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Pocket Gophers
Pocket Gophers

Pocket Gophers

Especially active in the Spring and the Fall, gophers can be a plague to any lawn or garden in North County. Even though they are capable of heavy digging in clay hillsides, they prefer moist, soft soil and their favorite hangouts are backyard gardens, plush lawns, and well laid out flower beds with lots of nice juicy bulbs and roots to eat.

Pocket gophers get their name from the cheek pouches that they use to carry their food and to transport the materials that they use to line their nests. Working with the unrestrained energy of a hamster on a wheel, gophers will dig and carry, storing up food and building up nests and runways. A single gopher can raise five or six mounds in your lawn in only one night! They use their strong front feet with large claws and their front teeth to dig rapidly in the soil. A gopher actually has a way of digging with their teeth without even getting dirt inside the mouth. When they are not working or eating they sleep in their nests that are sometimes six feet underground.

Gophers are very solitary and will use those large front teeth and claws to defend their runways from other gophers, but a gopher’s neck and shoulders are not very flexible which puts them at great disadvantage when they are out of the tunnels. The only time that a gopher will tolerate the presence of an intruder is for a brief courtship that ends with a permanent separation and no visitation rights!

There are three types of openings into gopher runways: 

  1. The characteristic, boomerang shaped mounds,
  2. small, covered ventilation holes and,
  3. open holes that are used for gathering food or nesting materials.

The three methods for gopher control that are most effective are:

  1. Gas introduced into the runways by hose, pellet, or smoke bombs.
  2. Different types of traps that are set by hand.
  3. Anticoagulant or acute poison baits.

We recommend that you avoid the various types of electronic devices that claim to repel pests such as gophers. I know that there is a new one that comes out every season or so, and they all have two things in common … they each have a great guarantee, and none of them are even marginally effective. Great packaging though!


Every time that I see a gopher mound in my front yard I am tempted to get out the garden hose and flush the thing out. I was actually successful in doing that once, but water is largely ineffective in the kind of soil that gophers prefer. They instinctively build their nests and runways to avoid water hazards.

If you do your own pocket gopher control, you will most likely find that anticoagulant baits are the most cost effective method and the easiest to use. Bait is available over the counter with instructions on how to use it. You do not need to purchase an injection tool unless you have a very large area to defend. Many people just use a steel rod to find the runways, and a long neck funnel to introduce the bait to where the gopher can get it. Read the label on the product that you select; it is a legal document and the safety instructions on the label are of prime importance.

Professionals have baits that are relatively fast and effective, but you need a special license to purchase or use it here in California. Contact us if you live in North County and we can give you more specific advice.

Ground Squirrels

You have to acknowledge that ground squirrels are fun to watch and are often considered to be quite attractive animals. Many people feed them regularly, especially at parks and down by the jetty at the harbor. The problem is that these cute little animals can be both dangerous and destructive when they are in an urban and suburban environment.

Ground squirrels in Southern California, especially in our mountain parks, are often infested with the oriental rat flea and have become the primary carriers for the bubonic plague. The plague is transmitted to humans via flea bites, often through our pets, after they investigate ground squirrel burrows. For nearly four decades there have been portions of Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia Park that have been closed for part of the summer because of ground squirrels with the plague.

Another area of concern is the burrowing activity of these squirrels. This picture shows fresh digging activity adjacent to a fence, the bottom of which was covered in the soil to keep rodents out of a garden. Burrows on hillsides and under structures can cause erosion and can even cause structural damage in some cases. Ground squirrel burrows will have mounded soil around them, but the holes are left open since the squirrels spend a lot of time above ground. They are very good climbers and scramblers when they have to get away from children and dogs, but unlike tree squirrels, they always return to their burrows for safety. Like gophers, ground squirrels are vigorous diggers and will work their way around almost any barrier that you could use to discourage them.

Ground squirrels also cause a lot of damage to plants and flowers, especially if the population of squirrels is allowed to get very large. Each female will have a litter of three to seven baby squirrels once a year in the early spring of which two to four can be expected to survive each season.

Trapping is a good option to get rid of ground squirrels if there are only a few of them, but to control large populations you have to rely on poison bait. Much the same as with gopher control, you need to be very careful about how you select and use rodent baits in order to be effective and to avoid non-targeted species. Some people will put up fake owls and snakes to scare off squirrels and rabbits, but those methods have never been effective, probably because the squirrels cannot see that far with enough clarity to be properly frightened. Electronic devices, despite the guarantees, are totally ineffective. If you live in San Diego’s North County, please feel free to contact us for advice on any pest control issue.

We regret that we cannot respond to contacts from out of our service area.