Gopher Architecture

P90922If gopher burrows had windows, this burrow would have hillside views. If gophers had better eyesight, the one who lives here could enjoy the views from such windows. Of course, views are not a concern for any gopher. They just want to burrow through the soil to eat the many roots they encounter. They do not often emerge from their homes for more than the ejection of soil.

If it happens in gardens and landscapes, the consumption of roots by gophers is a serious problem. It can kill substantial plants faster than associated symptoms become apparent. Agaves and yuccas that are safe from grazing animals that might want to eat them from above have no protection from gopher who attack from below. Small perennials and annuals get taken whole.

Excavation such as that in these two pictures is a major problem too. When I see soil accumulating here, I wonder where it came from. Should I expect a sink hole to appear somewhere else? Soil displacement can enhance and promote erosion, and displace pavers. Holes and volcanoes (mounds) are tripping hazards in lawns, especially if the holes do not appear until stepped on.

The damage seen here is not yet as serious as it looks. The only roots for gophers to eat here are those of black locusts that I must eradicate anyway. Gophers will not bother the bay trees or redwood trees; and if they do somehow bother the bay trees, I would not mind. However, I don’t want gophers to eventually find and kill any of the lauristinus that I just installed nearby.

It all would be so much easier and mutually beneficial if inconsiderate gophers could be trained to be neater and discrete with their otherwise sloppy excavation, and to eat only weeds and other unwanted plants.P90922+

Another One Bites The Dust

P90825If this looks familiar, it is because it is the second big camellia to be killed here in the same manner in not much more than two months. The damage is not fresh, likely because the gopher that caused it started chewing on the roots as soon as the other camellia was removed. The other camellia succumbed about two months after a similarly damaged cherry tree was removed.

We are now concerned for a remaining third camellia in the same spot, as well as others in the vicinity. There is also concern that the gopher may take interest in something else, such as the birches. We would typically find and destroy any gopher that causes such problems. The difficulty here is that the area is thoroughly covered with a dense layer of Algerian and English ivies.

All evidence of gopher excavation is obscured. Even if we could locate such excavation, it would be very difficult to cut through the thicket of ivy without collapsing the tunnels that we would need to put the traps into. It would be excellent to get rid of the ivy as well as the gopher, but that would be a major project for another time. As voracious as gophers are, they don’t eat ivy!

For now, we can only watch the adjacent camellia and other camellias in the vicinity for distress. Of course, by the time a problem is noticed, it will likely be too late to do much about it. We could only apply blood meal, and hope that it works as a repellent. These camellias get blood meal as fertilizer anyway, so would only need more applied off schedule and around the trunks.

The remains of the deceased camellia were removed from the site, and respectfully interred into the green waste recycle bin.

Six on Saturday: Gophers and Weeds


Both have been very active all spring. Some of the sneakiest have been getting away with their activity unobserved.

1. This is a fifteen foot tall camellia, or what remains of it. For comparison, that is a six foot long bench it is laying on. It still looks green and healthy, but started leaning. Upon closer examination, I found that it was not rooted to the ground. It pulled right out! The roots were almost completely gone! There was no indication that there was a problem.P90615

2. This is what remained of the root system. Gophers ate through just about everything that was sustaining and supporting the big camellia above. No excavation or gopher mounds were observed. The area around the camellia was obscured by Algerian ivy. This all happened faster than the camellia could express symptoms associated with such damage.P90615+

3. ‘Kramer’s Supreme’. More specifically, “Award Winning – ‘Kramer’s Supreme’ – Camellia japonica – Trade Mark Registered”. Someone should have removed the label before it damaged the stem it was attached to. Actually, the long dead stem was stubbed just a few inches above the upper margin of this picture. It doesn’t matter now anyway.P90615++

