Pocket gophers can be nuisances to have in the garden because they uproot or destroy foliage. These gophers aren’t like moles, voles, or traditional gophers.
While beneficial in some cases, the majority of gardeners will want to keep them out of the yard. They chew on roots of plants, which will severally damage them.
Gophers will also dig extensive tunnels that can compromise the infrastructure of your home, not to mention uproot plants in their paths.
Thankfully, there are a few things you can do at home to get rid of them naturally.
In this guide, you’ll learn about:
- Why you have pocket gophers
- How to identify them
- How to get rid of them naturally
- Ways to keep them out of your garden
If you have questions about your specific gopher problem, please leave a message at the end of this guide.
Let’s get started.
What’s a pocket gopher?
Pocket gophers are rodents known for their small ears. They have large front paws with claws, which aid their teeth in digging through dirt.
These gophers are rarely an issue, but they can become a nuisance. This guide will teach you how to deter them from your yard without hurting these cute gophers.
They get their name because of their cheek pouches, which look like pockets. They’re also known as Thomomys.
They use them for something you may already know. They carry food. They can also open their pockets on the outside for cleaning or depositing food.
These gophers can be identified by looking for the following physical features:
- Large whiskers
- 12” in size when grown
- Yellow, brown, or black fur
- Lighter shade on their underside
- Extensive tunnel systems
- Large claws with large front teeth
- Short stubby tails
- Pink or skin tone feet
- Darker shade on the ventral side (top)
Wrongly identifying gophers can lead to using the wrong methods, so make sure you know what gopher you’re drawing with.
Pocket gophers are often referred to as generic “gophers.”
Finding pocket gophers
It’s important to pinpoint the areas where pocket gophers are hiding.
To do this, you’ll need to thoroughly inspect your yard, which means finding their burrow or tunnel system. Search newer crops, gardens, lawns, turfs, or fields.
The mounds are the giveaway. They’re usually 12 inches tall and 24 inches in diameter.
Pocket gophers can be deterred using some lightweight methods that don’t hurt them.
These gophers are often not appreciated for the things they do for the environment or local ecosystem.
These gophers perform some substantial environmental benefits.
For instance, they eat damaged orchards, wilting foliage, till the soil, and even clean up some insects (for omnivorous species).
For homeowners, gophers can be a seasonal nuisance. They do go away after some time, so they’re not a problem that you’ll have to deal with for a long time.
These animals also don’t infest in large numbers, so they don’t cause heavy damage.
They’re pretty much a neutral threat since they do clean up the garden even if they’ll uproot or destroy some plants.
Similar to bees, these creatures can be nuisances or beneficial in the garden.
Some are even of conservation concern, so you may not want to disturb them.
The Brush Prairie pocket gopher and the Mazama gopher are both protected species.
So you need to be careful if you plan to use mechanical, chemicals, or otherwise disturb their environment. Contact your local FWS if you’re unsure.
If you’re cleared for pocket gopher control, here are some ways you can deter them from your garden.
First, you’ll want to inspect your garden, field, or turf. Search near crops.
Look for piles of dirt or mounds so you can pinpoint the areas where they’re occupying. The dirt mounds will lead you to their tunnels.
The mounds are about 12” tall and up to 25” in diameter. They won’t have surface tunnels, which is one way you can separate them from molehills.
Once you find the mounds, use a broomstick to locate the tunnel. Shove the broomstick into the dirt to find their burrow.
Move a couple of inches away from the mound. Constantly probe until you break through the soil. Congrats. You’ve found the tunnel.
The dirt should give with no resistance. Finding their system is half the work. Next is to prevent them.
What do they eat?
They’re well-equipped for digging. They have large front claws for traversing tunnels, small eyes, tiny ears, and sensitive whiskers. The food is primarily why they come to your yard.
This all helps them move in the dark. They can also move quickly. With their large front teeth, they can be used to loosen soil and cut dirt. They’re quick, agile, and nimble.
