Mole and Ground Squirrel Damage to Lawns

Moles cause a lot of damage to Bay Area lawns, as we all know. Here are some pictures of typical mole tunneling along a hard edge of concrete. This is the most usual damage people see, but piles of dirt in the lawn which are often attributed to gophers, are also quite often caused by moles. We trap about 50% gophers and 50% moles in the bay area from San Jose to San Francisco to Novato and Concord.

Below theses pics are some images of ground squirrel burrows in a school field. As you can see, the openings of the burrows can be obscured by tall grass and children can fall in these holes and break their ankle or leg.

Mole Damage to Lawn
Mole Damage to Lawn
Mole Damage to Lawn
Mole Damage to Lawn
Mole Damage to Lawn
Mole Damage to Lawn
Ground Squirrel Damage to Lawn
Ground Squirrel Damage to Lawn
Ground Squirrel Damage to Lawn
Ground Squirrel Damage to Lawn
gophers and ground squirrels make fields dangerous
gophers and ground squirrels make fields dangerous
gophers and ground squirrels make fields dangerous
gophers and ground squirrels make fields dangerous
gophers and ground squirrels make fields dangerous
gophers and ground squirrels make fields dangerous

Our happy customers include:   City of San Leandro, Town of Los Gatos, Palo Alto Muni Golf Course, five public school districts, and hundreds of private residences around the San Francisco Bay. Give us a try! We think you will be impressed by our results.

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Call Today and Stop the Damage!

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We service the following Bay Area neighborhoods twice weekly:
San Jose, San Francisco, Woodside, Los Altos, Novato, Walnut Creek, Blackhawk,
Pleasanton, Fremont, Oakland, El Cerrito, Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Napa, and Sonoma.

Trapping beats all when controlling gophers on golf courses

We beat co2 and carbon monoxide when controlling gophers on golf courses.

I feel like every big job we take over we’re following on the heels of some one who tried gas.

Te concept makes perfect sense. Pump a deadly gas into a gopher hole and the animals will all die.

Here is why this is extremely ineffective

1. Only 1 gopher per burrow

2. Many burrows have dead-end and abandoned tunnels

3. you don’t know for sure that the gopher is dead because you don’t see the body.

4  Re-read 1,2,&3 above

Yes gas “works”, but its not a 1 for 1 kill rate per application like trapping.

Here is why trapping is better

1. You open the tunnel and see that it’s active

2. You pull out a dead gopher and know its dead for sure

3. Setting traps only takes a couple minutes (how long does the gas take?????)

4. Our crew can set 300 trap-sets in a day and that kills 250-300 gophers (yes we miss a few) per day.

5. Traps are waaaay cheaper than the gas emitting machine… and traps can work while we’re not working.

All this is really pertinent to gophers on schools and gophers on golf courses. For gophers in lawns its hands down best to use traps because no toxicity, portability, and low profile.

Raccoon Tearing Up Lawn

Some articles and excerpts on Skunk and Raccoon Damage to Lawns

Taken from the website
Skunks and raccoons
Raccoon tearing up lawn and Skunk Damage- These two animals will dig in the lawn, especially in the spring and fall looking for grubs, earthworms or soil insects. Having them digging does not mean there are grubs. They eat the same things moles do; they just work from the top down.
Fall is a time to get as fat as possible for the coming winter and spring is a time to put weight back on. Again, it is good to investigate whether there are grubs or not. If less than five grubs per square foot are found, try some of the surface repellants that are castor oil-based. These mask the smell of those sweet treats just below the surface. These can be sprayed on the surface, but are not watered in. Spray the areas that are just adjacent to the raccoon damaged areas and any area that has some damage.

Raccoon tearing up lawn- Raccoon Classroom

It’s that time of year! Our kids are heading back to school.

Children will be spending their days in the classroom and raccoon moms will be escorting their little ones from their warm cozy den sites into the classrooms of nature.Young raccoons need to begin their schooling too!

A classroom for raccoons is any location where there is food or water. Raccoons typically give birth during spring and early summer, and in fall, raccoon moms venture out with their young ones to teach them how to forage. These moms will be teaching valuable survival skills including where easy food and water sources are located.

