It’s a lot of hard work to maintain a pristine lawn, so it can be frustrating when you discover those pesky gopher holes!
Gophers can quickly overtake a lawn—in fact, the average gopher can make several mounds in a single day. The best way to handle them? Dismantle their homey underground networks.
But before we get to that, let’s learn a little bit more about these pesky diggers…
Gophers: An Underground Menace
Gophers are prevalent throughout Central and North America, except in regions with hard, compact soil – that’s because gophers prefer loose soil for building their complex network of tunnels.
Because these rodents collect and keep food in cheek pouches, they’re often referred to as pocket gophers.
Any food they collect is stored in their dens.
Gophers Are Tiny
Gophers are also fairly small—most gophers weigh under a pound, which is hard to believe considering how destructive they are.
A single gopher can quickly set up shop on your lawn top and cause mass destruction. In fact, Utah State University estimates a single gopher can build 300 mounds and move 4 tons of soil in a year.
With that in mind, let’s look at a few basic facts about how gophers live…
Gophers Live Alone (Most Of The Time)
The size of their dens and tunnel networks may make it seem like gophers live communally.
However, they are usually solitary, outside of breeding. Gophers do live near others of their kind, but they keep to themselves, preferring to stick to their own dens.
In fact, gophers could be described as loner homebodies—they don’t tend to venture out and seek other gophers, outside of mating.
They are also what’s known as fossorial animals, meaning they spend most of their lives underground.
The only time gophers live together is when mother gophers are caring for their young. Otherwise, they live alone—except for the occasional non-gopher roommate.
That’s right: while gophers don’t live with other gophers, they will occasionally share their home with other animals, including kangaroo rats and rabbits.
This means that along with gophers, you may have other pests living on your lawn. All the more reason to keep these critters out of your yard.
That might be because…
Gophers Are Talented Diggers
Relatively little is known of gophers because they live underground and rarely venture to the surface. That said, they are well-known for their fantastically complex tunnels.
Gophers use both their claws and teeth to dig holes. Most times, a gopher’s tunnel will be about a foot below the surface. However, some parts may go up to five or 6 feet deep.
A gopher’s home includes a main tunnel, which connects to different dens. Their tunnel network is akin to a nice suburban home: there is a room for each activity, including a rest area and the rodent version of a restroom.
Gophers Actually Take Part In Farming!
Gophers even save their food in a part of their burrow.
In fact, gophers are the only species other than humans who have been observed farming. A report from the University of Florida shares that gophers care for root vegetable farms, which they cultivate using their droppings.
Their subterranean nature means gophers are very elusive. They can move into a new area fairly silently, which means…
Gopher Holes Can Be Hard To Spot
Because gophers are small, the entry points to their burrows can be hard to spot. In fact, most gopher holes are under four inches in diameter. They can also be easily confused with mole holes.
The easiest way to spot a gopher hole is to look for moved soil. Gophers will push soil aside and around their hole, usually making a crescent shape.
Unlike some other burrowing animals, gophers plug their holes behind them—a plug at the entry hole is the best indication that you are dealing with a gopher rather than a mole.
This is because gophers have several predators, and they could easily be snatched from the safety of their homes without some sort of barricade.
Wilting Plants Can Mean You Have Gophers
Wilting plants are another sign you are dealing with gophers.
Gophers love to feast on roots and will often burrow underneath bushes and trees for meals, which can decimate your garden.
Moles, on the other hand, primarily eat insects and invertebrates. Can
And although gophers do this damage from underground, sometimes they happen to come above ground! For info about why they may be above ground, check out our article!
With all this in mind, here are 9 ways to fill in gopher holes…
9 Ways to Fill in Gopher Holes
A gopher’s small size and solitary nature may lead you to believe their homes are equally small. However, a gopher tunnel can span up to 2000 feet. It’s important to address tunnels as soon as you discover them before they balloon out of control.
Not only do gophers create these nuisance holes and tunnels, but they also attract other wildlife, especially rodents.
It’s also worth noting that these solutions that follow will be more effective if you repel gophers first. You can try using scents to drive gophers from your yard before filling any holes.
If there are still gophers living in tunnels under your lawn, consider contacting a pest professional to handle them before you fill in holes.
One of the easiest ways to take care of gopher holes is to…
1. Backfill With Gravel
A lot of dirt is moved around when gophers dig (up to 4mtons!), and it can feel impossible to replace it all. One simple solution is to use gravel as a filler.
The process is simple: fill the main tunnel or the lowest parts of the den with gravel, then cover the top of the gopher hole with soil.
You may need to dig up part of the main tunnel to effectively fill the burrow. This is because gopher tunnels are complex and winding enough that simply pouring gravel down the main entry point won’t backfill them adequately.
