The Gophers of Santa Fe

gopherWith spring just around the corner, now is the time to watch out for everyone’s favorite, the Pocket Gopher. Many parts of Santa Fe, particularly in the downtown area and the more densely developed areas, seem to be relatively free of gopher activity, but for those of us living on the rural edges and outskirts of Santa Fe, gophers can really create havoc in our gardens.

Gophers are burrowing rodents that spend the majority of their lives underground. Their tunnels are most often in the top 18″ of soil, but can be as deep as 6 feet under the ground. Gopher mounds are the result of gophers digging new soil and pushing the fresh earth to the surface. The gopher will then plug the opening of their burrows with earth to prevent predators, like snakes, from entering their tunnels. Gophers are active year round, but we often see the greatest number of fresh mounds in the fall and the spring when the ground tends to be moister and easier to burrow into. Gophers are usually solitary creatures, with the exception being in the spring, when they are breeding and often share the burrow with their litter. The main drawback of gophers is that they can devour the roots of some trees, shrubs and perennials and as a result kill the plant in question.

There are a number of courses of action to manage gophers; the first could be to plant vegetation that the gophers don’t seem to like to eat. Some of these plants include Apricot trees, lilacs, butterfly bush, penstemons, lavenders, daffodils, and a number of other. I have even tried planting daffodils around my young tender fruit trees, but this did not seem to deter them. In addition to planting vegetation that gophers don’t seem to like, there are also certain smells and tastes that seem to act as repellents, some of these are castor beans, urine of predators, linseed oil, and others.

A second strategy could be to build a barrier between your plant and the gopher. This could include burying galvanized hardware cloth, concrete blocks, or a stucco wall a minimum of 2′ underground. Whatever barrier you choose, it will need to be extended above ground by a foot or more and surround the area which you wish to protect. This will not prevent all gophers, but could definitely reduce the numbers entering into your garden.

Lastly is gopher removal. The two most common approaches are strychnine poisoning and trapping. Ecoscapes, as a company philosophy, will not use poison for gophers given the fact that we really can’t control where the poison will eventually end up whether that is in a gopher predator or someone’s nearby well.

Trapping is an effective and cost conscious method of controlling gophers, but does take quite a bit of attention. There are live traps, but I personally don’t have experience with them. One trap to try might be the ‘Gophers limited live gopher trap’. The two most common style of kill traps are the pronged trap, such as the Macabee Trap, or the box style, such as the Black Box Gopher Trap.  Both styles are available at Payne’s Nursery on St. Michael’s drive. Two traps need to be set down into fresh tunnels (one facing each direction), covered with loose soil, have their locations marked in order to retrieve the traps, and should be checked every few days. Once you have trapped a gopher, it is very important to attempt to collapse the gopher’s tunnel and sprinkle with a biodegradable repellent, such as Gopher Scram from Agua Fria nursery, as a new gopher can move into an uninhabited gopher burrow.

It’s up to you to assess your own garden and the need for intervention, and then try any method that you feel comfortable with…

Good luck and try to not get to frustrated with our burrowing friends (or foes ?), as they are just behaving just as their nature intended.