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The Master Gardener Gopher Colony
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Plains Pocket Gopher
Paul Nesbit
Plains Pocket Gopher
By Becky Carlberg
Feb. 14, 2013 6:02 p.m.



Valentine’s Day Blog  2013. 

THE MASTER GARDENER GOPHER COLONY

Have you graced your love with hearts and flowers?  This year I decided to try to make a Valentine’s chewy oatmeal cookie in a pie plate.  The dough needed to be much thinner, and the cookie slices may need to be touched up a bit in the microwave.  We’ll find out tonight! 

The Multi-County Master Gardeners have created a four year plan for landscaping around the OSU Extension Building on 14001 Acme in Shawnee.  The raised bed on the north east side is still there, and a small garden on the southwest side remains, but most of the mature shrubs that flanked the building have been removed.  Vegetation has been cleared away from the Pottawatomie County Extension Center sign.  An extensive watering system was installed plus a new storage shed has been built.  It will have its own landscaped beds around it.  The emphasis will be on utilizing Oklahoma Proven plants, as well as other flowers and vegetables.

There is this small problem with gophers.  While talk is of poisoning all of them, there are other options.  First, know your perceived enemy.  Gophers, aka pocket gophers or ground squirrels, build extensive tunnels and little dens underground.    Usually there is one gopher per tunnel. Our gophers are most likely Plains pocket gophers (Geomys bursarius).

POCKET GOPHERS.

Pocket gophers are only found in the Western Hemisphere.  They are notorious for ruining human planted yards, gardens and trees as they love the roots and vegetative portions.  Strictly vegetarians.  Please remember, they are just as much a part of the ecosystem as the humans are.  They do provide benefits in the form of increasing soil fertility as their fecal matter mixes with the plant materials they drag down into their underground habitats.  Aeration of soil occurs, and a churning of soil results in bringing essential minerals toward the surface.  They are food on the paw for hawks, owls, coyotes, bobcats, and snakes.

POISONS.

This is the problem with using poisons.  If the gophers eat poison and are then eaten by any of the aforementioned predators, it immediately goes into the food chain and affects other animals.  

Strychnine.  The most common poison used is strychnine-coated grains, such as millet.  The poison is strong and lasts quite a long time.  Strychnine comes from a tree that grows in India, the Strychnine tree (Strychnos nux-vomica).  The bark, blossoms and round, flat seeds inside the green fruits have strychnine, a potent neurotoxin. 

The gophers take the treated grains down into their burrows, but any dog, cat, hawk or owl that eats even a little of the muscle tissue from a dead gopher can also die.  If birds eat any of the bait lying on the surface, they are goners as well.  One thing to remember.  Gophers and owls are both active at night.  Gophers are the owl’s food of choice if available.  Strychnine compounds are not recommended to be used around veggie gardens or orchards.

Zinc phosphate.  An alternative is zinc phosphate.  The gas produced during digestion enters the gopher bloodstream and they die.  It is said to be less toxic to domesticated animals, but I found no test data on wild animals or birds.  The stuff looks like granola. 

Anti-coagulants.  Mouse and rat bait have been mentioned as a possible control.  The bait contains anti-coagulants (blood thinners) and causes a slow death.  Gophers may not like the particular compound the chemical is offered in.  This is why it is called rat and mouse bait.

PREVENTION:

Buffer strips around garden plots and trees can be used.  If planted in annual grains, the grain buffer protects the crops preferred by gophers.  The grain root systems do not have enough food value and gophers tend not to eat them and stay away.   Yellow sweet clover (Melilotus indicus) is said to be quite repulsive to gophers.  It could also be planted as a buffer strip.  The buffer strip may be just bare ground, or ground covered by 6 inches of coarse gravel.

Create raised beds inside plant boxes of durable materials.  

Use underground netting and screen fencing.  It must go down 2 feet deep and extend one foot high above ground to work.

Humane traps positioned in the main run of the tunnel.  For this one has to dig down to find the tunnel, then position the trap, preferably two traps, one facing in each direction. Put in some carrots, green beans, or lettuce. Leave the tunnel open.  Gophers hate their tunnels disturbed and will try to fix them.  The plus side is you know you have a gopher if it gets trapped.  If the traps are not visited within 2 days, they need to be re-baited or moved elsewhere. 

Juicy Fruit gum in the tunnel openings has worked for some. Spraying unscented ammonia down the tunnels has worked for others.  Of course you could keep a badger or cat on hand!  Badgers do love gophers, but the vote is still out on cats.

Gophers are territorial.  If one colony is eliminated, it will probably soon be re-occupied by another, so sustainable long-term planning is important.  Will keep you posted on the resolution of the gopher problem by the Multi-County Master Gardeners!

Oh yes, have a happy Valentine’s Day.

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