How To Trap Gophers: Gopher It

Rosa 'Abraham Darby':
Rosa 'Abraham Darby'

Delmar O'Donnell: Care for some gopher?
Ulysses Everett McGill: No thank you, Delmar. One third of a gopher would only arouse my appetite without bedding it down.

Delmar O'Donnell: Oh, you can have the whole thing. Me and Pete already had one apiece. We ran across a whole... gopher village.
--"O Brother, Where Art Thou" by Joel and Ethan Coen
WARNING: Some photos below are not for the sensitive!
I killed it.  It took a couple of weeks of piles of dirt in the yard.  One dead rose, roots eaten.  But I was patient and persistant and I killed the gopher.  My vengeance is now "bedded down". 

Gophers vs. Moles
Both are rodents that tunnel through soil.  There the similarity ends.  Moles eat worms and grubs; they tunnel just under the surface of the soil, leaving raised ridges of loose soil.  Their ability to damage plants is limited to creating air pockets around the root systems that can dry out some or all of the roots.  Small annuals freshly planted can be popped out of the soil by a mole as well.  In that respect they can damage plants, yes, but they do not eat roots. 

Digging out gopher

In contrast, Gophers eat roots.  Entire root systems.  I don't care what kind of gardener you are, plants do very poorly without root systems.  Gophers will also emerge from the soil at night and eat foliage and stems.  Gopher tunnels are extensive and gophers tunnel from root system to root system, destroying.  They leave large mounds of loose soil everywhere.  They are the California gardener's greatest evil, except for bermuda grass and the water bill. 

Moles I do not bother with.  They scour an area for grubs and worms and then move on, having aerated a lot of soil in the process.  I may have to tamp down soil if there is a hollow spot below, but that's it. 

Gophers mean all-out-take-no-prisoners war.  

As with drug or alcohol addiction, the first thing you must do is admit you have a problem.  If you see a new pile of soil, and you think, "Not to worry, it will go away",  then you are wrong, wrong, wrong.  Agressive action at the first sign of a gopher is important.  They are highly vulnerable before they have created an extensive tunnel system to hide in.  After that system is created, they are much harder to catch, and there will soon be baby gophers to make things even worse.  

I have caught most gophers within hours by putting down traps at the first appearance of a loose pile of soil.  The gopher is unfamiliar with the area, is digging actively, and blunders into the trap before serious damage is done.  Be aggressive at the very first sign of a gopher!

At the first sign of trouble this year I did the wrong thing.  I saw a pile, dug around, found no tunnel, and assumed the gopher had moved on, or that it was just some loose soil.  This also happened last year, and last year there was no further trace of a gopher.  It's been three years since we've had a confirmed gopher in our yard.  It made me complacent.  I was lazy.  I was in denial.  It was not until the rose 'Camille Pissarro' dried up and fell over rootless that I admitted I had a problem.  Be aggressive at the very first sign of a gopher!

Where Rosa 'Camille Pissarro' used to be.  The wire protected it from rabbits, but not from a gopher:
Gopher ate rose

Next to the dead rose is our precious 'Meyer' lemon.  It would be a disaster to lose that lovely tree, the sweet perfume of its blossoms in spring, its lucious fruit.  I dug around the lemon tree and could not find a tunnel, only loose soil everywhere.  I made a mess.  I created a ditch around the lemon's root system to keep the gopher away from it.

Lemon in danger:
Gopher piles

 I could not find a tunnel.  Over the next couple of days the gopher moved towards another rose and a clematis.  I dug a ditch around the clematis.  I dug out here and there the loose piles of soil that were appearing around the rose.  I placed the trap here.  No luck.  I placed the trap here.  No luck.  Days of frustration.

I watched.  I noticed some fresh disturbance and placed the trap again.  I could not find a good tunnel.  New loose soil appeared around the trap, but the trap was not sprung.  I dug a hole, removing the disturbed soil.  I could not find a tunnel. 

Then yesterday the gopher made its fatal mistake.  It dug through into a hole I had dug, at the side, then it retreated and plugged the hole.  Bingo.  I removed the plug of dirt and found a prime tunnel adjacent to the hole.  I placed the trap carefully, level and at the same depth as the tunnel.  You want your gopher to move into the trap before he realizes it.  They are wary of changes in level up or down.  Place your trap level, and even with the existing tunnel. 

You always wear clean gloves to handle the trap, or put your hands inside plastic bags to handle the trap, so that no human scent contaminates the trap and warns the gopher.   I use the "Black Hole" gopher trap.  It has caught many many gophers (they are reusable).  It's a good idea to have at least two traps.

Ideally, you find the main tunnel and put one trap facing in one direction, and one facing the other.  Gophers like to dig one main tunnel, then they create branches off that main tunnel to kill roses.  They keep returning to the main tunnel, and may close off a branch, so putting a trap in a branch may not be successful.

I do not use poison because of the many raptors in the area.  Owls and at least three types of hawks live around here, and poisoned gophers may come up from the ground to die and may be caught and eaten by a raptor, which will then also be poisoned.  I just don't want to do that.

Gopher tunnel

So, yesterday.  At mid-day, I put soil around the trap to keep it firm against the tunnel opening.  You don't want your gopher veering off to one side or the other of your trap.  I covered  the whole area with a black plastic trash back so no light would shine into the trap and warn the gopher.  I left it, and checked it a couple of hours later.  Nothing.  Then this morning...


Gotcha, mother$#*%@^!  Fat and sleek and glossy he was from stuffing himself with my rose roots.   I will leave the body as a warning to all gophers who may dare to invade next.  My trophy of bloodthirsty victory!  Vengeance!

Dead Gopher (sorry)


I guess I sound barbaric.  But when gophers move into your yard, you will understand. 

Unmolested now, saved from Evil,  'Abraham Darby' decided it was time to produce some of the perfect flowers of late summer and autumn.   He's always best in autumn.  Behold what I have saved:

Rosa 'Abraham Darby'

Rosa 'Abraham Darby'


  1. Oh my.

    I count myself lucky that I've never seen a mole or gopher in my garden. If I do I know where to turn for advice. Congratulations on your victory!

  2. Yuck.

    My mom bashed a gopher on the head with a hammer. (Just like the game.)

  3. Two Thumbs UP! You did good. I too hope I never see one of these varmints in my SoCal garden either. I am a trapper of possums and squirrels that are relocated to the beautiful Whiting Park Nature preserve.

  4. Woman the Hunter! It appears that we made our kills on the same day. Julia Child has some damage, but I believe she will recover. Sorry about Camille. And thank goodness Abe was spared.


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