When you spot a hole in your yard that wasn’t there before, there are an unfortunately high number of potential suspects for the unwarranted addition – and even more suspects if you have pets! From skunks, groundhogs, moles, gophers, voles, raccoons, and more, it can easily become an overwhelming task for homeowners to try to determine which specific creature may be digging holes in their yard and ruining their lawn in the process.
There are many signs that you can look for to determine if a gopher is creating holes in your lawn! If you have dirt mounds around your lawn, a lot of holes around 10 inches wide, or lawn and vegetation damage, you may have gophers on your property.
So how do I know if I have gophers in my yard? Read on to determine some key characteristics of gopher holes, why gophers dig, and some preventative measures that you can take to help keep gophers out of your yard for good!
Plus, if you do determine you have gophers or are unsure how to identify them by just the holes, please contact a local professional for more assistance.
Why Do Gophers Dig Holes?
Many burrowing creatures will dig their holes for food, shelter, or to nest, and gophers dig to create their tunnels for these exact same reasons.
Gophers will spend the majority of their lives underground, so burrowing underground and digging holes in order to do so are a part of their very nature.
Since their tunnels are their natural habitat, this underground tunnel system is the gophers’ safe zone where they live and raise their young.
Gophers Eat Underground
Because these creatures do live underground, gophers also obtain their food underground!
Gophers will feed on roots, worms, and larvae, all of which can be plentiful while they’re digging and traveling through their tunnel system.
Underground Offers Them Protection
According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, these underground tunnels also offer gophers certain protection from some of their common predators like hawks and owls who can only hunt them above ground.
While other common predators of the gopher may make their way inside these tunnels or wait at the entrance, many gophers will only live to be a couple of years old in the wild.
3 Signs Of A Gopher Hole
We may have already mentioned that there are a few different creatures to consider while determining the culprit of the holes in your yard, so how can you determine if gophers are the ones specifically to blame?
There are two common signs that a gopher may be the cause of holes in your yard: the sudden appearance of mounds of dirt and damage to your lawn or other vegetation.
Let’s take a closer look at these two key signs, and how they may differ from other creatures who might fancy digging in your yard and garden.
1. Dirt Mounds Are The First Sign Of Gopher Activity
Gophers are excellent diggers and when they start digging their tunnels the dirt that they clear will begin to collect and form a dirt mound behind or alongside their path.
Since gophers dig at a downward angle into the soil, the dirt that they kick up behind them will often create a fan-shaped appearance. This unique shape of the mound may help you spot gopher-specific activity in your yard.
Once gophers have completed their digging, however, these mounds may be harder to spot as gophers cover the mound opening back up with dirt.
Fresh dirt mounds will be filled with looser soil, whereas older mounds are more compact and will appear lighter in color.
2. Lawn And Vegetation Damage Also Point To Gopher Activity
Gophers rarely make their way outside of their tunnel system, so they live the majority of their lives underground. Because of this, they get their nutrients from plants, insects, and other small animals that live underground or in the dirt.
While worms and grubs in the dirt make a delicious meal for gophers, gophers also gnaw on plant roots which can stunt the growth of the plant, or, in extreme cases, damage the plant to the point of no return.
Like other rodents, gopher’s teeth grow continuously, so gnawing on these roots, or other items that they may find underground, allow for them to keep their teeth a healthy length, but are costly for us as we may lose out on a plentiful harvest.
3. You’ll Probably Spot Multiple Dug Holes
It’s true that gophers are a surprisingly common lawn pest, but they aren’t the only possible culprit for your damaged lawn and possible plant damage.
Moles and voles are also common lawn pests and are also a part of the rodent family like the gopher. Depending on the size and location of the holes you’re locating, and the damage that’s being done to your lawn and other vegetation, it’s possible that you may have a different pest wreaking havoc on your property and not a gopher.
