With their unsightly holes and the damage they do to plants, gophers can quickly wreak havoc on landscaping.
Fortunately, there are ways to get rid of gophers and reclaim your property.
In this post, we’ll share our top gopher control tips and help you understand which method is best for you.
- Gophers are a prevalent, persistent pest that can be difficult to remove. They establish populations anywhere they can find food sources and are capable of digging under traditional fences to destroy your lawn, garden, or outdoor space.
- Signs of a gopher infestation include long mounds of excess soil that are easily visible on the surface of your lawn or garden and signs of predation, like bare patches in the yard or chewed roots, tubers, and plants.
- An integrated pest management (IPM) approach is ideal if you want to get rid of gophers. IPM approaches combine natural and traditional pest management methods to effectively control gophers without putting the environment, your family, or your pets at risk.
- Since gophers reproduce rapidly and can be challenging to control, the best option is to hire a professional pest management company to evaluate the infestation and develop a targeted solution.
What are Gophers?
Pocket gophers, or simply gophers, are small, furry rodents that grow to 5-14 inches in length and can weigh a pound or more.
Like mice and voles, gophers are built to dig. They have external, fur-lined cheek pouches that extend to the shoulders and are used to store and transport food.
Their four large incisors grow throughout the gopher’s life and are perfect for chewing through tough, woody plants.
Gophers can close their lips behind those incisors to dig as efficiently as possible and keep the dirt out of their mouths while moving quickly through the ground.
Their small ears and eyes and short, powerful bodies travel efficiently through tunnels while their broad feet and sharp claws work like shovels to move soil.
Although they prefer to live in areas with loose, sandy soil, Gophers are found throughout North and Central America.
When they move into an area, they create an extensive network of burrows and tunnels, where they live, breed, and store food.
Why Do I Have Gophers in My Yard?
Humans aren’t the only ones who love a beautiful yard!
Here are a few things that may be drawing gophers to your property:
1. Food sources
Gophers need to eat, and they’ll set up shop anywhere they can find food sources. Gophers are herbivores, meaning they only eat vegetation.
They love roots and tubers of plants and seeded acorns but sometimes resort to “grazing the lawn for grass, clover, and other snacks.”
2. Soil composition
Because gophers love to excavate, they prefer to live in areas with loose, sandy soil that’s easy to move.
Gophers are prey for many other animals, so they need plenty of protection to stay safe.
They may build tunnels under bushes, along fence lines, or under trees.
Once you have a few gophers in your yard, the problem will snowball as the gophers reproduce.
Female gophers have between one and three litters per year, with each litter containing five to six pups.
The young stay at their mother’s side for a few weeks before going out on their own to build burrows and make tunnels.
With that in mind, it’s smart to address gopher infestations quickly – before they become hard to manage.
What Does Gopher Damage Look Like?
Wondering how to identify gopher damage in your yard?
Here are a few telltale signs that these pests are present:
- Mounds. As gophers dig tunnels, they push excess soil to the surface, creating long mounds that are easily visible in a lawn or garden. While the mounds can range in size, they all share a few common characteristics: gopher mounds tend to feature dirt that’s been pushed out in a fan pattern, while conical mounds tend to be the work of moles. Gophers also tend to plug their entry holes with fine dirt. Finally, gophers create several holes in close proximity – groups of holes within about six feet of one another are indicative of gopher damage.
- Patches of dried, flat dirt. If you pay a landscaping service to mow and maintain your lawn for you, their machinery may be dispersing gopher mounds. Because of this, you may not actually see the mounds. Instead, you’ll see dried patches of flat dirt. Occasionally, you may also see fresh dirt mounds on top of dried patches. This is evidence that gophers are present and active.
- Damage to crops, gardens, and bushes. Gophers are omnivores, so they’ll eat earthworms, plants, fruits, and vegetables. If you’ve noticed plant damage like stem girdling and clipping or root exposure caused by burrowing, you can bet that gophers are present.
If you’ve noticed any of the above signs, you need to act fast. Gophers multiply rapidly, and infestations can quickly grow out of control.
