March 18, 2017

1 – Hardware cloth under raised garden beds can help protect gardens from gophers.

Yard and Garden March 18, 2017

Q.

We are located in Santa Teresa and are planning to plant several large raised beds of garlic this fall probably numbering about 800 plants. And if things go well we have the space to install additional beds the following year.

What I am wondering is whether the beds need to be lined with hardware cloth? I am not aware of any ongoing gopher activity at the planting site, but have seen several references that hardware cloth might be a necessary protection for the crop.

Please let me know your opinion on whether the additional expense and installation time of hardware cloth is a necessity for growing garlic in raised beds. Or is garlic the type of plant that gophers and other rodents tend to avoid?

- John G.

Santa Teresa

A.

I will generally suggest hardware cloth or other porous barrier under raised beds in New Mexico because of the prevalence of gophers. Even if you do not have them, "if you build it, they will come!" Gophers appreciate the food that our gardening provides for them.

In doing some checking, I found conflicting information. Some references said that garlic will repel gophers, some companies sell gopher repellent containing garlic oil, but other reference state that gophers will eat garlic. It seems that garlic is not a preferred food for gophers, but if they are hungry enough, they will eat garlic. Some other rodents may feed on garlic leaves in the early spring, but once again, garlic is not a preferred food.

If there is any chance you will grow other crops in the raised beds, then it is even more important to line the bottom with hardware cloth. It is much easier to install the hardware cloth when the beds are first built rather than afterwards when you would need to empty the soil from the beds. If you plan to use wood sides to the raised beds, you may want to wrap hardware cloth from the bottom of the beds under the wooden sides and up the sides 6 inches or more. While gophers rarely leave their tunnels, they can come above ground and are known to be diligent seekers of entries into gardens. They are very capable of chewing through wood.

I am glad you suggested hardware cloth because the mesh should be sufficiently fine to prevent gopher entry. Chicken wire may not have small enough mesh to exclude gophers, so your choice of hardware cloth is wise. Also, a porous base, such as hardware cloth allows drainage through the bottom of the raised bed, reducing the accumulation of mineral salts in the soil. Plant roots can also grow through the mesh into the soil under the bed to mine water and minerals from the "under soil". However, any roots that grow through the mesh are subject to gopher attack. For perennial plants with larger roots, the mesh will girdle any roots that grow through the mesh. That may or may not be a problem. In the case of trees and larger shrubs, the hardware cloth could be a problem unless the depth and volume of the raise beds are sufficient to maintain small trees and shrubs. If you grow only garlic, the mesh will be no problem for the roots.

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.