Because of their long paws and powerful legs, they’re well suited for hunting a variety of food sources.
Unlike moles, which eat insects, pocket gophers only eat food. In other words, they’re herbivores. They mainly feed on roots, bulbs, or fleshy plants. Stems, leaves, and other foliage may be eaten too.
This is why people may want to get rid of them because they can be quite damaging to plants in the garden. Their tunneling can also cause damage to root systems.
Because they get enough water content from the plant materials they eat, they don’t need large sources of water. They can also hide in harborage if it’s too cold.
Where do they hide?
Pocket gophers are active all day, all season. But they may still be hard to spot because they spend most of their time hiding in their tunnels.
The Mazama gopher is easiest to spot because it spends a large amount of time above ground, especially at night or on gloomy days.
Pocket gophers will gather food from vegetation quickly and then go back into their tunnel.
So you need to watch from a distance when it comes out to forage.
Their burrow systems let them find food, rearing young, or storage of their harvest. They have escape tunnels as well so they’re hard to catch.
Gophers will plug any entrances in the system within just 24 hours. So they’re far from doing digging randomly. It’s a sophisticated network of tunnels.
What are they good for?
Pocket gophers are good for a variety of things so you may think twice about deterring them.
First, they’re good at moving a lot of soil. This serves as a very important ecological reason. Their tunnels will help vegetation grow by providing space.
Their waste also becomes fertilization for plants. So soil becomes more porous after being tunneled. It’s like a free soil tiling.
Soil quality often increases where gophers have stayed. The soil on the surface mounds created by pocket gophers also provides fresh seedbeds for plants, which can help increase the variety of plants in your yard.
Some larger predatory creatures will also prey on gophers like snakes, birds, or mammals.
Some reptiles like toads or lizards use their burrows as homes. As you can see, there are plenty of benefits to having pocket gophers.
Do they bite?
They will bite if provoked.
This is why you should never handle them without proper protection. They have sharp claws and sharper teeth.
Never touch or handle without proper PPE. Gophers will bite if in danger. They can also carry rabies.
Do they damage the garden?
If you see soil plugs, winter soil casts, mounds, or destroyed plants, you may have pocket gophers.
When they tunnel, they loosen the soil. They push the loose, dug soil to the surface like a bulldozer using its feet/head. This just goes to show how strong their paws are.
The excavated soil is pushed out of the exit. So a pile of dirt right outside is usually pocket gopher territory.
They can dig through hard soil, clay, and even mulch. They can create several mounds daily, especially when it’s wet outside after rains.
Irrigated areas like your garden where there’s plenty of water make it easier for digging.
Pocket gophers dig extensive networks right under the soil line. They’re about 5-10 deep.
Diameter-wise, they’re about 1-3 inches in length. It varies depending on the gopher size/species.
Sometimes, the nest and food storage area can be several feet deep. Drier soils often call for deeper tunnels.
Their system can be sloped, lateral, or short. They connect to the main tunnel system for pushing dirt out.
This is useful for having somewhere to clear the dirt when they’re actively creating more paths in their tunnel system. It also allows for escape pathways or forage access on the surface.
Sometimes, you may come across these small plugs of soil. They’re about 1-3 inches.
They’re circular and easily come loose. These are made by the gopher.
hey use them to plug the exits along the burrow system or mounds. Vegetation may be clipped around the plugs where they forage.
The plugs are made because the gopher comes out for food or deposits. Then they go back in. They plug the exit they made to safeguard their network.
Pretty cool huh? You can use these plugs to discover how far their network goes.
Soil casts in the winter
Soil casts are created from previously backfilled tunnels. They fill their tunnels when they dig new ones.
The casts you see are the result of the extra soil.
The backfilled tunnels are full of soil, which becomes visible when the snow is gone.
Castings from the soil are always fragmented into small sections.