They’re Tearing Up My Lawn!

Unfortunately one such location may be your well-tended lawn!

Over-watered lawns produce an abundance of grubs and provide an ideal classroom for raccoons to perfect their foraging skills.

But there are safe, effective and humane options to deter educational forays onto your property!

WildCare would like to remind you that trapping and killing (or relocating!) visiting raccoons is cruel and inhumane and it never solves the problem (learn more on our WildCare Solutions blog).

Raccoons have territories, so when you remove a raccoon from a given territory (by trapping it), another raccoon will soon show up to take its place. You are not eliminating your raccoon problem by trapping and removing the animal. As long as the food or water source remains, your property will be attractive to animals.

Discourage Raccoons from Using Your Backyard as a Classroom

Cut back on watering immediately!
If you are watering every day, switch to every other day and only water in the morning. This will reduce the number of grubs under your yard, removing the source of what is attracting the animals in the first place
Beneficial nematodes are an organic form of pest control that can help when used correctly and can reduce raccoon damage.These are microscopic organisms that live in the garden soil and consume garden pests such as grubs. Click for instructions on how to use them properly.
Ammonia stations
Raccoons do not like the smell of ammonia. Creating ammonia stations in your yard can help deter them. To make ammonia stations, soak rags in ammonia and place them in metal containers such as baking trays, old coffee cans etc. This prevents the ammonia from leaking into the ground. You want to create enough stations in the areas affecting so the smell of ammonia wafts out.
Cayenne Pepper sprinkled generously on the ground surrounding the raccoon damage areas can help create an unpleasant experience for raccoons. It is best to use pepper in conjunction with several ammonia stations.
Go native! Think about switching from a green lawn to a more sustainable ecosystem that doesn’t require as much water. Without the over-saturation that a lush green lawn requires, you’ll conserve water, foster co-existence and save yourself from the frustrations of raccoons just being raccoons

We appreciate the above articles from and because they shed a lot of light on the subject of raccoon damage and (less lo) skunk damage, which is very similar.

Personally I encourage customers to try everything they can to exclude or dissuade raccoons from their yards, but for those who insist on trapping, we offer a live trapping of raccoons and skunks service in Santa CLara and San Mateo Counties.

Call 408-771-6428 or zsmith@gopher-trapping for more information.
Smith’s is your bay area raccoon trapper when you have tried everything to get rid of raccoons and you have a raccoon tearing up lawn.

Raccoon tearing up lawn
Raccoon tearing up lawn

Raccoon Damage

Raccoon Damage

Raccoon Damage in lawns is very common at this time of year. September to November we see much raccoon foraging in lawns, tearing up grass, and making quite a mess.

Most experts suggest trapping the raccoons in the suburban environment because their population can become quite large. A raccoon family often travels in storm sewers and comes up nightly to look for food.

Raccoon trapper

like to bait traps with chicken, cantaloupe,or cat food to entice the hungry beasts to enter the traps.

Live cage traps are often used, and the animals are either euthanized humanely (no drowning please!) or released on site (relocation is not allowed).

The easiest way to euthanize is with co2. It has a anesthetic effect initially, and the animal falls asleep before passing away.

This beats the alternative methods of a conibear trap (see image here ) which is a nondiscriminatory raccoon trap that will kill anything else that goes for its bait. We don;t like the use of this trap, and neither do our customers.

In San Jose, Palo Alto, Los Altos and San Mateo we see a lot of raccoon damage to lawns and we feel it is appropriate to trap when other deterrents fail.

The best method of preventing raccoon damage to lawns is to exclude them but as many know, a raccoon can climb over, under, around and through almost any materiel. They are incredibly strong and agile…and determined!!

Raccoon Damage
Raccoon damage to Lawns is caused by their nightly foraging for grubs.

I’ve got the late summer gopher slowdown blues!

Where did the gopher go?

Hi folks!

This is that time of year we start to see a little less gopher activity. These are the dog days of summer and we’ll likely see a slower than usual Fall because of the dry conditions out there.