To expose the main tunnel, use a shovel to dig from the entry point. Dig in an arc, as gopher tunnels tend to curve. The main tunnel is usually about a foot below the surface.
Time To Fill It!
Once you have found the tunnel, you can fill it with gravel. According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, coarse gravel is best for deterring gophers from returning. This is because it’s unpleasant for them to try to dig or chew through.
After you’ve backfilled the tunnel, you can cover it up with soil and even sod.
And keep this method in mind—using gravel beneath your lawn is one of the most commonly used ways to prevent gophers from returning.
2. Use Expanding Soil To Fill Tunnels
If gravel isn’t your style, you can use a simpler method: expanding soil. Expanding soil is commonly used in gardening and can easily be used to fill gopher holes with minimal digging.
Expanding soil is compressed, nutrient-rich material that grows when watered. You can buy expanding soil such as this Compressed Coco Coir Soil for use in your yard.
To fill a gopher hole with expanding soil, first, locate any and all exits. Break the compressed soil into parts and plug them into the hole. Water and voila—they should expand to fill the hole.
If the expanding soil doesn’t reach the lower parts of the den, it may not be enough to deter gophers. Make sure to push the soil down as you work.
3. Add Scent Deterrents
You can also combine expanding soil with scent deterrents.
Like many animals, gophers have a sensitive sense of smell—and they hate the smell of peppermint.
Spray the expanding soil with Rodent Sheriff Pest Control Peppermint Spray before you fill the tunnel. This will help ensure that gophers don’t return while the soil settles.
In fact, we have an entire article dedicated to the scents that gophers hate, and how to use them to deter them! Make sure to head on over and check this article out for more info on how to keep these pests at bay!
Of course, expanding soil can be expensive. An alternative is to…
4. Fill It With Kitty Litter (Um…Used Kitty Litter)
This one may sound a little gross, but this is a wonderful way to both repel gophers and reuse something that may be common in your home: fill gopher holes with a mix of fresh and used kitty litter.
First, let’s take a look at why: gophers have many predators and are skittish and elusive as a result. And one of those predators is—you guessed it—house cats. As a result, gophers are averse to the smell of cats.
Gophers also have a strong sense of smell and avoid smells they hate (such as the previously mentioned peppermint).
The overwhelming ammonia scent of used kitty litter is enough to send them packing. In fact, an academic study from Frontiers in Neuroscience found that the smell of predator waste is one of the best deterrents for rodents like gophers.
Use It Like Gravel!
You can use kitty litter similarly to gravel: dig a small trench to locate the main part of the gopher tunnel, then fill the tunnel and connect dens with the litter and then a layer of soil.
It’s also possible to mix the litter with fresh litter, or a mix of expanding soil and litter. This is especially helpful if you (understandably) don’t want to keep used litter on hand long enough to fill the entire den with it.
Of course, this can be quite a smelly endeavor. Once you are certain that any offending gophers have hightailed it, you can take steps to eliminate lingering odors.
A simple solution Green Outdoor Odor Eliminator: just spray it on your lawn and rinse with water after an hour.
5. Use Concrete (To Preserve Foundations)
Most of the time, gophers will stick to open areas for their tunnels. However, they will sometimes burrow under foundations. This can be extremely damaging as gophers love to chew, including on wires and plastic pipes.
In addition, if a gopher tunnels substantially under the foundation, it can lead to instability. Remember, these pesky rodents can move up to 4 tons of soil in a year.
In dire situations like this, you can use concrete to quickly fill a gopher hole.
Concrete Mixed With Water Is the Best
Because gopher holes are winding and complex, you can’t mix concrete prior to filling the hole.
Instead, use concrete that can be mixed in water such as Quikrete Concrete Mix. Any concrete that’s meant for fence posts would also be effective.
You can use a technique similar to expanding soil: pour the concrete mix into any holes you find. Push it down with a pole if necessary. Then fill the hole with water, following the manufacturer’s instructions.
It is possible for gophers to return if the concrete doesn’t fully fill the tunnel or dens. You can reduce the chance of gophers returning by combining this with either backfilling the tunnel with gravel or expanding soil.
6. Plant Bushes And Trees (With Root Cages)
One way to address gopher holes is to think of them as a blessing in disguise: they can give you the opportunity to add some beautiful bushes and trees to your lawn.
As previously mentioned, gophers have a keen sense of taste and prefer loose soil that is nutrient-rich.
This is because they mostly eat roots and other underground vegetation. Your veggie garden might be quite the feast for a hungry gopher.
That also means they select areas that would be great for trees and bushes.