Check out our comparison chart below that will show the differences between these common lawn pests in order to better assist you in determining the true culprit digging holes in your yard.
|Preferred Soil Type||Light, sandy soils; will generally avoid rocky or swampy soil||Loose, loamy soil; will generally avoid dry, clay soils||Light, loamy soil; will generally avoid wet and hard clay soil|
|Common Dirt Mound And Tunnel Hole Locations||Lawns, flower beds, and garden beds||Common along permanent structures; driveways and walkways||Most often located along building foundations, stone walls, and among ground cover|
|Dirt Mound And Tunnel Hole Characteristics||Holes are generally plugged with fresh, fluffy dirt and located off to the side of the mound; tunnel openings can be 10 – 12 inches wide||Cone or “volcano” like shaped holes; the soil is raised into ridges||Small, circular openings; openings are smaller than 2 inches wide|
|Complexity Of Burrowing System||Complex tunnel system of up to 800 feet; consists of one main tunnel and connecting burrows; tunnels are generally 6 inches to several feet deep||Network of underground connecting tunnels; tunnels are generally 12 – 19 inches underground||Network of underground connecting tunnels; tunnels are generally 3 – 6 inches underground|
|Number Of Tunnel Hole Openings||Multiple holes may be dug due to the complexity of their tunnel system||Will not typically dig multiple holes||Will generally have several burrow openings|
|Potential Damage||Ground and lawn damage; plant damage from below the ground||Lawn damage||Plant damage from below the ground|
How To Stop Gophers From Digging Holes
One of the most effective ways to stop gophers from digging holes is to install a barrier. This barrier could be around the perimeter of your property, your garden, and even individual plants.
Here are a few barrier ideas to consider for the particular area that you’re trying to protect from gophers and their potential damage.
Install A Fence Around Your Property To Prevent Gophers From Digging
Fences can be an effective means of keeping pests out of your yard, but they can pose challenges when it comes to deterring burrowing pests like the gopher.
While it’s true that yes, if you install a fence around your yard you’ll see less pest activity – gophers included – this option isn’t always the most cost-effective solution.
If your greatest concern is protecting your vegetable garden and other produce-bearing vegetation, you can consider installing a fence around these smaller areas instead of your entire yard.
These smaller fenced-in areas will help protect your vegetation, and also be an easier solution for your wallet.
REMINDER: Don’t forget to bury your fence into the ground to truly deter gophers from digging – they are expert diggers after all!
Use Wire Mesh In Your Garden To Stop Gophers From Digging
Wire mesh could be used in two ways: installed underground as a built-in layer of your garden, or used to surround individual plants during the transplant process. Depending on the stage of your garden, one of these options may be more effective than the other.
If you’re building your garden from scratch, installing a layer of mesh wire before adding your soil will help prevent gophers from digging under your plant and harming its root system.
This wire mesh layer should be added at least two feet deep which is why it’s preferred for those folks prepping their garden in a new, bare area.
For more information on using mesh wire to stop gophers, head on over to our article and have your question answered: does chicken wire actually stop gophers?
If you’re looking to extend your garden or refresh an area that was previously used for gardening, it might be easier to consider a plant protective barrier like Root Guard Gopher Proof Wire Baskets.
These baskets allow you to place the seedling inside and place the basket directly into the soil without any additional steps. As a bonus, the baskets are gopher proof all while allowing your plants to grow without hindering their root system!
By the way, there are a few reasons why gophers actually come above ground, even though they spend most of their time underground. Head on over to our article about why gophers come above ground!
Grow Vegetation In Containers To Prevent Gophers From Digging
Whether it’s a raised garden bed or containers, this may be the most effective way to stop gophers from digging and harming your plants.
Because these areas are closed off (or raised), gophers simply can’t get inside to dig their tunnels and feed off the plant’s roots.
Some of our readers may be handy enough that they can build their own raised garden beds to their desired dimensions, and others may be looking for a premade option to give the system a test run before making it permanent.
