How To Get Rid of Gophers
20–23 minutes to read | Updated for 2018
Much of a gopher’s feeding and living happens underground in an extensive network of tunnels that serves as its home.
Sometimes called a pocket gopher because of its fur-lined cheek pouches, this small mammal is unique to the Western Hemisphere. Its homelands stretch from Central America to Alberta. This means that much of the U.S. serves as a gopher’s backyard, from coastal areas to high elevations. Unfortunately, its tunnels create a host of problems for North American farmers and homeowners. Along with being part of the food chain, gophers do play an important role in ecology. Their burrowing adds organic matter to soil and increases aeration. But if you think or know that they have caused damage on your property, your first step is to understand gophers and how to spot signs of their activity.
Between 10 and 13 species of gophers live in the U.S. While they live in different regions, they all carry similar features:
- 5”-14” long
- Weigh anywhere from six ounces to nearly two pounds
- Fur ranges from black to light brown to white
- Small ears and eyes, so they rely more on their sense of touch
- Sometimes confused with squirrels, groundhogs, or moles
- Sturdy in the front of the body with a short neck and small, flattened head; long claws on the feet
Gophers Versus Groundhogs
Gophers and groundhogs can easily be mistaken for one another. Their day-to-day lives and social habits are quite similar, but their physical differences can help you tell them apart:
- 5”-14” long
- Very light; weighs six ounces to nearly two pounds
- Black to light brown to white fur
- 16”-27” long
- Much heavier at 5-14 pounds
- Brownish-gray fur
What is a Gopher’s Lifecycle?
Like a number of small rodents, gophers lead solitary lives of just one to three years.
Each burrow is likely to house a single resident. Their habits change, however, during the breeding season of late winter through spring.
After gestation of between 18 and 50 days, females give birth to litters of two to five gophers. As the young reach about half of their eventual adult size during summer, they leave the burrow.
Gopher populations can vary greatly depending on the species. Some groups may swell only to six to eight gophers per acre, but others will soar to nearly 60 per acre. While this poses problems for homeowners and farmers, the population is controlled by natural predators like hawks, owls, badgers, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, and weasels.
Gophers not only grow fast, but they mature fast. They reach sexual capability in the spring following their birth. This makes sense given their brief lifespans. Geography plays a role in this animal’s life cycle. Gophers in northern states may only breed once per year while southern-based gophers may mate twice.
Can Gophers Transmit Viruses or Diseases to Humans?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not recognize gophers as carriers of viruses or diseases. The rare exception is rabies, which gophers are not known to transmit. That said, any bite from a small animal to a human should be examined by a doctor. If you do need medical help, be sure to tell the physician or nurse that the bite came from a burrowing mammal.
Gophers can carry harmful diseases such as hantavirus, leptospirosis, and plague like other rodents. However, they are always underground and don’t usually come in contact with humans. A more common danger is in their ability to transmit fleas and ticks to outdoor pets.
Why Are Gophers on My Property?
Your yard offers a food source. Gophers are herbivores, so plants and fruits top their menu. They feed underground by eating the roots of plants like alfalfa, carrots, dandelions, grasses, potatoes, radishes, tree bark, and tulips. In fact, a population of gophers can seriously damage alfalfa fields by reducing the harvest some 20-50%.
Your soil is just their type. Moisture is crucial to gophers, as is a high concentration of clay. Sandy soil may deter them from excavating a home due to the potential for a cave-in and a lack of insulation from extreme temperatures. This means that they will likely seek out the preferred amount of clay and water when looking for a place to build a burrow. In an attempt to find moisture, gophers sometimes bite into irrigation pipes.
The climate is their sweet spot. Much of the United States is hospitable territory to gophers. If you live in the western two-thirds of America or certain states in the Southeast (Alabama, Florida, and Georgia), one or more of 10 different gopher species are part of the landscape.
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Signs of Damage
crops and gardens
utilities and pipes
These animals gnaw continually because their front teeth never stop growing.
