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April 14, 2012

Gophers are not uncommon, even in urban parts of New Mexico.

Yard and Garden
April 14, 2012

Q.

We are finding piles of dirt in our yard and think we probably have gophers or a similar rodent. Also, we have several 3 year Eldarica pines in our yard. One of them seems to have sustained considerable damage as it is now listing with the winds. Can these rodents eat away all or much of the root system to 8 foot tall trees and if so can we support this tree and allow it to re-develop its root system? And, how can we get rid of the rodent(s)?

W. Duran
Albuquerque, NM

A.

You have probably properly identified gophers as your problem. Gophers tunnel underground and rarely come above ground. They dispose of soil from tunneling by pushing it upwards to form mounds without an opening to the air. They do not like light and fresh air entering their burrows. If you see open holes, the rodent is more likely to be a ground squirrel or prairie dog.

You are also correct in questioning whether there are one or more gophers present. Gophers are solitary animals (except when the young are in the burrow with their mother). Once they reach a certain age, they are expelled from their mother’s burrow. If another gopher reenters the mother’s burrow, there will be a rather vicious fight and one may die. They do not like each other and they have sharp teeth and claws.

They can indeed damage the roots of trees, pines and other trees, to the extent that the trees die or fall over. You can try staking the tree (look for previous Yard and Garden articles on tree staking techniques that do not harm the tree). If the roots are not too severely injured, the tree may recover, but will probably not catch up to the others. It may be wise to just replace the damaged tree and do what you can to remove the gophers from your property. The other trees are also at risk.

Removal of gophers is most effectively done by trapping. Traps that quickly kill the gophers are often the most humane way to deal with the problem. Live-traps that allow you to catch and release the gophers will just allow you to kill the gophers in another, often less humane, manner. Released gophers in a new environment often fall prey to coyotes and other predators that do the killing for you. They may try to enter another gopher’s burrow; this will result in a fatal fight, again causing the death of a gopher. The owners of the property where you release the gopher may not appreciate your kindness.

Some people try repellants to chase gophers from their property. NMSU Extension Wildlife Specialists warn that this is often not effective, and when it is, it just moves the problem to your neighbors’ property. Your neighbors may not appreciate your efforts and may chase the gophers back to your property and the damage will continue.

You can find information about gopher control at your local NMSU Cooperative Extension Service or you can download NMSU publication Controlling Pocket Gophers in New Mexico, Guide L-109 online at http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_l/L-109.pdf.

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
NMSU Agricultural Science Center
1036 Miller Rd.
SW, Los Lunas, NM 87031.

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