Contact a professional pest management company to help you eliminate gophers and reclaim your space.
How to Get Rid of Gophers
Humanely & Naturally
Wondering how to get rid of gophers without killing them?
Fortunately, there are many options, including poison-free methods.
Here’s a breakdown of each:
1. No-Kill Traps
Live trapping is the best approach if you’re interested in using poison-free methods in your yard and lawn.
Affordable and practical, these traps are easy to find and simple to set.
While you can set out gopher traps all year long, they work best in the spring and fall since that’s when gophers are most active.
For best results, traps should be set in main tunnels and baited with carrots, lettuce, apples, or peanut butter. If a trap doesn’t catch a gopher within 48 hours, it should be moved to a new location.
Once the trap catches a gopher, relocate it at least a half-mile from your property.
Afterward, fill the tunnel and repair holes in your lawn to discourage new gophers from moving in.
Pros: Effective, humane
Cons: Time-consuming, require manual placement and replacement
2. Exclusion Fencing
Instead of trapping and removing gophers, exclusion fencing keeps them away from food sources.
Since gophers like to feed on roots and tubers, installing exclusion fencing (made from fine metal mesh) can prevent pests from burrowing into vulnerable areas of your lawn or garden or pushing soil to the surface.
You can either place exclusion fencing around areas you want to protect (like the garden), dig a trench and line it, or lay the fencing beneath your lawn’s sod to deter burrowing.
To successfully exclude gophers, the wire mesh should have openings of less than ½” x 1”.
Pros: Effective, affordable, humane, long-term solution
Cons: Difficult to install, requires significant modification to existing landscaping
There are many humane, natural ways to deter gophers from entering your yard, and some rely on ingredients you probably already have in your pantry.
Repellents make an area unappealing to gophers and force them to go somewhere else. While many are organic, they can also be mechanical, electronic, or chemical.
To use repellents effectively, plan an exit route for the gophers. Then place repellents in and around the burrows closest to your home or garden.
A few days later, place additional repellents in burrows further out in your property, extending the repellents closer to the desired exit point. This approach will gradually push the gophers out of your yard.
Here is one of the most common repellent options:
Castor oil tastes terrible and has a laxative effect on gophers. Additionally, it has a strong smell, which discourages gophers from entering an area.
For best results, place liquid castor oil in the area of your property you want to protect and around the entrance to gopher tunnels.
Pros: Affordable, humane, non-invasive
Cons: Time-consuming, requires seasonal re-application
You can place all sorts of natural deterrents around your property to repel gophers.
Placing fish oil, peppermint oil, coffee grounds, or tabasco sauce on the ground near gopher tunnels is a good way to repel gophers.
You can also apply these substances in the areas you want to protect, like your garden beds.
Pros: Humane, eco-friendly, safe for kids and pets
Cons: Requires frequent re-application
5. Barn Owl Nesting Boxes
Another way to control gopher populations on your property is to construct barn owl nesting boxes.
This isn’t a quick fix, and it won’t eradicate the gophers on your property. It can, however, help control the population of gophers and other pests over time.
Pros: Natural, organic, beneficial for the ecosystem
Cons: Long-term solution, will not eradicate gophers
6. Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
If you’ve identified gophers in your yard, you can eliminate them with an integrated pest management (IPM) approach.
IPM approaches holistically combine natural and traditional pest management methods to control pest species like gophers.
Here are a few IPM steps to get you started:
Keep the borders of your garden free of weeds. Gophers are less likely to invade your garden if there’s no food to entice them.
Have your lawn treated for earthworms and other gopher food sources, and clean up fallen fruits and vegetables promptly.
If you already have gophers in your yard or garden bed, take steps to keep them from eating your valuable plants.
You can do this by laying down gopher wire at the bottom of your beds or planting your plants in wire gopher baskets.
To protect trees, use a 15-gallon tree gopher basket. Unlike other gopher baskets, this option breaks down within a few years, so it doesn’t girdle your tree’s roots.
Along with prevention and exclusion, you want to suppress the population of gophers.
