Control your pocket gophers
By Ray Ridlen Published: November 28, 2011
Q: How do I control pocket gophers?
A: Pocket gophers are stocky, short-legged, medium-sized rodents with bodies well-adapted for digging. They get their name from the deep, fur-lined external cheek pouches, in which food, mostly tubers and roots, is carried. Coloration varies in individuals and in species from yellowish-tan to browns and blacks. Spotted and albino individuals are fairly common.
Gophers should not be confused with moles although they can build similar tunnels. Moles have no external cheek pouches or external ears. They have a slender conical snout, tiny ears covered with skin, small needlelike teeth, and broad front feet with heavy claws.
About their habits
Pocket gophers often invade lawns and flower beds. They feed mostly on roots of trees, grasses, and dandelions. They also eat seeds, leaves, tender stems, tubers, and bulbs.
The gopher’s home is an extensive system of underground tunnels, which are excavated four to 18 inches below the ground. A series of these tunnels made by one gopher may extend several hundred feet and cover an acre of ground. Areas of gopher activity are marked on the surface by numerous mounds of excavated soil.
The placement of these mounds often gives a clue to the position of the main tunnel. One pocket gopher may make as many as 200 soil mounds per year. The most active mound building time is during the spring and fall.
Pocket gophers can be valuable because they contribute to the formation and conditioning of soil, and they provide food for some of our large predators. In areas where these rodents are not of economic significance, they should not be destroyed. Their control may be necessary when they become pests by eating garden crops, roots of fruit trees, shrubs, or if their digging activities interfere with mowing of lawns.
Gopher populations can be reduced or eliminated with persistent control efforts. Control is best conducted when gophers are most active near the surface, usually in the spring or fall. New activity is usually indicated by fresh mounds of soil.
Control methods include poisoning, trapping, and gassing. The two most practical and efficient methods are using toxic baits and trapping. Over large and heavily infested areas, poisoning is the most economical control method. Gophers not killed by poisoning will throw up fresh mounds and these individuals can be trapped. On small areas, such as lawns or where only a few animals are involved, trapping is the most practical method.
Grain baits, such as corn, oats, wheat, and grain sorghum are readily eaten in some localities and often give better results in fall when pocket gophers are storing much of their food. These prepared baits can often be obtained from local garden supply stores.
Baiting involves dropping baits into underground runways. This procedure is easier if a probe is used to find the tunnel and to make a hole through which bait can be inserted. Probes can be bluntly pointed brooms, shovel handles or pipes.
To locate the main runway, probe into the soil four to ten inches from the base of the mound, or probe between two fresh mounds. Enlarge the opening by rotating the probe so that poisoned baits may be dropped into the burrow. Use one level tablespoon of grain bait. Close the opening with grass and cover with dirt to keep out light and air. Place the baits in the main runways with as little disturbance as possible.
If the mounds are leveled as you work the area, gophers that escape treatment will make new mounds you can easily detect. Additional baits or traps may then be placed where needed. Materials used for poisoning gophers are dangerous to man and other animals. So extreme caution should be used when handling, storing, or applying them.
Special traps are required for trapping pocket gophers. Small spring traps are widely used.
Two traps of appropriate size should be placed in the main runway, one set in each direction. Using a stout garden trowel or a lightweight shovel, find the freshest mound and dig down to find the main runway.
Insert the traps, jaws forward, into the hole facing in opposite directions and press them down firmly. Cover the opening in the burrow deep enough to keep out the light.
Each trap should be fastened to a stake with a light chain. After traps are set, tramp down the tops of all mounds so that mounds made by the gophers you miss will be evident on your next visit. For efficient use of traps and for best results, visit trap-sets morning and evening.
Ray Ridlen is an agriculture/horticulture educator for the Oklahoma County Extension Service. His column addresses frequently asked horticulture questions. For more information, call 713-1125.