By Eunice Messner

It is best to know your enemy before you wage a war. Most of us
recognize the 6" to 12" long gopher with its long incisor teeth. It uses
its jaws to lift and remove rocks and pebbles from its path as it
advances. Their fur is a mottled light brown. They mate only once a year
(January - April) and produce a litter of maybe five. Their life span may
be up to12 years.

Gophers are noted for their magic of "here today and gone tomorrow" for
any growing thing in the garden. Their tunnels may be 12" deep or more.
Fresh activity is evidenced by a large mound of dirt pushed up to one
side of an opening --like a mine dump.

A "mole hill" however, may be distinguished by its volcano shape, with
the opening being in the center of the hill. Moles are 6" to 8" long with
large front paws, hidden ears and virtually useless eyes. Their pointy
front teeth are too weak to dig through compacted soil or gnaw through
roots or bulbs. It uses its remarkable hearing to locate prey. They were
once prized for their dark brown, velvety fur which can point forward
or backward to facilitate movement. Moles are loners and a territory may
contain only one or two in an area.

Moles are primarily beneficial, in that they are insectivorous and eat
grubs in lawns, spiders, centipedes and earthworms but they also aerate
the soil. It is the raised tunnels in the lawn that a
homeowner finds objectionable.

Voles are vegetarian, 4" to 6" long (including tail), with grayish tan
fur. They are actually a field mouse-- a short stubby version of a house
mouse. Their close to the surface tunnels are only 1" to 2" wide. They
produce up to 30 young annually with possibly hundreds sharing a feeding
ground. Their diet consists of plants and roots.


To determine if a runway is active, active, stamp down a sort section
with your foot and flag it. Observe the tunnel daily. If you find that
this section has been raised again, you have found an active runway. The
moles head is so fragile and sensitive to vibrations that it can easily
be stunned or killed by a sharp tap on the snout or by slapping the broad
side of a shovel down on the tunnel where it is active. There are a
number of harpoon, scissor or body gripping traps. These are not always
safely used around pets and children and even sometimes yourself.

A metal barrier or hardware cloth may be installed around smaller areas
using a 15" wide strip of metal. Bend the bottom 2" to form an el. With
the bottom of the el facing away from the garden, bury this strip 12 "
deep and make as long as needed to enclose your space. The part above the
soil may be hidden by the frame of a raised bed.

The safest to use is a nonlethal pit trap, made by sinking a large 3#
coffee can into the ground so that the top of the can is level with the
bottom of the tunnel. When the mole or vole falls into the can it is
unable to get out. The top of the tunnel should be covered with a board
to keep the light out.

Flooding out moles in the spring can be effective. Insert a hose into an
opening and turn on the water for ten or fifteen minutes. This may also
reach any young nesting deeper in the active tunnels.


There are a number of gopher
traps; the metal "Macabee", the box trap and most recently, the "Black
Hole'. You can find the main tunnel by using a probe. I make one by
cutting off the end of a golf club. Start about 10" away from the smaller
part of the mound. When the probe hits a
tunnel it will suddenly drop into the open space. Wear gloves to prevent
human smells and set two traps - one in each direction. Anything from
grass, peanut butter or the roots of whatever they are presently eating
be used for bait. Attach a strong cord or chain or they may pull the trap
into the burrow. Cover the hole with some rigid material to exclude

Strychnine-laced barley may be placed in the hole but does offer
consequences of secondary kill if a gopher snake, owl or hawk eats the
deceased gopher. To protect an individual plant, one may use a 5 gallon
container with the bottom removed and bury it in the soil. Hardware cloth
may be placed on the bottom of a raised
bed to keep out gophers or for small yards a barrier may be placed along
the fence line.

Fumigation works well if your area is accessible by a gas powered mower,
rototiller or car exhaust pipe. A 3" by 10" flexible metal exhaust pipe
can be slipped over the exhaust pipe of your mower, etc. An elbow may be
required for flexibility. Before attaching the pipe, squirt a few drops
of oil into the end to be fitted on the gas-powered exhaust pipe. Place
the free end of the pipe at the mouth of the runway and pack soil around
it to create a seal before starting your engine. Let the engine idle for
10 or 15 minutes.
Smoke created by the oil will escape from any exit holes available to the
gopher. Quickly seal the exit or kill the emerging gopher with a shovel.
Continued on page 5
continued from page 4
Several other remedies are often recommended by the
desperate homeowner-vibrating devices, castor beans or chewing gum.
Forget about these unproven, wishful tactics.


Household mouse traps, baited with an apple, can be placed in runways or
at emergence holes.

References: COMMON-SENSE PEST CONTROL , 1996 , William
Olkowski, Sheila Daar, Helga Olkowski.

FINE GARDENING MAGAZINE, Jan/Feb 2003, Dawn Alleman