The easiest and most reliable way to do that is through trapping.
While trapping can work at any time of the year (as long as the ground is soft enough for the gophers to dig through it), we recommend setting traps in the spring since this is when gophers are most active, and the ground is easiest to work with.
Additionally, trapping in the spring helps reduce gopher populations by removing breeding-age females before they can mate.
For trapping to be effective, you’ll also need to find the gophers’ burrows and place traps in or near them. Here are a few tips:
- To locate the burrow, get a large, sturdy stick, and locate the freshest gopher mound in your yard.
- Using the stick, probe into the ground 8-12” from the side of the mound.
- The burrow will be about 6-12” deep in the ground. You’ll know you’ve hit it when you feel a sudden drop in the stick.
When you locate the burrow, remove the plug from the entry hole and set your traps—more on trapping methods in the following few sections.
With Conventional Methods
If you’d like to take a stronger approach to getting rid of gophers, there are more conventional methods that can make short work of colonies.
Please note that Smith’s does not recommend these methods. Our team tries to take a humane approach whenever possible.
7. Kill Traps
While some traps confine and contain live gophers, others kill them immediately. These traps effectively eradicate gophers, although we do not recommend them.
These methods are not humane, and other options (like no-kill traps) are just as effective.
If you’re going to use kill traps, follow these steps to set them:
- Set a cinch trap 6-8” into the tunnel beyond the burrow’s opening.
- In the area where you located the burrow, use a small shovel to dig down into the ground, exposing the burrow.
- Tie a string around your preferred traps and attach them to an above-ground stake, so you can locate, check, and remove them quickly.
- Set two traps facing opposite directions in the main burrow.
- Check the traps in the morning and evening.
- If gophers haven’t visited the traps within 48 hours, move the traps to a different location.
Pros: Effective, rapid solution
Cons: May not be appealing to some people, inhumane, and requires disposal of dead animals
Poisonous gopher bait looks and smells like a tasty treat to gophers. When gophers consume the substance, though, it kills them quickly.
Although formulations vary, most baits are made from chemicals like zinc phosphide.
While baits are effective, they require a cautious application. Always follow the instructions on the back of the bait’s packaging and use a dispenser probe to deposit the toxins.
These potions are potentially hazardous to pets and kids and are even outlawed in some places.
In California, for example, the rodenticide strychnine is legal but must be placed underground – never at lawn level.
That’s because the chemical lingers in the gopher’s system and can easily position predators (like eagles and birds of prey) who consume dead gophers.
Learn more about rodenticide laws in California here.
Pros: Effective, fast-acting
Cons: Highly toxic, potential danger for kids, pets, and other non-pest animals, inhumane, dangerous to the environment, can be expensive
Whatever You Do, Don’t Try These Tactics
Don’t waste your time on these disproven gopher control methods:
Some people believe that flooding gopher holes will drive the gophers out. Unfortunately, it only damages your lawn and loosens the dirt under your grass, making it easier for rodents to tunnel through.
Plus, gophers can just retreat from their burrows until the water recedes, making this method ineffective and inefficient.
Fumigation involves using exhaust or carbon monoxide to smoke gophers out of their holes. Some people take it a step further and decide to blow up the holes underground.
In addition to being dangerous to people and pets and potentially ruining your lawn, these methods will not eliminate gophers.
When gas begins to enter underground chambers, gophers can simply move some dirt around to seal themselves in a tunnel and avoid the fumes.
With this in mind, choose from a more effective pest control method, instead.
❌ Scattering pet waste
Although some people will tell you that pet waste scares gophers off, there’s no evidence to support this – so don’t spread your dog’s droppings around.
❌ Ultrasonic devices & gopher-repellant plants
We also don’t recommend wasting your money on ultrasonic devices or planting a bunch of supposedly “gopher-repellent plants” since there’s no evidence they actually deter the pests.
How Do Pest Control Professionals Get Rid of Gophers?