Only a small percentage of tunnels are backfilled with this soil, so the castings only represent a small section of the entire tunnel system.
Do they invade the house?
Thankfully, pocket gophers have no interest in infesting households. Since they’re a burrowing species, they have nowhere to hide inside. They don’t stay in your garage or crawl spaces UNLESS there’s an active tunnel burrow there.
Unlike moles, these gophers will generally stay in the garden away from buildings.
How to get rid of pocket gophers naturally
This section include various DIY techniques to get rid of pocket gophers without using chemicals. See what works for you. I suggest trying them out from the easiest to hardest to save you time/effort.
You’ll find that you can’t really force them out of your garden, but rather deter them.
Use physical barriers to protect crops.
Build them around your flower beds, gardens, laws, etc. Bury the bottom of it a few feet below the soil to protect the root systems of veggies or flowers.
Using physical fencing is also how you can prevent them from invading your property in the future. Combine this with planting fewer plants that are gopher bait.
Set up pocket gopher traps
You can buy pocket gopher traps at any hardware store.
These come in a variety of designs, but they generally work by using a spring-loaded mechanism that catches gophers when they come out of their burrows. Whichever design you choose, make sure you read the label.
Use it correctly because they can cause injury if not properly set up. This is often the passive, easiest way to catch those gophers. Look for humane traps that don’t have gases or poisons.
You’ll also want to make sure that it’s OK to trap gophers in your state. Simple, spring-loaded ones without fancy setups generally work. The weirder the gopher trap is, the more they tend to avoid it.
Here are two traps for you to look into (links to Amazon.com):
Use ultrasonic stakes
These are spikes that stick into the dirt above their tunnels. It emits a high frequency sound that basically deters them because it’s so disturbing. Humans and dogs can’t hear it, but gophers can.
The nice part is that they don’t require anything but your time initially in plotting them. Then they do the rest of the work. They can be powered by solar or battery. Solar is highly recommended if you have a lot of gophers. You’ll save time from not having to get new batteries or recharging.
For them to work correctly, they need to be positioned very specifically with correct spacing. This is why it’s imperative you read the labels for them to work properly. You should read the reviews to make sure that the product you’re getting the right product.
Here are some products to get you started (links to Amazon.com):
Once you know where they reside, you can relocate important or vulnerable plants away from the mound.
Consider replanting them in raised beds or behind barriers, which we’ll cover in a bit.
If you don’t need plants, get rid of them! They’re just free food for gophers. This means doing regular yardwork in your garden too. Prune overgrown plants. Clean up grass clippings. Immediately remove foliage. Get rid of spent buds.
Keeping your garden clean will supply fewer plants to bring in creatures that eat them.
Use gopher-repelling plants
Some plants repel pocket gophers naturally.
Plants like lavender, rosemary, geraniums, catnip, skill, sage, pine, eucalyptus, Nandina, lilies, or salvia are excellent repellents. Pocket gophers can cause a lot of damage from burrowing, eating, and destroying plant roots.
Garlic is also proven to keep gophers away- that’s why they use garlic in odor repellents.
They eat just about anything. They pull plants down from the root and eat them in their tunnel.
Thankfully, you can plant plants that they don’t have any preferences for or even repel them due to scent or thorns.
Don’t plant their favorites
Similar to using plants that repel gophers, some bring them in.
Some of their favorites include the following:
- Fleshy portions of plants
- Cover crops
- Herbaceous greens
- Ornamental shrubs
They’re not particularly picky, but tend to draw towards plants that offer lots of nutritional value for the work they need to put in. Starchy, dense greens are ideal. This is why they like roots. They’re chock full of fibers.
Avoid planting these plants to reduce pocket gophers in general. If they don’t have anything to eat, why would they nest in your yard?
Use spent coffee
Coffee grounds can be sprinkled around the garden to help repel gophers.
They dislike the scent of coffee, plus it helps add some nutrients to your soils. It also has a residual effect so you only need to do it once in a blue moon.