Their near-constant chewing and chiseling on plants and underground equipment helps them keep those incisors at a manageable size. There are three ways gophers can make a negative impact:
Crops and Gardens
A single gopher can inflict major damage on the plants and fruits in a garden within a brief time. If you’re dealing with more than one gopher, an even larger area could be affected.
Potential Damage to Agricultural Equipment
The soil tilled up by gophers can damage or break parts of farming machinery as it passes over mounds of churned-up earth. In fact, horseshoe-shaped mounds of dirt are indicators of gopher activity nearby.
Underground Utilities and Pipes
Gophers may gnaw into utility cables, sprinkler systems, and plastic water lines to maintain their rapidly-growing teeth or to get a drink from your water supply. This is a more difficult kind of impact to assess because it is hidden from view.
Are There Any Smells or Sounds Unique to Gophers?
No specific odors or noises are associated with this species, though they will signal danger or threats to fellow gophers nearby with a whistling sound. However, this is not an everyday action for them. If you are looking for signs of activity, focus on burrows, crop damage, and movement of soil.
Where Should I Look for Signs of Gophers
Though this small mammal lives much of its life underground, it does leave clues above the surface. The damage it can bring to crops and plants is one indicator. But also look for ground-level changes. As a gopher builds its burrow, it claws at the dirt and leaves the freshly dug, displaced earth in a fan-shaped mound. To be specific, this mound will be 12”-18” wide and 4”-6” high. A gopher can create one to three mounds per day during ideal weather and may even deposit up to 2 ¼ tons of soil each year.
If you believe gophers are marring your land or farm, consider buying a gopher probe (generally available at $30 or less). You’ll need to locate a mound with a plugged opening, then aim your probe about 8”-12” from the plug. The burrow will run 6”-12” underground, and the probe will encounter a noticeable two-inch drop. You may need to drive multiple times into the soil to find the main burrow, but your skill will improve with practice.
How Extensive are Gopher Burrows?
Simply put, gophers are determined diggers. When you know the basic layout of a gopher’s burrow, you’ll understand better how to probe and use exclusion or control methods as needed.
A burrow will stretch underground from roughly 200 – 2,000 square feet and 2 ½” – 3 ½” in diameter, with nesting and food chambers that may reach a depth of six feet. The main tunnel starts about 12”-18” away from an aboveground soil plug and will typically run 6”-12” (or slightly more) beneath the surface. This leads to tunnels branching off the main. The burrow system is complex and may even carry up to 200 yards of tunnels.
Gophers do not hibernate. Even though their activity decreases when temperatures plunge – and during summer heat – they continue to build mounds. Mound-building activity usually reaches its peak in spring and fall, as the temperatures are more moderate and gophers are at their most energetic. Farmers and gardeners should pay special attention to their land as the mounds may break or impair mechanized equipment.
As noted before, the months from late winter through spring will drive population growth thanks to the breeding season. The young leave the burrow during summer once they have reached a large enough size to care for themselves.
No treatment method will be successful if it isn’t paired with a prevention method.
Otherwise, your gopher problem could retain in a matter of weeks or months, and you’ll be stuck dealing with even more damage and more money to spend. The following methods should also be used to prevent a gopher infestation altogether:
Step 1: Physical Barriers
Even though gophers aren’t great climbers, they can and will dig underneath a standard privacy fence to access food. Wire mesh or hardware cloth perimeter fences can keep out gophers so long as they extend at least one foot under the ground. You can also curve the bottom part of the fence so that it is parallel with the surface of the ground. Once the gophers hit this part, they’ll likely turn around. This tactic will also keep out other burrowing animals, such as groundhogs, moles and voles.
Mulch or Gravel
Mulch around your plants to prevent gophers from pulling them underground or eating their tops. The mulch makes it harder for these animals to dig through, and they are also known to dislike the smell and taste. Gravel creates a similar barrier when poured around yards or even mixed into dirt within a perimeter.
Baskets made out of netted material that fit into the ground allow bulbs or young plants to sit in the dirt without being vulnerable to gophers.
Step 2: Raised Plant Beds
Raised plant beds offer your plants the room they need to grow while making them less susceptible to gopher invasions. Planters are available at many hardware and lawn care stores, or you could easily make them yourself out of plywood. Overall, this is a fairly easy DIY project and can be a very cost-effective way to “gopher-proof” your plants.
