Gopher Overview

Most of these columns are on current priorities in my own garden. The premise of course is that many gardeners could be dealing with the same issues at any given time.

Recently, when we listened to those people who always seem to know what’s going at, we learned that 2012 is a big year for gophers.

In the past, I have relied on two visiting cats to keep my garden gopher-free. (I don’t know where else they get their food, so they probably are feral felines.) The result of their advancing age plus a peak in the local gopher birth rate is a record number of gopher mounds.

It might be possible to avoid gopher problems entirely by limiting the garden to plants that gophers do not enjoy. This approach limits the gardening experience severely and still might not succeed: hungry gophers don’t always follow the rules.

The first step toward “control” (the polite term) is to confirm that you have gophers, rather than relatively harmless moles. Gophers are herbivores; moles are omnivores, but mostly eat earthworms and insects. Gopher mounds are crescent or horseshoe shaped when viewed from above. The hole, off to one side of the mound, usually is plugged. Mole mounds are more circular and volcano-shaped when viewed from the side.

One gopher can create and abandon several mounds in day, so the gardener’s challenge is to find the gopher’s main burrow, which will be six-to-twelve inches deep and connected to a mound. When you see a fresh-looking mound, poke around with a stick or metal probe until you feel a drop of about two inches, indicating that the probe has entered the burrow. This might be the main burrow, where you should set your traps.

Use a shovel to expose the burrow enough to set your traps. The popular Cinch Trap, available at most garden centers, comes in small, medium and large sizes. Use the size that fits snugly in the burrow you found. Set two traps according to instructions (watch your fingers!) and place them in opposite directions in the burrow, to trap the gopher coming from either direction.

Baiting the traps is optional. Fruits, vegetables or peanut butter are good choices. You could also use toxic baits, but that is personal choice and probably not ecologically wise.

Connect the traps to stakes with baling wire or light chain, for easy removal. Cover the excavation with dirt clods, wood, cardboard or anything else to exclude light.

Check the traps regularly and reset them as needed. If you haven’t caught a gopher in three days, try a different location.

Benjamin Franklin probably wasn’t thinking about garden pests when he said, “Energy and persistence conquer all things,” but that’s good advice for gopher hunters.

2 thoughts on “Gopher Overview

  1. I noticed your article in the paper today and was reminded that a couple of weeks ago you had an article about trapping gophers. My experience agrees with yours except for one point. I used to cover up the burrow after setting the trap and had fair luck catching them. I was then told by our gardener at the church that he left the burrow uncovered where the traps were set. The gophers don’t like the light and a short time after setting them they come to take care of the problem and get caught. After changing to this strategy if I have found a good runway I have almost 100% success.

  2. Rodger

    Rodger, congratulations on your success.

    The method I described is from the website of the University of California’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program. Their video clip ( states that light must be excluded so that the gopher won’t push dirt to close the opening and in the process push dirt into the trap and disable it.

    Tom Wittman, well known in the Monterey Bay area for non-toxic gopher control, recommends placing the trap and leaving the hole open. A video demonstration of his method can be viewed at

    I respect both sources, but Wittman’s method is quick and easy and worth trying first. Your success certainly supports the “open approach.” I will update the information on my website,, and will recommend the open approach when I write again about gopher control.


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