Gophers and moles are still prevalent but they have reared their summer litters and we (sadly for them) have trapped most of those newcomers by now. Poor baby gophers!!

Our typical calls these days are from folks who just installed a new lawn and have gophers and moles popping up in it.

We are all practiced up from a busy Spring and Summer, and have our traps at the ready (we never use poison, we have such better results!), so when you see piles of dirt, dirt filled holes in the lawn, or mole hills, give us a call and we’ll come a runnin’!

Smith’s is your Bay Area gopher guy, specializing in trapping and removal of gophers, mole eradication, vole trapping, and even rat trapping (outdoors).

Remember, burrowing pests can cost you thousands in erosion, lost plants, and undermining of retaining walls and pavement. Mole damage is often confused for gopher activity. We trap both animals just the same. I know many folks like to leave the moles alone because they are not plant eaters (they eat worms and bugs) but their foraging activity can be even more destructive.

How to tell if you have a gopher or a mole? The piles of soil a gopher makes are often fan shaped, or kidney bean shaped. Moles make volcanoes of soil that is chunky, and they make long raised ridges, often along the edge of walkways. When tunneling in the middle of a lawn or flower bed their raised ridges are often serpentine.
Check out  two pictures of mole piles (look pretty gopher like?)

This is no gopher. Moles do a ton of damage to paving.
Moles, not gopher, pop up between flagstone in patios and walks and cause unsightly damage.
mole piles look a lot like gopher in a lawn
These mole piles resemble gopher damage in a lawn

Now gopher pile pictures

Classic gopher fan shaped pile
Classic gopher fan shaped pile
Soil plug differentiates a gopher from a mole
A gopher pile has the visible soil plug most of the time.

I love this explanation from a helpful contributor to Yahoo Answers

When we ran a lawn and landscape business, and could not find a good pest control company who could reliably and professionally help with our needs, we did the only obvious thing, we became the bay areas best gopher guys and never looked back. What sets us apart is our relentless commitment to doing a good job. We don’t always hit home runs, but we never give up either. We have a 100% satisfaction guarantee, and we don;t quit until all the gophers, moles voles and woodrats are gone.

A nice article on gophers moles voles and rats from the Mercury News

A nice article on gophers moles voles and rats from the Mercury News

I like most of what the author writes in her article here but I have a few objections:

1. I am not sure why so many people believe in the cinch trap and the McAbee. Both have major drawbacks. The Cinch is too big and clumsy and limits placement. Besides that, we trappers carry hundreds of traps in a bucket and the Cinch is to big.

The McAbee is the right size and design but lacks strength and jaw size so we feel it is inhumane.

The best trap we have found (we trap 70-100 gophers a day here at Smith’s) is the Trapline Gophinator. Its got bigger, stroinger jaws but still compact enough to fit 250 in a bucket. Also they are stainless steel so they never rust or bend.

2. Gophers per Acre:  I find Waaaay more than 25 gophers per acre in school fields, city parks, and  golf courses. It all depends on how long the gophers have had to get established, and the food supply. Yes, in a dry pasture there are less gophers than in an irrigated field.

3. Moles: I agree that moles do not eat plants, and in a vegetable garden they may be pretty harmless, but since about 65% of our call-outs for “gophers” are actually for  moles, it is apparent that the public does not understand nor tolerate their obtrusive tunneling and mound making.  Here’s the thing with moles; they eat worms…. and worms live in healthy soil…and our healthiest soil is often in our plants root zone. So the mole moves a lot of soil away from the root zone while it is foraging, and this causes plant stress.

A copy of the article taken fromt he Mercury News, written by Joan Morris is copied below:

Our Garden: Nontoxic rodent control in the garden

Posted:   05/29/2013 09:51:51 PM PDT
Updated:   05/30/2013 10:45:05 AM PDT

The healthiest gardens, landscapes and yards are free of poisons. The practice may not produce a pristine garden, but it is safer for the environment and those who enjoy its bounty.

Master Gardener Janet Miller advocates trying to live in harmony with nature. That means you tolerate some creatures in the garden sharing some of your harvest. But sometimes the animals take advantage, and the gardener has to act.

