Gophers are voracious eaters. These rodents will eat practically any type of plant, especially the roots and tubers. When these small mammals invade a garden, they often target carrots, peas, and sweet potatoes.
But do gophers eat succulents?
Like deer, gophers are opportunistic feeders and yes, gophers do eat succulents when food and water are in short supply.
There are anecdotes of gophers eating succulents like jade plants, agaves, and crassulas.
Meet your enemy: the gopher
Gophers are fairly distributed around different parts of North and Central America. These rodents prefer to burrow beneath loose and sandy grounds.
Gophers are larger than mice but are smaller than rats. Apart from its large incisors, gophers have cheek pockets that run up to their shoulders. That is why they are often called pocket gophers. These animals use their cheek pouches to transport food.
These animals have stout and compact bodies built for burrowing. They are most active during the day, moving in around the tunnels they build.
They rarely venture above ground, preferring to do most of their activities underground. Burrows are composed of a network of tunnels. Each tunnel has a specific purpose. Some are used for storage, others for nesting.
Gophers are solitary creatures, except during mating season. However, it is not unusual for these small critters to share their burrows with other animals.
The dangers of gopher infestations
Gophers may be diminutive in size but the dangers an infestation can bring are big.
It can take anywhere between a few hours to a few days for a gopher to wreak havoc in a garden, negating all the hard work you have put in cultivating your crops.
But the destruction of your crops may be the least of your concerns if a gopher decides to burrow beneath your property.
For one, the holes and dirt mounds made by these rodents are a major tripping hazard for both humans and their pets.
But even more alarming is the fact that gopher burrows can compromise the structural integrity of the soil. There have been many incidences of structures like walkways and patios collapsing, triggered by the compromised ability of the soil to support heavy loads.
Signs of a gopher infestation
But how do you know that you are dealing with a gopher infestation?
Gopher infestations are a recurring problem. But left unchecked, these can be a year-round problem that you have to contend with.
Fortunately, there are signs of a gopher infestation that you can watch out for.
Dirt mounds are a visible sign that you might have unwanted guests on your property. These mounds typically have a fan-shape, and often appear seemingly out of nowhere.
Gophers discard soil above ground while constructing their burrows. Once the construction is finished, these small animals will plug these holes.
You will also see mounds of dirt scattered around different locations. This usually happens when these critters build additional chambers and tunnels.
Sometimes, gophers build their burrows on a neighboring property and travel below the ground onto your garden.
When this happens, you will hardly notice dirt on your lawn. Instead, you will notice missing or damaged plants and trees.
Typically, these rodents feed on plants from below the ground, starting with the roots. Eventually, they will pull down the whole plant.
Gophers rarely venture out of their burrows. But when they do, they will do so to forage for food. It is not unusual for these creatures to take a bite off plants and trees which leave noticeable marks.
Dealing with a gopher invasion
If you have a gopher on your property, your best option is to catch it alive and then relocate it. These critters are prolific breeders, capable of producing three to five litters in a year.
Trapping your prey
To catch a gopher, place traps near the main tunnel. This tunnel is usually found five to 10 inches below the ground. Many people recommend using Juicy Fruit gum as bait.
However, if you want the job done right the first time and eliminate the guesswork from your part, enlist the help of professionals. This solution is ideal if you have a large property or if you feel that you are dealing with several gophers.
Do not use water to flush out these critters out of their burrow. Water can moisten the soil, further compromising its structural integrity.
Fires ignited with butane, propane, and natural gases can kill gophers. However, you might have to pay a steep price for your success in the form of permanent damage to the roots of your plants.
Pumping exhaust into the burrow is ineffective. Gophers can move quickly to seal off their nests once they detect fumes.
Poisons can work. But this method is only recommended if you do not own pets. If you have pets, they can either eat the poison you use or eat the poisoned carcass of your prey. Predators like hawks and owls can also eat the tainted carcasses of gophers.
Protecting your plants
Once you have eliminated gophers off your property, your job is not yet done. You may have to deal with these pests later on.
Your best recourse is to place a few protective measures on your property.
Surrounding your property with a mesh barrier is an effective defense against gophers. Position the barrier one to two feet below the ground.
If you are just starting a new lawn or flower bed, consider using an under-lawn barrier. Although the installation process is labor-intensive, you can reap benefits for several years.
If installing a mesh barrier or under-lawn barrier is not feasible, you can use gopher baskets. Place these near the plants that you want to protect.
Although gophers have a keen sense of smell, using repellents against them can be a huge gamble.
One of the challenges of using scent-based repellents is that you have to make sure that the product you are using goes deep into the ground to reach your target.
Among the most popular repellents used by gardeners are pine disinfectants, castor oil granules, peppermint oil, chili powder, and garlic stakes.
If you want to go high-tech, you can use ultrasonic repellents. These devices are powered either by solar energy or batteries. These work by emitting vibrations that annoy gophers but not humans.
There are a few predators that feed on gophers, including barn owls and gopher snakes.
You can coax barn owls to live on your property by building them nest boxes. A family of these owls can eat up to a thousand gophers annually.
Gopher snakes feed primarily on these rodents. But compared to barn owls, gopher snakes consume these pests in smaller amounts.
Cats and dogs can ward off or even kill gophers. But before you let loose your pets on these rodents, be warned that gophers may carry diseases.
A formidable opponent
Do not let a gopher’s small size fool you. What it lacks in size, it more than compensates in its ability to sow destruction beneath lawns. It can do more damage than just eating your succulents.
Image: istockphoto.com / liveslow