4. This big mound of greenery is all a single big weed, perennial pea. I put it next to the wheel for comparison of size. It grew in a newly landscaped area where we did not expect such big weeds to grow so quickly. It did not seem to be as big as it is, so was easily ignored. Why didn’t gophers eat this instead of the now dead camellia above?!P90615+++

5. As you can almost see in the bad picture, perennial pea is not an unsightly weed. It also lays low and fits into the landscape in such a manner that it is easy to ignore while targeting more obtrusive weeds elsewhere. That is how the specimen in the picture above got so big. This one is not nearly as big, but overwhelmed a few smaller perennials.P90615++++

6. Perennial pea flowers are quite pretty. If possible, I like to let them bloom before pulling them up. Most look like these. Some bloom with fluffier double flowers. Some are lighter pink. A few are darker purplish. White is quite rare. As prolific as they are where they are not wanted, they are surprisingly unreliable from seed sown where actually desired.P90615+++++

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

Gophers Go For Spring Vegetation

90424thumbHibernation is a luxury enjoyed by different animals in different climates, where much colder weather inhibits activity through winter. Gophers take no such extended time off here. They merely work less diligently through the cooler and rainier times, and maybe get out of the way if the soil they live in gets too saturated. Their minimal damage had probably been easier to miss or ignore.

Now it is spring! The weather is warming. The soil is draining. All the roots and vegetation that gophers eat are growing. The gophers that were here and somewhat active all through winter are really making a scene now, as they clean mud from their homes and excavate new tunnels. Babies are growing up fast and leaving home, and excavating new homes of their own. What a mess!

Many of the primitive techniques that were used in the past to mitigate gopher problems are ineffective, impractical or even dangerous. Pouring gasoline into tunnels and waiting a few minutes to ignite the fumes can start fires anywhere such tunnels resurface, and possibly out of view! Bare razors dropped into tunnels are potentially dangerous to anyone who happens to dig them up later.

Traps take some work and experience to set properly, but are still the best way to deal with gophers. They do not involve poison that can be dug up and eaten by someone else, or eaten by a gopher who staggers from underground to get eaten by someone else. As long as dogs are not allowed to dig them up, traps are likely only be dangerous to gophers and those setting the traps.

Conventional traps are set in pairs, in each of both directions of a lateral tunnel that is found by excavating back from the tunnel under an active gopher volcano (pile of displaced soil). Once set, the tunnels must be back filled to eliminate air circulation into the tunnel, which would warn a target gopher of intrusion. A bit of weedy vegetation added before back fill might help attract a gopher.

Setting gopher traps is easier to read about than to do safely. It is best to learn how to do it from someone who is proficient at it..

Halston Junior

P80610Apparently, the warnings were effective. . They managed to avoid the traps and survive to perpetuate another generation under the lawn of Felton Covered Bridge Park. It is impossible to know if they are directly related to the now deceased Halston who infested a landscape only about two miles away. It is unimportant. They all are intent on conquest.

Halston Junior, a baby gopher who may or may not be a descendant of the famed Halston, was found wet and shivering on the surface of the ridiculously perforated lawn. Rhody wanted to play, but was restrained from consorting with the enemy. The prisoner was detained, dried and put in one of Rhody’s blankets to recover. There was no formal interrogation, but the detainee was found to be well armed.

It is impossible to imagine what sort of damage such sharp and strong claws could inflict!P80610+

It is equally as impossible to imagine how dangerous such nasty fangs could be!P80610++

The purpose of this formidable weapon is unknown, but it is undoubtedly very dangerous!P80610+++However, the most effective weapons of all were mind control techniques. Halston Junior used them merely for self defense, by convincing his captors that he was too cute to be euthanized. It could have been much worse if he had not been so mentally compromised from his ordeal.

We knew that Halston Junior could not be released back into the lawn from which he came, but we also knew that relocating him somewhere else would disrupt the ecosystem slightly, and that Halston Junior would likely migrate back to where he came from. Ultimately, he did get released into a nearby meadow. We can only hope that the rest of the ecosystem will not notice.

