January 14, 2017

1 – Pocket gophers can be problems in New Mexico, but control is possible, and there are natural predators who help us.

Yard and Garden January 14, 2017

Q.

Can you talk about effective ways to control pocket gophers? What diseases do they carry? What do they eat? What are their life expectancy, mating, and reproduction characteristics? Will they kill trees or bushes like roses? Are there any trees or bushes that are gopher resistant?

- Gene D.

A.

Controlling pocket gophers can be challenging. It is not that they are difficult to control for someone who has developed the technique, but they are numerous in some areas and reinvade after being removed from the area.

They can be damaging to landscapes and orchards. Pocket gophers are vegetarians and feed on plant roots and other vegetation. I have seed young fruit trees killed by gopher gnawing just below the soil surface. When the trees were pulled from the ground, they were separated from their roots and looked like beavers had been chewing around the stem. It was gophers that did the damage. They can indeed damage roses as well as fruit trees, garden vegetables, flowers, and even agricultural crops. In addition to damage to plants, gophers can damage underground irrigation systems, utility cables, and can cause enhanced soil loss by erosion. It has been reported that while they will try to flee when threatened, they have been known to attack cats and even humans causing serious injury with their teeth and claws. I found no information that they carry diseases, but they are known to have external parasites.

Gophers are usually solitary in their tunnel systems except during mating season in late winter and while the mothers are raising their young. However, about 5 to 6 weeks after birth, the young leave the mother’s tunnel system. At that time they often travel above ground where they are subject to predators until they can create their own tunnel system. Otherwise gophers remain underground or within an extremely short distance from their tunnels. The average life span for a gopher is about 1 to 3 years, but some live longer. Predators are one of the reasons for their short life spans. Above ground their primary predators are coyotes, dogs, cats, hawks, and owls. Underground predators that may enter their burrows include several species of snakes, weasels, and badgers. Good information about gophers and their predators may be found at http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/gophers.html.

Control measures that may be available to you include trapping, baits, and fumigants. Some of the baits and fumigants are restricted and not available to homeowners. Professional pest control companies are beneficial in this case. A good place to look for control information is NMSU Extension Publication, L-109, Controlling Pocket Gophers in New Mexico (http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_l/L109.pdf).

Exclusion by “fencing” root systems of landscape plants as protection from gophers is recommended, but this should be done with caution. The hardware cloth recommended for this purpose can girdle tree and shrub roots resulting in plant death if installed too close to the plant. The appropriate distance to install hardware cloth from the plant will depend on specific plant root systems. Lining the base of raised planter beds with hardware cloth can help protect vegetable and flower gardens.

Some plants may be advertised as gopher repellent plants, but these are just plants that the gophers will avoid, going around or under them to get to desired plants. At least these are plants that gophers will usually not damage; however, some of these plants have their own negative characteristics such as causing dermatitis in humans.

For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension publications Web site at http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h, or to read past articles of Yard and Garden go to http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/periodicals.html.

Send your gardening questions to Yard and Garden, Attn: Dr. Curtis Smith at cwsmith@nmsu.edu or leave a message at https://www.facebook.com/NMSUExtExpStnPubs.

Curtis W. Smith, Ph.D., is an Extension Horticulture Specialist, retired from New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. NMSU and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating.