Q: We've been fighting gophers for the last three years. They've eaten the roots of my plants, and I've tried every remedy I've ever heard of, including putting human hair in the tunnels. What can we do to win this war?
— Elizabeth, Cleveland, TN
A: Roger Cook replies: Look on the bright side — at least you won't have to aerate your lawn this year. Seriously, though, gophers are wily, destructive pests that throw up big mounds of earth willy-nilly across the landscape and destroy gardens and crops. Here's a quick overview of the remedies for these rodents, but check with your local extension service on specifics that suit your area.
First of all, stuffing things down a gopher hole, including hair or those so-called sonic repellents, just doesn't work. (Neither does dynamite, as Bill Murray proved in the movie Caddyshack.) I recommend box traps, which are the simplest and easiest type of gopher trap to use. You plant them in a main tunnel, which lies about 6 to 12 inches below the surface. (Find it by probing the ground around a mound on the side where you see a plug of fresh earth.) Then, following the illustrated directions, dig down and set two traps with their open ends facing opposite directions into the tunnel. No bait is needed, but be sure to wear gloves when setting the traps. You don't want your scent to scare them away.
If you prefer not to trap, stay away from the poisons that contain strychnine. A poisoned gopher eaten by a cat, dog, or fox will poison that animal as well. Safer poisons use a bait laced with anticoagulants; internal bleeding kills the gopher (painlessly, I'm told) without endangering other animals. Just be sure to follow instructions for its safe use and disposal.
I've read that gophers can't stand the smell of castor oil (can't say I blame them) and that spraying a diluted mix on the ground is enough to make them skedaddle. There's also some evidence that gophers don't like mulch, so you could try mulching a buffer area around plantings. Or you could encourage predators to come feast on your rich gopher supply — installing owl boxes in a nearby woods might be a good start.