Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
August, 2010
Regional Report

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Disappearing plants and freshly turned earth are signs that a gopher have taken residence in the garden.

Unwelcome Visitor

I have a squatter in Henry's garden. I first noticed the problem in the spring. I had planted over 75 little onion sets in the sunny, well drained section of the vegetable garden. Perhaps I should mention that Henry's back yard backs up to an open space. The fence between the vegetable garden and the open space has turned into the "Gateway to Hell."

On my next visit to the garden, after planting the onions, about half of the crop was missing. I thought it might be slugs or snails and set out some Slugg-O to remedy the problem. More and more onions vanished until finally I had one lonely onion left, and it was growing sideways.

All throughout the spring I planted summer blooming bulbs such as dahlias, alstromeria and gladiola, in addition to multiple packages of seeds for sweet peas, morning glories and cosmos. The little plants would germinate, then disappear.

I confess that I was stumped, although all of the evidence was in place to identify the culprit. Freshly turned earth, gaping holes that appeared when the soil was watered and of course, the multitude of wilted plants that turned out to have no roots.

We have a gopher.

I have never had my very own gopher. In all of my years as a professional gardener I have always had a man on hand to deal with these rodent pests. Trapping, poisoning and hack-and-slashing were not something that I was willing to tackle, especially if someone else was on hand to do the dirty work. My good friend Ricky LaFrentz, head gardener at Sunset Magazine, was famous for his gopher eradication technique. He would wait quietly beside a fresh mound of gopher-turned earth and when the shiny little head appeared, he would hack it to death with a shovel.

The only other "up-close-and-personal" contact I have had with gophers is when my dog Julius would dig them out of their holes and shake them to death. Henry's golden retriever didn't seem at all interested in taking on that particular job. He is a peaceful creature and, although curious about the rodent scent, not willing to do the necessary excavation.

So now it's up to me. Traps? I'm not mechanically inclined and am a bit leery of stabbing myself with the Macabee traps. Poison? NO WAY! Henry has the dog and a family cat, not to mention the raptors nesting in the surrounding open area. You would think that hawks and owls would take care of the gopher problem for me.

So far I have opted for the "Ostrich Approach," which is to put my head in the sand and hope the problem goes away by itself. In the mean time, my dahlias are disappearing at an alarming rate and the gopher has moved from the vegetable garden to other, more valuable plants in nearby beds.

My friends, this is a call for help! Can any of you recommend a solution that is nontoxic and pet friendly? The situation is getting quite desperate and I think the gopher has invited in friends and family. Any suggestions are gratefully accepted.

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