Your local home improvement store will likely have a few raised bed options, but if you’re more of a click-and-ship type of person, VIVOHOME Elevated Plastic Raised Garden Bed Planter Kit is a great beginner option to test out this planting method.
Other Ways To Keep Gophers Away
Preventing gophers from digging is one step in the eviction process, but how do you take it a step further to safely – and effectively – keep gophers away for good?
We’ve pulled a few of the most effective methods for keeping gophers away once and for all here below!
Add Strong Scents To Your Garden To Keep Gophers Away
Scent can be a powerful tool, and we’ve covered how adding certain herbs, flowers, and other strongly scented items to your garden can be a safe and effective pest repellant for a number of unwanted garden critters.
For gophers, there are certain scents that they can’t stand so when they are used in close proximity to your home or garden, these scents will serve as an easy, natural, and effective gopher repellent.
In fact, we have a whole article dedicated to scents gophers hate that you can reference as well!
If you’re looking to grow some delicious herbs that also double as a gopher repellent, consider the following:
If you’re unsure whether you’ll put these herbs to use once in bloom, or if you don’t want additional plants to maintain, there are other powerful scents that can be used around the perimeter of your garden or other areas where you have spotted gopher holes and tunnels. Let’s look at those below!
Instead of tossing your used coffee grounds out every morning, consider sprinkling them around your garden perimeter as a natural pest deterrent.
Much like the mint plant, peppermint is an effective gopher deterrent.
Since peppermint oil is more concentrated, we recommend using peppermint oil to make a spray that you can use on your plants to keep gophers away.
We’ve said it before – don’t go collecting predator urine straight from the source.
Coyote and fox urine can be bought at your local wildlife outfitter store and is a safe and effective way to keep gophers off your property.
Catch And Release Gophers
You’ll want to check with your local wildlife preserve district and any local ordinances as to whether or not trapping are allowed in your area. If so, trapping (or catching) and releasing is a humane and effective way to remove any gophers currently on your property.
If you’re concerned about whether or not there may be any active gophers still in the tunnels, reaching out to your local pest professional is highly recommended so that they can review the damaged area and assist you in building a treatment and prevention plan.
Putting It All Together
Gophers can cause costly damage to your lawn and garden in a short amount of time. With multiple openings and underground tunnels that can reach hundreds of feet long, this is one pest that you want to handle at the first sight of activity.
To spot a gopher hole, be on the lookout for multiple holes that range anywhere from 10 to 12 inches wide – but be prepared – these holes may have been plugged to help seal off the tunnels once they’re completed.
Other signs of gopher activity can include damage to plants and vegetation from underneath the plant since these critters are known to snack on plant roots that are within reach of their tunnels.
Even if you notice some of these signs of gophers, there are steps you can take to repel them and ultimately keep them out.
Consider using barriers in your yard and garden, maybe add some strongly scented herbs like rosemary and mint, and when in doubt – or even if you just need a little bit of extra support – never hesitate to reach out to your local wildlife and pest professionals for assistance.
Baldwin, R. A. (2011, December). Developing an IPM program for controlling pocket gophers and voles in alfalfa. In Proceedings, 2011 Western Alfalfa and Forage Conference. Las Vegas (pp. 99-107).
Brown, L. N., & Hickman, G. C. (1973). Tunnel system structure of the southeastern pocket gopher. Florida Scientist, 97-103.
Crouch, W. E. (1933). Pocket gopher control (No. 1709). US Government Printing Office.
Lacey, E. A. (2000). Life underground: the biology of subterranean rodents. University of Chicago Press.
Pehling, D. (2014). What is Tunneling in My Yard?.
Shumake, S. A., Sterner, R. T., & Gaddis, S. E. (1999). Repellents to reduce cable gnawing by northern pocket gophers. The Journal of wildlife management, 1344-1349.
Witmer, G. W., Sayler, R. D., & Pipas, M. J. (1995). Repellent trials to reduce reforestation damage by pocket gophers, deer, and elk.
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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