Protection from the pesky, little pocket gopher

There are two creatures that make gardening difficult in our area, the grasshopper and the gopher. While fighting the aerial grasshopper assault on your garden every year, the gophers have plenty of troops in the ground ready to pull your little seedlings into their tunnels and gnaw on your potatoes, peanuts, root crops, flower bulbs and tree roots. Even worse, they chew through irrigation lines, create enormous erosion problems and can bog down farm machinery with their labyrinth of tunnels and holes in soft deep sands. Spring and fall is when they are most active so that is the time to control them.

Understanding the Pocket Gopher is the first step to control. Unless raising their young, there is only one gopher in each tunnel system. They dig a main tunnel and then several shorter lateral tunnels. A single gopher may have a tunnel system 800 feet long that covers an acre or more. They use the tunnels as homes, storehouses, and a way to search for food. The gopher uses its forefeet and chest to push dirt dug from the lateral tunnels onto the surface where you can easily spot the characteristic dirt mound. They are larger than you think, and I have seen them as big as 13 inches in length. They are light brown, weigh up to a pound and have sharp yellow incisors. They store their food in a “pocket” in the side of their mouths. And because they are always underground, they live 1- 2 years, which is longer than most rodents. They are very


to sound and smell and hate having their tunnel system disturbed.

In most gardens, trapping is the preferred method of control because poison baits can affect wildlife and domestic animals through secondary poisoning. Traps are available at most feed stores or garden centers. Success depends on the proper use of traps. The first step is locating the main runway, which will be 6-8 inches from the mound on the side where the horseshoe depression is found. You can use a piece of pipe or a broom handle to probe. Once you find the tunnel, dig down into the main tunnel with a shovel. Place two traps, one on each side of the hole as far into each tunnel as you can. Use gloves to keep your smell off of the traps. You may need to use a spoon or your hand to dig the tunnels out a little more. It is a good idea to tie a wire or string to the trap beforehand and anchor it to something on the surface, so the gopher cannot pull the trap too far into the hole. Leave the hole open or covered with a bucket to keep out the dog. The gopher will be caught when he tries to re-cover his tunnel and has to get through the trap. Be sure to place the jaws of the trap in the right direction.

If possible, try to collapse tunnels left over after your eradication efforts because new gophers will move into the old tunnels as soon as they become vacant. Traps are available from Victor Pest Control at www.victorpest. com or call 1-800-800- 1819. Don’t confuse them with mole traps, which are different and not effective for gopher control.

Jim Gober is a Central Texas farmer, Master Florist, Master Gardener, Certified Texas Nursery and Landscape Professional and garden columnist. Shawn Walton will resume her column in August.

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2010-07-15 digital edition

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