Gopher It!

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Honey badger don’t care. Neither does the gopher who did this.

Deer do not eat all plants. There are a few that are toxic to them. There are more that deer simply dislike. With a minimal bit of research, it is not difficult to find a few lists of plant species that deer are supposed to avoid. The problem with such lists though, is that deer do not read them. Only toxic plants are reliably safe from deer.

It would not be so bad if only deer were a bit more cooperative. They would be welcome in gardens if they ate only weeds that no one wants anyway. We all know that they can eat weeds, they just choose not to do so while they are in our gardens.

For that matter, gophers would not be such a problem if they ate only weeds, and aerated only soil that needs it. Instead, they seem to target the most important plants they can find, and excavate primarily in lawns. There is no effort to cooperate.

For as long as people have been growing vegetation, whether as agricultural commodities or in landscapes, people have been competing with wildlife of one form or another, or several others. Wildlife is no more cooperative now than it was many thousands of years ago. Some animals are even less cooperative than their ancestors were. Some are downright defiant!

Gophers have been known to push traps out from their tunnels, without springing the traps. Some will emerge from their subterranean tunnels to step over the tops of root cages that are designed to exclude them, just to get to the roots within. The gopher associated with the excavation seen in the picture above was not so defiant, but was certainly undeterred.

The foliage at the center of the picture is gopher purge. Although not planted here intentionally, it used to be planted around vegetable gardens to deter gophers. It has a caustic sap that is very irritating to gophers if they try to excavate through the roots. However, the picture clearly shows excavation to the left, to the right, and behind the gopher purge.

Rodents Will Never Give Up

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Warming weather brings out the gophers.

None of the most problematic rodents here hibernate completely. Only ground squirrels hibernate, but they are rare, and tend to avoid home gardens and refined landscapes. Some other rodents are less active through the cooler parts of winter, but never completely stop eating, chewing and digging up what they want from our gardens. Many will become more active with warming weather.

Gophers are the most destructive rodents right now. They might still be excavating the mud of last winter from their tunnels. They will find plenty to eat as warming weather stimulates root growth of their favorite plants. Young gophers are growing up and leaving home, to excavate more tunnels and consume more vegetation elsewhere. They are more numerous now than they will be all year.

Squirrels are not so industrious. For now, they are destructive only if they dig out recently planted seedlings and bedding plants, or eat flowers and freshly emerging foliage. They should otherwise be temporarily satisfied with acorns that they hid late last year. They will become more of a problem as they eat ripening fruit, nuts and maybe vegetables later in summer. Some might chew bark.

Rats are sneakier than squirrels. They are not as destructive to ripening nuts and stone fruits, but do eat some of what falls to the ground. Although not a problem for the garden, well fed rats infest adjacent homes, where they cause serious damage. At this time of year, rats sometimes ruin citrus fruit. They eat the pulp out from the rinds of oranges and tangerines, and the rind off of lemons.

Rodents are nearly impossible to exclude completely and safely from gardens. Poisons are too dangerous to be practical around the home, particularly if there are dogs or cats anywhere nearby. Traps are safer and effective, but require diligence. Also, some traps are difficult to set. Each type of rodent exhibits distinct characteristics. That which controls one type is ineffective for another.

Sanitation and vegetation management deters some rodents by depriving them of sustenance and nesting sites.

Six on Saturday: More Gopher Problems

 

Even underground, gophers must know what time of day or night it is. Otherwise, they would not know when to “lie awake at night, thinking up evil plans” (Micah 2:1). Why do they bother being so sneaky with their exploits? They know that there is not much I can do to stop them. Why are they so creative with their damage? Is it just to flaunt their ability to get away with it? Gophers enjoy this too much.

1. Only the Heavenly bamboo to the right in the background is standing upright to show off its red new foliage. The other four (with two in the background) are suspiciously flopped forward.P00229-1

2. It was as if they were just set on the surface, with no roots to hold them down. Removing their carcasses was like picking up litter. They flopped forward because of wind a few hours prior.P00229-2

3. This is all that remained of the roots. It is amazing that the foliage was as fresh as it was. This much damage did not happen just recently. Foliage should have started to desiccate already.P00229-3

4. The worst of the four demonstrates how thorough the damage was. It was like a mean prank. It seemed as if someone pulled them up, whittled the roots away, and plugged them back in.P00229-4

5. Yarrow gets partially eaten by gophers too, but somehow survives. Supposedly, only the thick tap roots get eaten, while lateral roots are ignored. Gophers do not seem to be so discerning.P00229-5

6. Daffodil is how I should end this mostly unpleasant six. No one eats them. Many are still blooming. I probably should have posted pictures of flowers, instead of what gophers are killing.P00229-6

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

https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/six-on-saturday-a-participant-guide/

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+

Mr. McNugget

P90914KWildlife is a topic that is notably lacking from my articles. I mention only that which must be ‘escorted’ out of the landscapes, like Halston Junior. Gophers, racoons, squirrels, rats, skunks, mice, opossums, rabbits, deer, mountain lions, coyotes, rattlesnakes, turkeys, geese, woodpeckers, jays, crows, bees, wasps, mosquitoes, flies and feral boars can potentially be problematic.