You can use the gopher’s digging against them: if you discover a gopher den, consider digging it up and planting a tree or bush in it. This is a simple way to get around having to completely refill the hole with soil, which can be expensive.
Any trees or bushes you plant are game for hungry gophers, though, so be sure to protect your new plants.
You can use RootGuard Gopher Baskets to plant saplings. While gophers are excellent chewers, they can’t chew through galvanized steel mesh—so with no access to the roots, it’s unlikely gophers will return.
However, trees and bushes alone won’t keep gophers from returning. You can also use their holes to…
7. Update Your Landscaping With Ground Cover
Gophers are fantastic diggers and will burrow through the thickest lawns—so you may be asking how ground cover can help. Well, gophers are deterred by many ground-covering plants because of their aromas.
Gophers dislike a lot of herby-smelling plants, such as lavender and thyme. One ground cover that can help you fill in holes and repel gophers is creeping thyme.
Otherwise, search for ground covers with strong smells—even if you find it pleasant, gophers might not.
How To Use Ground Covers
To use ground covers to fill gopher holes, first, locate any entrances.
Fill it in with some soil, using expanding soil if desired—in fact, this would help the ground cover thrive, as expanding soil is nutrient rich.
Plant the ground cover over the entrances, leaving one so any lingering gophers can move out.
Even if they dislike the smell, gophers will still chew on ground-cover roots. It can help to also enclose roots in a galvanized steel mesh before planting them—just make sure to use mesh with wide enough spaces for the roots to grow through.
8. Install Sprinkler Lines – With Gravel Protection
While flooding gopher holes is inadvisable, you can use a gopher tunnel as an opportunity to upgrade your property’s irrigation system. Oftentimes, gophers will tunnel in spaces that could benefit from irrigation, such as under your herb or veggie gardens.
You can use the tunnels gophers make to place a drip system—their trenches are often shallow enough for you to dig up in order to place irrigation piping.
And while it’s true that flooding a gopher hole once is unlikely to permanently remove them, consistent irrigation has been linked to fewer gopher infestations, according to research from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.
If you do decide to repurpose a gopher hole for drip irrigation, be sure to backfill the tunnels and lay the pipes on top of coarse gravel. This will ensure that any gophers who do return to the scene of the crime can’t nibble on your drip system.
9. Use Underground Fences
The last method for filling gopher holes is to mix previous methods with an exclusion tactic—that means making your yard inhospitable for gophers by cutting off access to key areas.
To prevent gophers from returning to their dens, you can use underground fencing.
This is especially useful if you find what looks like an abandoned den—even if a gopher isn’t currently present, it could return. Furthermore, other pests are attracted to gopher dens, which could make your yard a hotbed for nuisances.
How To Do It
For this method, use a shovel to dig into the hole’s entrance so you can find the main tunnel. Once you do, backfill it with gravel or soil.
Then place a steel fence, such as this Animal Barrier Fence, so the tunnel is cut off.
You can either leave the top of the fence exposed so you can find and remove it later or completely bury it.
The fence will make it impossible for gophers to use the tunnel by cutting off access to their rest area and food cache. This is especially powerful if compared with other tactics, such as using scent repellents or ground cover.
That’s A Wrap!
It’s incredibly frustrating to find a gopher hole, especially on an expertly manicured lawn. With some hard work, though, it’s possible to remove these nuisances and keep gophers from returning.
To recap, here are the methods you can use to fill gopher holes:
- Backfill with gravel
- Use expanding soil
- Fill tunnels with kitty litter
- Use quick-setting concrete
- Fill gopher holes with trees or bushes
- Use groundcover over tunnels
- Install sprinkler lines
- Set up underground fencing
You can also combine these methods with repellant smells to keep gophers off your lawn. Gophers hate the smell of coffee grounds, herbs such as thyme and lavender, peppermint, ammonia, and more.
Of course, if you have live gophers scurrying around underground it’s best to rely on a pest professional who can give you advice and removing these pests and keeping them away.
That said, you may find gophers pretty cute (and they are, even if they ruin lawns!). If the desire strikes to keep one, you can learn about keeping gophers as pets here.
Hughes, M.R., Gibson, A.A., Wolfe, E.R., Bronson, C.D., & Duffield, D.A.(2021) Phylogenetics and genetic variation of Heligmosomoides thomomyos in Western pocket gophers (Thomomys spp.) The Journal of Nematology, 53.
Pynne, J.T., Owens, J.M., castleberry, S.B., Castleberry, N.L., Brinkman, R. (2019). Movement and fate of translocated and in situ souteastern pocket gophers. Southeastern Naturalist, 18(2), 297-302.
Selden, V. & Putz, F.E. (2022) Root cropping by pocket gophers. Current Biology, 32(13), 734-735.
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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