Halston Junior won this battle, but not the war.


Gophers Go For Roots And Lawns

80509thumbWho do they think they are?! This ain’t ‘Caddy Shack’! They have such attitude! Gophers move into our gardens and lawns, take what they want, and build their messy volcanoes of loose soil. They do not care how much work we put into our gardens, or how much we spend on nice plants, or how much we crave our first zucchini of the year. They are safe in their subterranean tunnels.

Or so they think. There is more than one way to . . . well, you know. There are also several methods that either do not work, or are not practical. For example, gasoline poured into a tunnel may volatilize, and then explode if ignited, killing gophers below, but can very easily start a fire anywhere the fumes happen to seep from the tunnel, and there is no way of knowing where that might be!

Poisons are dangerous either because gophers do not eat them, leaving them to be dug up by someone else later, or because gophers do eat them, and then stagger from their tunnels in search of water, and then get eaten by someone else who gets poisoned as well. Putting razor blades in the tunnels is just plain wrong. Even if it actually kills gophers, who wants to dig up razors later?

Traps are still the most efficient way to eliminate gophers. This is of course more easily said than done. It must be done properly and VERY carefully. Gopher traps are dangerous! It is safest to learn how to set traps from someone who is experienced with them. Safer modern types that fit into holes that gophers are expelling soil from only work if gophers happen to be active at the time.

Conventional gopher traps are set and placed in a pair, with one trap in each direction of an excavated and cleared main run. A main run is found by following a surface tunnel below the freshest volcano of expelled soil, to where it splits into two direction. The paired traps should be attached by wire to a stake that stays visible at the surface. A bit of crushed vegetation can be placed behind the traps before the run gets buried firmly. If set properly, a gopher springs a trap as it returns to clear the run.


P80421KHalston, with the help of several friends could make a nice pill box hat. That is the origin of the name; from pill box hate fame. This might help clarify, . Yes, Halston was a gopher.

Halston was causing some significant damage that was more of a concern than fashion. Halston started by making several large volcanoes under an already distressed ‘Yoshino’ flowering cherry tree right on the edge of the main road. I really did not want any more of the roots to be ruined. I dug into the main tunnels and set traps; but Halston was very elusive, and pushed traps out of the tunnels, and left them unsprung at the surface of the soil.

Halston was very busy last weekend, creating a chain of volcanoes like the volcanic islands of Hawaii. They were right along the edge of a paved walkway, so were both unsightly and messy. Halston had to go.P80421K+

Halston would not go easily though. Excavation into the tunnels was getting to be as damaging as the tunneling had been. I dug to follow the tunnel from the volcanoes for several feet without reaching the main lateral tunnel. I did not want to dig any farther. I had already cut a few small roots, and did not want to cut any more.

Halston compelled me to do something that I had never done before with gopher traps. I was always taught to dig down from the tunnel that comes to the surface, to find the main lateral tunnel, or ‘run’, that continues to the left and right of the tunnel to the surface. Traps should be set in pairs, with one to the left, and one to the right, within the main run. If a gopher perceives a problem in a tunnel to the surface, that tunnel gets abandoned, and the gopher simply excavates a new surface tunnel. However, a gopher is not so likely to bypass a main run. Since I could not find the main run without damaging more roots, I set the first trap in the tunnel that I had dug up for several feet from where it came to the surface, and the second trap in another open tunnel with only a small volcano that was located several feet away.

I really did not expect to catch anything, but to my surprise, all excavation stopped, and Halston was in the first trap when I pulled it up the following morning. Also to my surprise, Halston was quite diminutive! Because of the extend of all the damage, I was expecting a larger gopher. Several more that I would have estimated would be needed for a pill box hat.P80421K++


P80127Halston was quite the rage when I was a little tyke.

I did not know exactly what that meant.