Use garlic stakes
Gophers hate garlic. This is why manufactures use it in gopher repellents. You can either plant garlic or onion around the perimeter of your garden, or you can use premade garlic repellents (Amazon).
If your zone is suitable for garlic, consider planting plenty of it. Not only does it keep gophers out, it also makes a delicious meal!
Dogs or cats
The domestic dog is a natural predator of pocket gophers.
They can be used to chase them out of the garden. Of course, you’ll want to watch out for gopher retaliation, which can cause serious injury to domestic animals.
Farm dogs are the preferred choice, but if you’re not sure if Fido is up to it, don’t do it! The same goes for cats.
Pocket gophers do have a few predators they’re afraid of.
If you have these species native in your zone, do some reading on how to get more of them to your zone. Gophers won’t inhabit the area if it’s constantly disturbed by predators like:
- Bull snakes
Use a metal cloth or mesh around the bottom of garden planters. This keeps them out so they can’t get to the roots of your crops.
This will prevent gopher foraging. Barriers will help keep them from tunneling into an area that has valuable plants.
Garden beds or flower beds should be protected by putting mesh on the sides, bottom, and sometimes the top if possible.
For raised planters, you can do the same on the bottom. They don’t need side support.
The wire is also an excellent and economical way to keep gophers away from roots. They can be purchased from hardware stores. Look for a 1” mesh chicken wire, light gauge.
Put double layers around the bases of your plants that are vulnerable to gophers. Leave some space so the plant can grow or else you’ll need to constantly reposition the wire.
There are also wire baskets that are sold specifically for this purpose. They have the mesh built in. Using a perimeter fence a few feet below the soil line can prevent pocket gophers from getting to your plant roots.
Note that the wire does rust over time. Some gardeners like to spray on rust-proof paint to help keep it from rusting.
Never dig in areas that may have utility or power lines. Always double-check with your local authority before digging.
Gravel can also be used to deter gopher chewing by surrounding vulnerable utility lines. Use 8 inches of coarse gravel 1” or bigger. This will stop them from chewing on your cables.
Some barriers, such as plastic tubes or plastic pots, can be effective at keeping gophers out of plants on the soil surface, such as conifers. You can use chicken fencing above the soil too.
Commercial solutions for pocket gophers
If you’ve tried the above DIY remedies, but none of them worked, you may want to consider using commercial solutions.
There are some leading products out there with high success rates. Read the label and use as directed. Get organic or green products if possible.
Here are some products for you to check out (links to Amazon.com):
Consider hiring a professional if you can’t get rid of the pocket gophers yourself.
There are plenty of experts who have industrial solutions not available to the public. Contact your local pest control company for more details.
How to get rid of them permanently
If you’re located in an area where pocket gophers are natives, you’ll have difficulty completely getting rid of them.
The most you can do is setup your property to be as inhabitable to gophers are you possibly can.
This means using a combination of the techniques outlined in this guide:
- Set up fencing around your garden
- Plant fewer bait plants, plant extra deterrent plants
- Use secure plant potters, raised planters, etc.
- Use mesh to keep gophers out of plants
- Use commercial solutions if needed
It’s all about assessing the situation, then using the most efficient technique. Be persistent, but patient. That’s it!
Get rid of pocket gophers for good!
now you know everything you need to know to get rid of those pesky gophers.
Keeping them out of the yard is one thing, but deterring them from munching on your plants is another. You’ll have to work from both sides in order to get rid of them.
If you have specific questions about your pocket gopher problem, please leave a comment for suggestions.
If you found this guide helpful, please consider telling a friend who may get some value out of it!
Currently an active researcher in the pest control industry for the past 8 years- with a focus on using natural and organic methods to eliminate pest problems.
I share handy DIY pest techniques I come across here to help out others (and possibly save them from a mental breakdown).
Fight nature with nature.