When we first bought our lot along the Wood River Canal we were still living at Lake Tahoe, but I thought I might get a jump on the garden by planting some trees. I hooked up a drip line from the artesian well overflow and planted trees and shrubs all along 2 sides of the lot. Everything grew famously that first summer, but when I came back the next summer, a good half of them were dead, and the dead sticks pulled right out of the ground with not a root in sight. That was when I learned about gophers in this part of Oregon—and voles, moles, ground squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, beavers. But at least I didn’t have deer, tree squirrels or marmots to worry about as well.
I canvassed the neighbors and discovered that no one had the perfect solution. Some shot them, some poisoned them, some trapped them, some caged their plants in wire, and others just lived with the damage. My main concern was the gophers. While raising tunnels in the lawn, the voles and moles mostly eat insects, and the above ground critters chew on bark and stems which doesn’t always kill the plant outright. But the gophers chew off the roots, and that’s the end of the plant.
Gophers rarely put their heads very far above ground. They have a system of tunnels with lateral tunnels up to the surface which end in a mound of dirt. You can tell it’s a gopher mound and not a mole, if the plugged entrance to the mound is on one side of the mound. A mole mound will have the hole at the center of the mound. Although some people just drop poison down the lateral tunnels, to be effective the poison or trap should be placed in the main tunnel, which usually entails digging up a huge pile of dirt yourself, in order to find it. Besides, the poison is dangerous for anything else that lives below ground or for anything that might eat a gopher.
In the end I settled on a 2-fold approach. Every plant I care about gets a hole dug about 2 feet deep and 1 foot wide. The sides and bottom are lined with 1” chicken wire (because I can’t find any ½” aviary wire up here). Then the dirt is filled back in around the plant. Luckily I don’t have rocky ground! I’m happy to report that I haven’t lost a single plant that is in a wire cage although last year a beaver felled eight of my trees while we on vacation. So now another tube of chicken wire is wrapped around the tree trunks to thwart the above ground gnawers. I use chicken wire because the cost of landscape cloth would have broken my bank, while digging the holes only breaks my back.
The second part of my approach is my 3 cats. My three boys are all neutered so they are not adding to the feral cat population. They particularly seem to enjoy catching gophers, and the smaller above ground squeaks stay well away. They even manage to find burrowing squeaks in the winter. The only downside to this is that if they have caught more than they can eat, they’ll bring them inside and let them go. I must be the only person around who had an indoor orchid eaten by a gopher!