Step 3: Introducing Natural Predators
Unlike some other wildlife, gophers are too small to be a danger to cats and dogs. Most likely, your pets will chase the gopher off as they to catch or play with it. The smell of their fur and urine alone may even be enough to make the gopher avoid your yard. But because gophers can harbor diseases, fleas, and ticks, always monitor household pets as they go inside and check for signs of bites or parasites.
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Gophers mainly enjoy feeding on the roots of plants, which they access by burrowing under loose dirt.
Though they mainly move about underground through tunnels, they will also come onto the ground occasionally to feed on some tops of plants. All this can cause you an enormous pest problem once a gopher makes its way into your yard.
Gophers can easily be confused with moles, their similar ground-dwelling cousin. Yet moles and gophers have very different habits and diets. Telltale signs of gophers include dying plants that may even be falling over or missing leaves. After they’ve eaten through roots, they sometimes pull parts of plants or whole small plants into their feeding holes. In contrast, moles eat grubs and other insects underground and won’t feed on any vegetation.
As gophers burrow, they kick dirt onto the surface at an angle. This gives their dirt mounds a crescent shape. They always plug their holes after using them to feed and before moving on to their next meal. These plugs are one of the distinct ways to tell that the pest ravaging your yard is a gopher rather than a mole or groundhog.
Once you feel that you’ve successfully inspected and identified a gopher problem whether on your own or through a professional, you can then begin some treatment and prevention methods.
Your first step toward treating a gopher problem should be to make your property’s environment less hospitable for them. When this is used in tandem with other methods, gophers are likely to head elsewhere and won’t come back.
It isn’t realistic or necessary to get rid of all your plants in order to keep away gophers. Instead, try reducing the amount of plants in your vegetable garden or making them harder to access. Trim back bushes and shrubbery, and pick up any ripe fruit or vegetables as they fall to the ground. Gophers will still feed on their favorite part of the plant – the roots – but they may be less likely to venture into your yard in the first place.
Pack Your Dirt
Gophers need loose soil in order to easily dig through a yard. Try to pack down your soil as much as possible and make it harder to move through. Lawn rollers are easy to use, allowing you to walk along your entire property while packing down the dirt.
Traps are one of the best ways to get rid of isolated creatures like gophers. You usually won’t be dealing with more than one in yard, so it’s easiest to set a trap and release the gopher far away from residential property. Note that if you do use trapping as a method, you’ll have to follow up with additional preventative measures to keep gophers away.
Gopher traps are available in stores and online, but you can also use other rodent traps that will work for a gopher’s size. To be sure, measure the burrow holes around your yard. Their diameter will give you a good indication of the size of your nuisance animal.
How to Use a Live Gopher Trap
- First, read the trap’s instructions to understand exactly how it works and how to properly set it up. Live traps will usually work with one-way doors or doors that snap closed once they are triggered.
- Set the trap according to the instructions. Take special care to avoid triggering it while your fingers are inside, especially if it operates by a spring mechanism.
- Bait the trap using fruits, vegetables, or plant roots.
- Place the trap at the entrance of a gopher tunnel, or dig out a portion of their tunnel to place it inside. Cover the trap with dirt so that it is disguised and does not leave the gopher tunnel open to the sunlight.
- Check the trap every day to see if it has caught a gopher.
Don’t attempt to remove a gopher yourself if you aren’t sure how. While not known to be aggressive toward humans, gophers can bite if they feel threatened and may transmit diseases upon contact.
If you have handled wildlife before, take the usual proper precautions before releasing the gopher:
- Dress in clothing that protects your skin.
- Wear gloves and goggles to protect your hands and eyes.
- Take the gopher to an isolated field or conservation area far from residential property.
- Set the trap on the ground and release its door in a swift motion, stepping back immediately to give the gopher room to run away.
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Live traps are recommended more than kill traps since they’re more humane, and you won’t have to deal with cleaning up a carcass. Furthermore, some area regulations and state laws prohibit killing gophers. However, kill traps do exist for gophers. These usually operate in the same way as they do for rats and mice, with snap down parts or mechanical jaws.
