For over a quarter of a century, I've trapped four to six gophers a year in my half-acre garden near San Diego.
Top photo: If an agave keels over and there's a clean, concave depression at its base, a gopher likely got it. But more often the cause of agave collapse is snout weevil.
UPDATE: A newly introduced gopher trap preferred by my gardener is the GopherHawk, shown here.
When I go after gophers myself, I use conventional traps like those used on the avocado ranch where I grew up.
If I can catch gophers, so can you. Here's how.
- Obtain at least four "Victor M9013" gopher traps (sometimes called Macabee or Sweeney's).
- Tie heavy string several feet long to the end of the trap opposite its pincher-jaws. You'll use it to pull the trap out of the hole, hopefully along with a freshly-caught gopher.
- Watch a video that shows how to set the trap.
- Pro tip: It's much easier to dig in moist soil, so after a rainstorm is a good time to set traps.
- Dig down into the tunnel with a shovel. Aim to expose two openings, one in each direction, so you can catch the gopher coming or going. (Granted, two holes aren't always possible. Gopher tunnels seldom go in a straight line, nor are they necessarily parallel to the surface.)
- With a trowel, clear each opening so there's space to insert a trap. Sometimes it's easier to reach into a hole with your hand and scoop dirt out, which also is the best way to discern if a hole does indeed lead into a tunnel.
- Insert a set trap into each hole. Hold the trap by the string end and push the metal square forward with your thumb to keep the trigger wire in place.
- Extend the string outside the hole and tie it to a stake. This ensures that you can find the trap later, that a gopher can't drag it deeper into the hole, and that you won't have to reach into the hole to remove the trap.
- Set four traps, minimum. The more tunnels you open and the more traps you set, the better your chances.
- Pro tip: Cover holes, because if a gopher sees light, it'll push dirt into the trap while trying to close the opening. I make a "roof" of cardboard. Try not to let pebbles, leaves and dirt fall into the hole.
- Check traps the next day. If they're empty, reevaluate their locations and try again.
- Traps are too expensive to discard with a gopher. Shake the gopher into a plastic bag, tie the top, and set it out with the trash.
- Collapse gopher runs by slicing into them with a shovel, thereby making it less easy for a new gopher to use them. Gophers are antisocial except when mating, but if there's an unoccupied network of tunnels, one will move in.
- Pro tip: Keep open a run that leads into your yard from a neighbor's. When the opening fills with soil, you'll know a gopher is active, and you can catch it early.
Are there other options?
Above: Protect roots of vulnerable plants by lining planting holes with chicken wire.
Poison bait is another option, but it has a shelf life, may endanger pets and beneficial animals, and you don't know for sure you've caught the gopher because there's no evidence (but maybe that's a good thing). Use a metal bar to poke the ground around a gopher mound until the bar drops into a tunnel. Funnel bait through the hole into the tunnel. Cover the hole so light doesn't enter.
And no, it doesn't help to put a hose down a gopher hole. The water simply soaks into the soil.