San Antonio Express News
Sunday, January 18, 2004
By Nathan Riggs
One of the real benefits of living in South Texas is the relatively mild winters. A mild winter affords us the opportunity to plant winter gardens and nice spring gardens chock full of hopes for a bountiful harvest. Any time we plant a garden, there are plenty of obstacles to overcome: insects, disease, nematodes, soil fertility, weeds, animals, and a hoard of others. For those who garden in sandy soil, add gophers to the list. Gophers can be a real test of a gardener’s resolve and patience if one decides to participate in the gardening experience.
The south and southeastern areas of Bexar County are prime habitats for gophers. Rolling hills and sandy soils provide ideal tunneling habitats for these plant-eating rodents. Gophers prefer to feed on roots of a wide variety of broad-leafed plants, or forbs, and will certainly feast on garden plants without thinking twice. Gophers do not feed on earthworms, grubs or other insects in the soil. Probably the second most annoying habit gophers have is their soil mounding behavior. Gophers push soil to the surface as they construct tunnels. Sometimes these subterranean passages collapse, causing depressions or other visible signs at the surface. In addition, these mounds of soil can damage mowing equipment for lawns and pastures. There are many ways to deal with gophers. Let’s talk about a few.
Controlling gophers can be addressed with traps, bait, or repellant sprays. Gopher traps are designed to grab the gopher as it crawls over the trap. To implement this trap one must locate the tunnel that descends beneath the mound. Once located, set the trap and stake it securely above ground. Cover the tunnel with soil or a piece of plywood and check periodically to see if a gopher has been caught.
There are many different types of gopher baits on the market today. Gopher baits may contain strychnine, zinc phosphide or an anticoagulant (blood thinner). These baits may come in the form of pellets, treated seed or blocks. Simply place these into a tunnel and cover it with soil or plywood and wait for the gopher to consume its last meal. Any dead gophers found should be buried or incinerated.
A couple of products on the market claim to repel gophers. One product that contains castor oil is available to spray on the lawn. It is touted to soak into the soil and repel gophers with its odor. Some sources also suggest planting something called gopher spurge, caper spurge or mole plant. Again, they are touted to repel gophers with an odor. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that these methods actually repel gophers.
Gophers may cause a whole plethora of short-term headaches, but their long-term benefits are undeniable. They aerate the soil, increase water infiltration, raise soil fertility by increasing buried organic matter and increase soil formation rates by bringing unweathered soil to the surface. While it is possible to control or reduce gophers in an area, eradication of them is pretty much out of the question. I guess if you are patient enough, you can set up a chair next to a hill, make a tall glass of lemonade, uncover the tunnel and play peek-a-boo with Mr. Gopher!
This article was written by Nathan Riggs, Extension Agent-IPM, for Texas Cooperative Extension in Bexar County.