There are probably at least a few more. This list does not even include bad neighbors or domestic animals. Nor does it include foxes, just because they eat mice, rats and snails, and do not seem to cause any problems. Butterflies and most birds, except those listed, are quite tolerable. Insects and mites that damage plants deserve their own list. I don’t know where ticks fit in.

Most unwelcome wildlife at least tries to stay out of my way. Others seem to make sport of antagonizing me. Skunks try to be friendly; but I must pass on that. Turkeys are . . . just turkeys.

This strangely calm black-chinned hummingbird who watches me from the same spot in a flowering cherry tree is either unaware of my disdain for wildlife, or is merely unconcerned about it. He just sits there . . . silently . . . observing . . . as if plotting or scheming or . . . something. He seems to be harmless; but I really don’t know. He could have sharp talons or another weapon!

I named him Mr. McNugget.

His species is apparently rare. I had nothing to do with that. Even if I believed that he tastes like chicken, I couldn’t catch him anyway. His kind fly at supersonic speed! He might use one of those ‘transporters’ like on Star Trek. Besides, I really don’t want to mess with that. A feral boar would be easier.

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.

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..

Kenny

 

 

If you watch Southpark, you shouldn’t.
If you do anyway, you shouldn’t admit to it.
If you happen to know someone who watches Southpark, you might have heard indirectly about Kenny. He dies in every episode. Actually, he typically dies a few times in each episode, and typically does so violently. Experts claim that there are two episodes of Southpark in which Kenny does not die, but proof is all too conveniently scarce.
There is also an opossum named Kenny. Like Kenny of Southpark, Kenny the opossum dies in every episode.
Apparently, Kenny startled someone who was working too intently in the garden to notice his approach on top of a fence directly behind where this unnamed someone was working. This unnamed someone grabbed a stick and clobbered Kenny right across the backside. Although the blow was not terribly aggressive, and not intended to be harmful, Kenny surprisingly died violently in a fit of hissing, gnashing and flailing. After falling to the ground, he smelled as if he had been dead for quite a while.
The surprised unnamed assailant went to find a box to put Kenny’s remains into for a proper ‘burial’, but upon returning to the scene of the incident, could not find Kenny.
Others briefly observed Kenny frolicking about in the same garden later, but when the unnamed assailant came within view, Kenny again died in a violent fit of hissing, gnashing and flailing, accompanied by the aroma of well aged death. Again, the unnamed assailant was unable to locate Kenny’s remains after retuning with a box in which to put them.
After a few more similarly violent deaths, it became apparent that Kenny was merely playing possum, likely in response to being clobbered with a stick by the startled unnamed assailant during their primary encounter!

I apologize for the length of the video. My attempts to trim it compromised the quality of the imaging. The important part of the video is between ten and thirty seconds. This is not the real Kenny anyway, but merely a random opossum who happened to be frolicking in the garden.
I also apologize for posting this at noon rather than at midnight when I typically schedule my articles for the day. For midnight, I posted a short excerpt from an old article from the gardening column instead.

Halston Junior

P80610Apparently, the warnings were effective. https://tonytomeo.wordpress.com/2018/01/27/caution/ . 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 https://tonytomeo.wordpress.com/2018/04/21/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.

 

O

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‘O’ is for ‘opossum’. That it the proper common name for the familiar North American critter who lives in or near many home gardens where fruit, vegetables or pet food are available. When a similar critter was found in Australia, it was given the same name by someone who did not spell it properly, hence ‘possum’. It is marsupial, and therefore related to many familiar Australian critters like koalas, kangaroos and the most terrifying of all, wallabies. Well, if the North American name can be applied to an Australian critter, it only makes sense that the Australian name can be applied to the North American critter. Thought technically and correctly ‘opossum’, many of us know them simply as ‘possum’, without the preceding ‘O’.

Opossums have a vast native range in North America. They can live anywhere that does not get too cold for them. They have likely always lived in the Santa Clara Valley to a limited degree. There was not much for large populations of opossums to eat just a few centuries ago.

As orchards grew and displaced native vegetation, there was more fruit that they could eat in season, but still not so much else during the rest of the year to sustain large populations of opossums. It was not easy for opossums to make homes at the modest home sites isolated by large orchards with only seasonal vegetation on the ground.

As orchards were developed into suburban neighborhoods, more habitat was created for opossums. They lived in and around homes, woodpiles, sheds, and areas landscaped with permanent vegetation. Vegetable gardens and more varieties of fruit trees in home gardens provided food throughout the year. There were citrus, avocados, guavas, persimmons and loquats, as well as ornamental berries like pyracantha and cotoneaster. Pet food and household trash were abundant. While San Jose was still a small town, it was inhabited by more opossums than could have been sustained in the entire Santa Clara Valley only a century earlier.

Those old suburban neighborhoods are now even more urban, and their landscapes are much more overgrown than they were when the homes were new. Rats, snails, slugs, grubs and large insects that live in the landscapes are fair game for opossums. Aging and deteriorating homes are easier for opossums to get access to, so finding shelter is easier than it has ever been. With more than a million people just in San Jose, there is no shortage of trash.

All through history, people have been moving in on wildlife. However, what we do not often hear about is the wildlife that moves in on humans.