each Saturday at the Visalia Farmer’s Market in the Sears parking lot from 8 to 11 a.m.

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