It’s best to look at nonlethal measures first, resorting to trapping and killing only if other efforts have failed. These are her tips for nontoxic rodent control.



  • Some people reach for the poison first because, Miller says, it’s a quick and effective way

    Is this a gopher or a mole mound? The answer may surprise you. Joan Morris/Staff ( Joan Morris )

    of getting rid of the creatures that bother you. But it’s seldom a good idea. Many poisons kill not only the targeted animal, but other creatures as well.

    A poisoned rat may be eaten by a hawk, which then also consumes the poison and is killed. Children can get into bait traps, as can pets and other animals.


  • Poisons usually don’t solve the problem. You may get rid of a few rodents, but others escape, and more always follow.
  • Some poisons escape from your yard through water runoff and pollute the groundwater, which, in turn, pollutes lakes, streams and the ocean.
  • Poisons can mask the root of the problem, Miller says. You may have conditions in your yard that are encouraging rodents. If you don’t tackle

    those issues, you will continue to have rodent infestations.



  • In California, the most common gopher is the pocket gopher. It has long digging claws, large teeth and external cheek pockets for storing food.
  • Gophers are clean, solitary animals and carry no known fleas or disease, but they can cause a great deal of damage to plants and roots.
  • Gophers breed in February and March, and a pair of gophers can easily produce 10 offspring in a single season. The young leave the nest when they are 3 weeks old and move out to create their own burrows.
  • In one acre of land, you can have as many as 200 gophers, but generally, you’ll find 24 to 36 per acre.
  • They create habitat burrows up to 9 inches deep and feeding burrows that are up to 8 inches deep.
  • Gopher mounds tend to be crescent-shaped, with the entrance hole slightly off to one side of the mound.
  • Exclusion is a good option to control gophers. Barrier wire in beds can be effective, but the gopher will find any gaps that may exist.
  • Natural predators are barn owls, hawks and gopher snakes. Owls eliminate the most gophers, catching several each day, especially when an owl is feeding a family. Gopher snakes are good at catching the animals, as they can hunt them inside the maze of tunnels. But snakes only eat one gopher every six weeks.
  • If you decide on trapping, Miller recommends Cinch ( and Macabee traps.
  • Set traps early in the morning or late in the afternoon, the most active times for the gopher.
  • Trap year-round to keep the population in check.
  • Always wear gloves when setting or retrieving the traps, and remember that gophers can bite.
  • Check traps at least three times a day.
  • If using a Cinch trap, leave the hole open. The gopher doesn’t like light coming into its tunnels, so it will rush to close it up and be caught in the trap.
  • When setting the trap, dig out the tunnel to see what direction it goes. Place the trap in the same direction.
  • Gophers are hemophiliacs, lacking the enzyme that causes blood to clot. Use traps that will kill, not wound, so that the gopher’s death is as quick and as painless as possible.Moles 
  • Moles look similar to gophers, Miller says, but they are fairly harmless, with no external teeth or claws. They also are much harder to trap.
  • Their mounds are almost perfectly round with no discernible opening.
  • If possible, let moles live in peace, Miller says. They do not eat plants or roots — only insects — so they do not generally injure your plants. Their tunnels and mounds can look unsightly, however.Voles/field mice 
  • Voles become a problem usually every seven years, when they appear in greater numbers.
  • They leave holes in the ground without any accompanying mounds.Voles are prolific breeders, producing litters of up to eight pups at a time, and are capable of having up to 22 litters a year. 
  • Their main diet is bark and seedlings.
  • Voles are very easy to trap as they follow the same path time after time. Just set mousetraps on the path, and they walk right into them, even without bait.Rats 
  • California is home to the Norway rat, or wood rat, and the roof rat.
  • Norway rats build nests along building foundations and beneath rubbish and wood piles. Indoors, they tend to remain in basements or on the ground floor.
  • Roof rats are exceptional climbers with tails that are longer than their bodies. They usually live above ground in shrubs, trees and dense vegetation. Indoors, they like attic space, walls, false ceilings and cabinets.
  • In controlling rats, it’s important to exclude them and change the habitat. Remove inviting nesting areas, thin dense vegetation, tree limbs that are closer than 3 feet from the house. Also, seal cracks and openings in house foundations, walls and roofs.
  • Snap traps are the most effective means of trapping rats.
  • To prevent other animals from accidentally getting caught in the traps, put the traps in overturned boxes or bait boxes with entrance holes large enough for only the rats to enter.
  • Nuts are the favorite food of rats. Bait traps with walnuts. You can tie them onto the trap to increase the odds of catching the rat.Ground squirrels 
  • Unlike tree squirrels, ground squirrels live in underground burrows and cause severe damage to gardens and landscapes. Their colonies tend to be large.
  • They are active during the day, so they are not a primary target of owls. Hawks and other raptors are threats to them, however.
  • The first step is exclusion. Fencing of yards must include an underground barrier of hardware cloth that extends at least 2 feet down. A shock wire at the top will seal the deal.
  • If trapping ground squirrels, a box trap works best, catching several at once. If you trap them, however, you must either release them where they were caught or kill them. It is against the law to remove ground squirrels, or any wild animal, and release it elsewhere.About Our GardenFree gardening classes are offered 10-11 a.m. on Wednesdays at the garden, Wiget Lane and Shadelands Drive in Walnut Creek. Master Gardeners also are available to answer questions at the Help Desk; plants, seeds and worm compost also are available for sale most weeks.

