Garden Word of the Day
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If you have gophers in your garden, you know it.
Lush, healthy plants suddenly wilt and die, or disappear altogether. When you take a look, the plant falls over and you discover that the entire root system is gone! Reliable irrigation systems suddenly spring leaks for no apparent reason. And your yard is littered with crescent-shaped mounds of fresh dirt, with a plugged hole to one side. Yep, it’s gophers.
These little burrowing rodents also go by the name pocket gopher because they have external cheek pouches, or pockets, which they use to carry food and nesting material. Being diggers, they have long front claws, powerful front legs, short brown fur and small ears. They also have lips that can close behind their front teeth to keep dirt out of their mouth when they use their teeth for digging! There are five California gopher species, ranging 6"–10” long.
Gophers are prolific. They can have up to three litters of 5–6 young each year. Gopher tunnels can cover an area 200 to 2,000 square feet in size and they can dig several tunnels a day. Feeding tunnels are 6"–12” below ground, but nesting and storage chambers may be as deep as 6’ underground. Gophers tend to live alone, unless it is a female raising her young. Gophers live approximately 3 years. Young gophers are able to reproduce when they are one year old. If you do the math, a single female gopher can produce over 36 babies in her lifetime!
The first step to controlling gophers is to identify the primary tunnel. To find the primary tunnel, you can buy a gopher probe or use a metal rod. The rod is inserted in the soil around a tunnel opening until a sudden give is felt. Continuing the process, you can follow the tunnel’s path to the gopher’s main route. Traps traps or poison baits can be placed at the tunnel entrance. Be sure that pets and children cannot access the bait. Gas or smoke fumigation of gopher tunnels is not effective; they simply wall off the gas until it dissipates. Professional exterminators can fumigate with aluminum phosphide to eliminate gopher populations.
Raised beds can be protected from subterranean invasions by installing 3/4” wire mesh at ground level. Chickens wire does not work. Valuable ornamentals can also be protected by digging a 2’ trench and installing wire mesh. The mesh should also be 1’ above ground. Unfortunately, this practice can damage roots and gophers can simply dig underneath the wire.
Despite rumors to the contrary (and extensive advertising), ultrasonic devices are not effective. Neither is chewing gum. Cats, dogs, owls, snakes, and coyotes love to eat gophers.
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