Gophers are burrowing rodents in the family Geomyidae found across much of North America. In the garden, gophers can be a devastating nuisance, and most people treat them as pests, using a variety of pest control techniques to deal with gophers. These rodents vary in size, with some specimens reaching a weight of up to two pounds (almost one kilogram), and they are extremely adaptable, being found in cities as well as rural areas.
One very distinctive feature of the gopher is the pouch which surrounds both sides of the face. The pouch gives gophers a puffy faced look which makes them very recognizable. Gophers use this pouch to carry food back to their larders, building up significant hoards of food. Some people refer to gophers as “pocket gophers” in a reference to this pouch.
Gophers spend the bulk of their lives underground, living relatively solitary lives except during breeding season. They use their very large incisors to dig, and they have short, stubby tails which they can use to sense the environment behind them, along with small, weak eyes, as vision is not terribly useful underground. Most gophers are brownish in color, blending in with the dirt they call home.
Obviously, tunnels under a garden or lawn are going to be a problem, causing soil subsidence and potentially causing people to injure themselves by twisting their ankles. Gophers also greatly enjoy eating plants, roots, and bulbs, however, and this is where the bulk of gopher damage is done. Once gophers settle into a garden, they can destroy the plants in relatively short order, which can be quite frustrating and depressing for gardeners.
There are a number of ways to deal with gophers. Many people like to use gopher traps, using the small mounds produced by gophers when they surface to find their tunnels, and then inserting a baited trap into the hole. Some gardeners also tamp down gopher mounds in an attempt to trap them underground before flooding the holes or inserting flares, which generate a great deal of smoke, potentially suffocating the gophers. Some gardeners also use poison, although this is not advised, as poisons can potentially hurt animals which predate on gophers.
For a serious gopher infestation, it sometimes help to call in a pest control company, which has industrial strength tools to deal with the problem. It can also help to garden in raised beds protected with mesh underneath, and gardeners sometimes also plant a border of gopher spurge, a plant which exudes a milky sap which gophers apparently dislike.