    Next time: “Building a Raised Bed,” with Jim McCutcheon.


Gopher-proof vegetable beds with gopher wire

Gopher Wire

Make your vegetable beds gopher-proof using wire. A fun article on the subject that I found here: is included.


Many  people find a gopher in the ir veggie garden after it is too late. I always recommend putting a long lasting wire bottom and sides on a vegetable bed so that if a gopher gets in, you will have time to trap him before he starts killing plants. This will work for moles too, though moles don’t eat plants, they dislodge a lot of soil around their roots.   ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

A fun article on the subject that I found here: is included of you can click on the link to directly to the page:

“A Gopher-Proof Bed For Your Victory Garden”

Written by Maria Gaura

SANTA CRUZ (April 2009 ) – The Victory Garden is back. Given the sad state of the economy this year, interest in home-grown food is soaring. The National Gardening Association estimates that 7 million U.S. households plan to plant new vegetable gardens this year, boosting the number of backyard plots to 43 million. First Lady Michelle Obama has even installed a kitchen garden at the White House, imparting a patriotic feel to the sometimes grubby business of growing your family’s food.

If you, too, are taking the gardening plunge this year, start your growing season by building a sturdy raised bed. Here are directions for a gopher-proof redwood planter that you can build in one afternoon, and is portable enough to take with you if you move.

Materials for a 42-inch-square raised bed, purchased at local stores, will cost about $80, and the finished planter should last at least ten years. Local lumberyards will cut your boards to length, so the only tools you will need are a power screwdriver, wire cutters, and a heavy-duty staple gun.

But before you strap on the toolbelt, take a look at your yard and figure out the best location for your new garden bed. At a minimum, choose a spot with the best possible sun exposure, and access to a hose. Proximity to a warm, south-facing wall is a plus, and you’ll need access for a wheelbarrow.

These raised beds are going on top of an existing, gopher-infested, lawn.

Use 2 x 12 redwood boards so the planter is sturdy, and deep enough for healthy roots. Redwood is naturally rot-resistant, and will not release toxic chemicals into the soil as will pressure-treated lumber, creosote-soaked railroad ties, or discarded truck tires.

You will need eight metal corner braces for each planter, two for each inside corner, measuring at least 2.5” x 1.5”. To keep the gophers out, line the box with heavy-duty gopher wire or hardware cloth .

Gopher wire is expensive, but lasts longer than flimsy poultry wires. Some local hardware stores and nurseries sell gopher wire in prepackaged rolls of 25 feet to 100 feet in length. This type of gopher wire looks like aviary wire but is sturdier, and is easy to work with because of its flexibility. You can also use hardware cloth, which is a welded-wire mesh that can be bought by the foot at local lumberyards. Hardware cloth is much stiffer than the pre-packaged gopher wire, and harder to work with. But it is less expensive, can be bought by the foot, and lasts longer underground.