Repellents should be used whether you’re already dealing with a gopher problem or seeking to prevent one. They aren’t a great option to use by themselves if you have an existing problem, as they will likely only push the gophers toward another part of your yard. But when paired with other methods, they can help keep your yard pest-free.
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Liquid and Granule Repellents
Gophers are often turned off by the smell of the typical rodent repellents on the market. These products usually contain some form of castor oil along with traces of predator urine or other chemicals. Usually in liquid spray or granule form, you can use them directly on your plants to keep gophers from munching on them. You can also sprinkle repellents directly inside gopher burrows.
Since gophers are so small and have many different predators, they’re constantly on alert for new noises, scents and obstructions. This makes it easy to scare them off with a speaker or radio, especially underground where it can fill their burrows and push them away from your property. Seal your radio or speaker inside a plastic bag and drop it into one of the burrows’ entrances while playing any type of radio show or song. But whether your speaker is above or underground, make sure it does not disturb your neighbors.
Ground-dwelling rodents like gophers have also been known to scare away through vibrations or ultrasonic noise. There are devices on the market that provide both options and usually operate with a motion detector. Once a gopher scurries by, the device will either pulse throughout the ground or emit a high-pitch frequency which only the gophers will feel or heal. They’ll find the experience irritating and head away from the source.
Poisons could be your best bet if other options have failed or there are multiple gophers in different places around your yard. Be aware that they are dangerous for pets, children, or other wildlife which you aren’t trying to eradicate. Even handling poisons improperly or forgetting to wash your hands afterwards can lead to irritation and discomfort. As with kill traps, you’ll also want to research your area’s specific local and state regulations regarding killing gophers, as there could be certain specifications you have to follow if it is legal at all.
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How to Use Poisons
- Thoroughly read the instructions that come with any store-bought gopher or rodent poison bait.
- Prepare to handle the poison by wearing rubber or cloth gloves.
- Following the instructions, place a proper amount at the entrance to a gopher burrow.
- Most poisons are made of zinc phosphide or strychnine. Both will cause physiological and neurological reactions in gophers and other wildlife before they die, which is why they aren’t considered a humane option.
- Poisons are combined with a bait ingredient so that gophers are encouraged to eat them and die.
- Prevent your children or pets to come near the areas with poison while they’re in use.
- Monitor your yard to see if signs of gophers cease to occur. If not, reapply the poisons as necessary, according to the instructions.
- Since the gophers will die while they’re underground, you won’t have to deal with the carcass. However, once you are sure that the gophers are dead, you should follow through with sealing up their burrows.
Hot peppers and hot sauce cause a similar reaction in gophers as they do in many people. They can cause difficulty breathing and watery eyes, overall serving as an irritant which gophers will try to avoid. Make your own spicy spray by mixing tobacco sauce or any other hot sauce with water, or chop up hot chili peppers and allow them to soak in a spray bottle filled with water. You can apply this to the ground as well as your plants.
This ingredient is found in many store-bought rodent repellent products. Its odor and taste are foul to gophers and many of their cousins. Simply pour the castor oil near gopher entrances and mix it into the dirt near your garden to keep these animals away from plant roots.
Used coffee grounds are a great repellent to use, especially if you have a garden, because it’s usually something you’ll have around the house and will even help fertilize your plants if you’re using it around them. After you’ve brewed a fresh cup of coffee for the day, take the remaining grounds outside and mix them into the dirt near your plants or around any gopher burrows.
If most of the recommended treatment methods don’t seem viable for you, contact a professional to do the work for you.
While it may seem more expensive, a professional wildlife removal service could actually cut down costs by getting straight to a solution. It is possible to spend hundreds of dollars trying product after product without realizing what will solve the gopher problem yourself. An expert will first inspect the property to understand the severity of the problem before choosing the best treatment method for your unique situation. He or she will also have access to tools necessary to protect them from danger and resources of a higher quality than those on the market, such as poisons and traps. Many companies also offer satisfaction guarantees to ensure they’ll either resolve your problem or refund your money.
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