I can remember elegant ladies wearing Halston pill box hats. From the back seat of the new 1967 Chevelle, I could admire my Mother’s, while my younger brother on the other side of the car got tangled in our flower child Aunt’s abundant and long hair blowing in the wind.

Although I had never seen a Halston before, I could determine from hats made from them that they were soft, fuzzy and cylindrical. I knew that apricots, walnuts and oranges grew on trees, so I would sometimes look into unfamiliar trees, including the silk oaks next door, to see if I could see Halstons ripening in them.

My older sister eventually explained that Halston was they guy who made the hats. He was very busy. His hats were very popular. Apparently, he made the hats from coats formerly worn by small rodents known as minks. The minks were not really plumply cylindrical. In fact, they were so small that the coats of several of them were sewn together to make each hat. The thought of so many small rodents scurrying about naked until they got new coats was quite disturbing. It made me ponder the origin of the cuddly stole that Redd Foxx gave to Aunt Mary.

I certainly did not believe everything that my sister told me. Heck, she once tried to tell me that the dead bugs in Aunt Mary’s amber jewelry were trapped in tree sap millions of years ago. I know cheap Lego plastic when I see it. However, I do believe that fur obtained from animals lost popularity through the 1970s. The minks must have protested or something. My sister got a stylish coat with a furry collar made of imitation fur. Splendid; so now little kids will be cuddling naked teddy bears!

I have a better idea.

The pelts of all those nasty gophers that ruin lawns and gardens could be recycled into pill box hats . . . or maybe something more appropriate to modern fashion. Perhaps they could be sewn into reusable grocery bags. What an exquisitely stylish expression of environmental awareness that would be! Because gophers get killed when trapped, they could not protest the use of their pelts later.

Using gopher pelts in this manner would:

Protect our lawns, gardens, landscapes and green spaces from environmental annihilation

Recycle by-products of environmental protection

Provide stylish accessories that express our concern for environmental stewardship

Promote the use of materials that are completely organic, natural, non-toxic, biodegradable, sustainable and very renewable

Help save the Planet!

We only need to learn to be more efficient with trapping. What is the point of setting traps if gophers are warned to ‘KEEP AWAY’?

Rodents Eat Just About Anything

61214thumbNot much bothers old fashioned junipers. They tolerate heat and frost, and anything else the weather throws at them. They do not appeal to many troublesome insects. Once established, they do not mind if they do not get much water. So, aside from over-watering and bad pruning, they are pretty indestructible. Yet, once in a while, otherwise healthy junipers die suddenly and mysteriously.

Sometimes, entire plants die. Sometimes, only big pieces of them die. The foliage is intact, but dried to a nice light brown. The roots are firm. In fact, the damage that caused such efficient death might not become apparent until the dead stems get dismantled and removed. It might even get overlooked because it is not the sort of damage that we expect to find in our tame home gardens.

Rats! They sneak in under the dense foliage to chew the bark from the main stems. The thicket of rigid stems protects them from cats and dogs. They can kill both shrubby and ground cover junipers, as well as ivy, ceanothus, cotoneaster, firethorn, . . . and nearly any sort of shrubby plant that they feel safe from predators in. They also eat vegetables and fruits, particularly citrus fruits.

The damage should be rather distinct. Bark is missing. Bare wood is exposed. Squirrels sometimes cause the same sort of damage, but usually on smaller stems in trees. Gophers do their dirty work underground by eating roots. If they kill junipers or other shrubbery, the dead plants can be pulled up from the soil relatively easily, and fresh gopher ‘volcanoes’ should be evident in the area.

Protecting stems and roots from rodents is more difficult than protecting developing fruit. The rodents know that they are concealed by the dense growth that they chew the bark or roots from, so fake owls are not much of a threat. Poisons are very unpleasant for the targeted rodents (duh!), and very dangerous to cats and dogs that might catch the poisoned rodents. Traps are effective and safe (except for the rodents . . . duh!) but take serious dedication to empty and reset!