To assemble your planter box, stand the boards on edge, line them up as desired and sink two screws into each corner from the outside. Then screw the corner braces into the inside corners of the box. When the frame is assembled, cut a sheet of gopher wire big enough to fit in the bottom of the box, with a three- to six-inch overlap on all four sides. If you need to combine two narrower sheets of gopher wire, make sure to seal the overlapped seam securely with twisted wire, or gophers can easily slip through the opening.

First, sink screws from the outside of the box

Then install the corner braces

Press the wire into the bottom of the box and up along the sides using gloved hands or even your feet, paying special attention to getting the wire tight against the inside corners of the box. Gophers are persistent and can squeeze through very small openings – you need to thoroughly staple the wire to the wood to keep the little pests out.

Load up your staple gun with half-inch staples, and fix the wire to the wood, setting a double row of staples every few inches along the entire perimeter of the box. Spend extra time in the corners, making sure the staples are set deeply into the wood.

1/ 2A Gopher-Proof Bed For Your Victory Garden

Written by Maria Gaura

Roll out and cut a sheet of gopher wire to fit

And that’s it.

Scoot the box into place, level it with shims, rocks or dirt, and fill it up with the contents of the compost pile you built in December . Forgot to build that compost pile? Then you may have to spend some money on bagged compost from the garden store, or a truckload of .compost from the landfill

Now you’re ready to plant. And if at the end of summer you decide to move your garden box, all you need to do is shovel out the soil and jiggle the box free of roots that may be entwined in the gopher wire.

Materials for this 42-inch planter cost about $80

A great article on Gophers in Santa Cruz Mountains by Jan Nelson 4.18.2013

Hi folks! I found this great and well written article on Gophers int eh Sana Cruz Mountains by Jan Nelson and I wanted to re-post it here for all to see. The article covers many facts about gophers, and gopher control methods. Though we here at Smith’s do not utilize repellants, we do find it interesting to learn of all the ways people get rid of gophers.  We bay area gopher guys have a lot of tricks up our sleeve, but I feel the best trick is a good Trapline Gophinator. Some do like the Cinch Trap. Poisons are no bueno!

A great article on Gophers in the Santa Cruz Mountains  – Reproduced from the  electronic copy of  “The Mountain Gardner” by Jan Nelson April 18 2013


The Mountain Gardener: Now is the time to rid garden of gophers
Apr 18, 2013 | 537 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print

We all have a gopher, mole or a vole story to share.

I remember my first flower and vegetable garden. It was glorious. I was devastated, however, when the first of the border marigolds were sucked back into the earth, one at a time. Then the tomatoes went. Finally, my prize zinnias were victimized.

I won’t go into how the problem was solved, but it involved a basset hound named after a popular green apple.

But there are better ways to deal with problem critters in the garden, and at a recent workshop at University of California, Santa Cruz, Farm and Garden, I learned from an expert that now is the time to stop them.

Thomas Wittman first became interested in gardening as a student at UCSC where he helped build the university garden. Later, as an organic farmer at Molino Creek Farm up the coast, he encountered gophers, moles and voles that played havoc with the growing of produce. So, about 15 years ago he started his own business, Gophers Limited, to educate people and to control garden critters without the use of poison.

Wittman pointed out that simply poisoning a gopher, mole or vole doesn’t solve the problem, because feeding burrows are re-occupied by other critters — sometimes within the hour. Also those anti-coagulant toxins can be passed on to pets, hawks and other predators that might eat them.

He advocates the use of mechanical live and lethal trapping methods in the place of poisons to preserve our environment and water resources — his top priority.

Did you know that gophers are solitary, nocturnal, territorial and active year-round? All those mounds of fresh soil and trails of raised earth on the lawn you see are created by one animal. The female will drive off her young after just a few weeks of giving birth. If you dispatch a female before she gives birth in the spring, you can often solve your problem.

Don’t give her the chance to have another litter in June. She can live for three to five years.