Depending on the severity of the gopher infestation, a professional pest management company like Smith’s will offer a mixture of no-kill methods and conventional options, including the following:
- No-kill Trapping. Smiths’ trained pest control experts will locate gopher tunnels, expose a small portion of them, and place professional-grade stainless steel traps inside the tunnel. We’ll cover the trap, mark it with a flag, and return to remove gophers and re-set traps in a few days.
- Carbon monoxide gopher removal. Our trained techs can inject carbon monoxide into the gopher holes if trapping gophers is a concern. This method satisfies Healthy Schools Act requirements and is an excellent solution for daycare centers and schools.
- Annual gopher removal. Since gopher infestation can be a recurring problem, Smith’s also offers a yearly gopher removal program. If you enroll in this program, a technician will visit your property every month, adjusting the gopher removal approach accordingly to ensure your yard stays beautiful and gopher-free.
Gopher Control FAQs
1. Do I have a gopher or a mole problem?
The presence of mounds alone isn’t enough to identify gophers since moles also make mounds.
In one of our previous articles, “How to Identify Gopher Damage in Your Yard,” we discussed the difference between mole and gopher mounds.”
Here’s the easiest way to determine whether the mounds you’re seeing are the work of gophers or moles:
When gophers make a mound, they push the dirt out, creating a crescent or horseshoe shape.
You might not see the mound in rocky or clay-type soil, but you will see the entry hole, which the gophers have filled back in.
Moles, on the other hand, create neat, conical mounds.
Additionally, gophers plug the entry holes into their tunnels. If you look closely, you’ll probably see the plugs sitting on the top of a mound.
Finally, gophers break up the soil as they dig their tunnels, creating fine, sifted soil.
Moles move earth in large clumps and only create a tunnel entrance every six feet or so, while gophers create a tight-knit group of tunnels and holes in close proximity to one another.
Gophers are active during the day, and they do not hibernate, so the presence of gophers in your yard or garden will be relatively easy to spot.
Dealing with a mole problem? Check out our other blog here.
2. What is the easiest way to get rid of gophers?
The easiest and most effective way to get rid of gophers is to contact a pest control professional like Smith’s Pest Management.
While home remedies can work, they generally take longer and aren’t nearly as effective. Plus, they may leave you open to infestations in the future.
3. What do gophers hate the most?
Do a quick search for DIY gopher control remedies on the internet, and you’ll come up with many suggestions – from scattering coffee grounds around plants to the options we’ve suggested, like castor oil and ultrasonic spikes.
While DIY methods can effectively complement a more extensive gopher control program, they’re usually not enough to get rid of the pests on their own.
Instead, most homeowners and business owners need to utilize a comprehensive, integrated pest management approach that eradicates existing populations and prevents future infestations.
4. What is the fastest way to get rid of gophers?
If you want to get rid of gophers fast, hiring a pest management company that specializes in gopher control (like Smith’s Pest Management) is the best option.
Our team will arrive at your property, evaluate the scope of the infestation, map existing gopher burrows and high-traffic areas, and develop a comprehensive approach to remove them.
This allows you to reclaim your outdoor space faster than DIY methods and to rest assured knowing that your gopher infestation has met its match.
5. How do I get rid of gophers under my house?
Gophers love a beautiful yard, but they’re also happy to tunnel under the house.
And since a single gopher burrow can extend 200-2,000 square feet and contain 200 yards of tunnels, even a few gophers under the home can compromise the building’s structural integrity and create dangerous sinkholes.
No-kill traps are the most effective solution if you have gophers under your home.
However, implementing this method can be risky and requires the help of a skilled pest management company like Smith’s.
Because of the hard-to-reach location of gopher burrows under the house, holistic methods like deterrents are typically ineffective.
Dealing with Gophers in the San Francisco Bay Area? We’re Here to Help!
Nobody wants to deal with a destructive, frustrating gopher infestation. Fortunately, Smith’s Pest Management is here for you.
Our team helps residential and commercial properties in Northern California resolve pocket gopher infestations once and for all and reclaim their outdoor spaces with our effective and humane gopher control service.
We also work with parks and large facilities to eradicate gophers in an eco-conscious way.