There are no gophers in the Northeast, but the golden gopher of the Midwest is twice as large as our pocket gopher, who gets its name because the animal loves to store food inside pockets in its head.

Gophers love sprouts and apples and will gorge themselves to destruction if they are plentiful.

Perhaps you have a mole problem and are not troubled by gophers. The Gophers Limited website can teach you how to tell the difference.

Moles are carnivores and are one of the oldest animals on the planet. Arriving in our neck of the woods 40,000 years ago via the land bridge that used to exist between Asia and Alaska, these members of the shrew family are smarter than gophers. In the 13th century, the word “shrewd” came from these wily creatures.

Wittman mainly uses cinch traps to control gophers. Other traps, like the Macabee gopher trap, need to be set up in the main burrow. This excavation takes longer than the 20 seconds required for a surface trap like the cinch.

Wittman’s website has many tutorials on traps and other methods of control. When the country fair comes around in September, I’ll be sure to look at the Agriculture History display of gopher traps dating back to the early 1900s.

I also enjoyed a lively discussion of urban myths regarding gopher control. Juicy Fruit gum is not effective, according to studies at University of California, Davis.

Chocolate Ex-Lax has not been studied, so the jury is out on that one.

Putting glass or dried rose cuttings with thorns down a hole is effective, because gophers are hemophiliacs and will bleed to death if cut.

Castor oil is effective for a short time, as is coyote, cat or any other urine.

Fish emulsion or meat products are also deterrents, as gophers are committed vegetarians.

And after trapping, Wittman always leaves the dead gopher in the hole. He claims they “get the message.”

Are there plants that gophers won’t eat? Wittman claims he has seen gophers repeatedly avoid lavender, sage, salvia, rosemary, thyme and oregano. As a designer, I have a slightly longer list of gopher-resistant plants, but I always recommend planting in stainless steel gopher baskets, anyway.

I have to chuckle at a list of plants I found in a magazine that are supposedly not on a gopher’s menu. Agapanthus was on the list. Wittman smiled as he shared some of his personal slides of huge gopher burrows right underneath an agapanthus.

Hopefully gophers won’t be attacking your favorite apple, camellia or daylily this year.

Jan Nelson, a landscape designer and California certified nursery professional, will answer questions about gardening in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Email her at, or visit to view past columns and pictures.

Read more:Press-Banner – The Mountain Gardener Now is the time to rid garden of gophers

Smith’s Gopher Trapping Los Altos, Woodside, Portola Valley: You are just Loaded With Gophers and Moles!

A ‘hole’ lot of trouble: Local residents grapple with gophers  (borrowed from the Los Altos Town Crier by Smith’s Gopher Trapping) Print E-mail
Written by Jenneke Oostman – Town Crier Editorial Intern


Elliott Burr/Town Crier

Photo Elliott Burr/Town Crier Local residents say they’ve been seeing more gophers, like the one pictured above, in their yards.



They’re capable of creating damage often caused by earthquakes – collapsing driveways and retaining walls, breaking pipelines and exacerbating erosion. But these havoc-wreakers weigh no more than 5 ounces.

They’re gophers – pocket gophers, to be exact – and the little rodents have created mounds of problems in Los Altos.

Local residents desperately fighting to protect their manicured lawns and pristine plants have turned to gopher exterminators like Zach Smith, who this year has seen a glut of gophers like no other.

Smith is not exactly sure why so many gophers are popping up in town. It could be an increase in construction, which often forces the little rodents out of their holes in search of new ground. Perhaps it’s the area’s rich soil and ample vegetable gardens that attract the animals.

“They’re a persistent problem. They’re not easily controlled,” said Smith, based in Los Altos.

Smith used to work as a full-time landscaper, but recently he switched his business to a full-time gopher control service because of the increase in gopher problems. He said he receives 15 calls per week from frustrated residents like Amy Madsen of Los Altos, homeowners who have tried but failed to exterminate the destructive mammals.

“It’s more of just a hassle,” Madsen said of the damage the gophers have done to her lawn.

Madsen’s gopher problem is contained to a small plot of land, but even so, a single gopher has managed to construct 11 mounds by digging holes. Each mound is typically a foot in circumference.


Productive pests

According to Smith, one gopher can dig 10 mounds and more than 100 feet of tunnels on a 1,000-foot plot of land. A gopher can build several mounds in a day.

The tunnels have the potential to cause severe erosion. Smith has seen driveways and retaining walls collapse in Los Altos because of gophers. In addition to contributing to erosion, gophers can also destroy water lines, sprinklers and plants.

They feed on crops, vines, grass and even trees, often eating half their weight (2-5 ounces) in food per day. Roses, California poppies and dandelions are among their favorite snacks, Smith said.

Gophers don’t restrict themselves to yards and gardens, however. They also pose a problem for those using school fields. The Los Altos School District has been dealing with gophers for as long as Randy Kenyon, assistant superintendent for business services, has been on the job.

“Gophers are always an issue with fields,” said Kenyon, who has served at the school district for 23 years.

Gopher holes have been known to injure soccer players and other athletes who have stepped in them. Kenyon acknowledged that they are a safety concern, and said “we try to make (the fields) user-friendly.” Doing so requires hiring a pest control company to take care of the critters on a monthly basis.


Sneak attack

But not everyone relies on the experts. Smith said his clients have tried every old-fashioned trick in the book, including flooding the tunnels, poisons, smoke bombs and even feeding the gophers Juicy Fruit gum (they apparently prefer the flavor and often choke on it).

“I have to imagine that this is just crackpot science,” he said of the latter.

Los Altos Hills resident Jerry Sher tried ridding his lawn of gophers with gases – like gopher bombs – and other poisons. But none of the methods worked, so he called Smith’s Gopher Control Service. Smith’s number is now programmed into Sher’s speed-dial.

“I’ve been fighting gophers like crazy for years,” Sher said. “It got to the point where I just stopped watering my lawns. I let my whole property look like crap because of the gophers.”

Smith uses a special trap that cannot be purchased in stores. He said it works well because it takes the gopher by surprise. However, Smith does note that some gophers are harder to trap than others. It usually takes three or four attempts to kill one, but some have required as many as 10 tries.

“Some gophers get really, really smart,” Smith said. “If (the clients) have attempted and failed, it becomes a much harder gopher to trap.”

Smith said trapping is a lot like fishing – it requires patience, persistence and, of course, trial and error.

“A little bit’s luck, a little bit’s superstition,” he said.

Smith has baited traps with carrots, dandelions, poppies and peanut butter – all favorite foods of gophers – and sometimes he doesn’t use bait at all. He’s had success – and failure – with everything he’s tried.

The trap usually kills the animal immediately, squeezing it tightly around its lungs. There is little or no blood on the scene. Smith buries the dead gopher in the tunnel and covers it up with dirt from the mound. The method, Smith said, is ideal, because it is safe. Unlike poisoning – which is also effective – trapping does not pose a threat to children, pets or the environment.

Although his method is considered to be humane, Smith still receives calls from local residents who want to eliminate the gophers without killing them. However, to prevent problems elsewhere, California state law prevents Smith from trapping gophers and relocating them. He has to dispatch the animal onsite.

Residents looking for help from local government will likely come away disappointed. The Santa Clara County Division of Animal Care and Control deals only with cats and dogs, according to a representative. An official with the Santa Clara County Vector Control District said the agency doesn’t handle gopher problems, either, and referred the Town Crier to the California Master Gardeners for solutions. But the Master Gardeners declined to comment on how to deal with gophers, referring to their website ( for suggestions. The site cites poisoning and trapping as the most effective solutions and also recommends fumigation, underground fencing, flooding and habitat modification.

Whichever solution one tries, Smith suggests not to delay.

“This is a problem that has to be dealt with,” he said. “If you don’t kill one now, you’ll have to kill six later.”

Smith recommended gopher control services as the solution to the problem, of course, as home remedies often don’t work. But for do-it-yourselfers, he offers educational services that teach clients how to trap gophers, including tips on which trap to buy.

“Hit them hard,” he said, “and being proactive is the key to gopher control.”

For more information on Smith’s service – and gophers – visit or call (408) 771-6428.