Garden Detective

Garden Detective: Gophers and voles cause garden havoc

We have a new community garden here in Rancho Murieta. We’ve fenced out the rabbits and deer, and are cautious of the rattlesnakes. But it appears we have gophers or voles. I’ve tried inserting red peppers, water and even cat droppings from my litter box down their holes. They’ve continued to nibble away on the roots of our plants. Since the raised beds are quite large, I’m hoping to be able to scare these pests off without emptying the box and lining with mesh wiring. I’m afraid to plant my winter garden before these unwelcome critters are gone. Any advice?

Melinda Frost, Rancho Murieta

We’re sorry the critters have found your raised beds!

According to UC master gardener Carmen Schindler, the University of California advises that traps – when set correctly – work well against gophers. Traps, like all control methods, are most effective when populations are low.

Several types of traps are available, but the two-pronged pincher types are the most popular. When populations are high, trappers will need to focus their efforts in localized areas with high activity, setting traps multiple times throughout the season.

Unfortunately, trapping can be expensive and time consuming. It appears that the only way to keep them from harvesting your crops is to put down quarter-inch hardware cloth. This thick wire mesh needs to be secured to the sides of the bed (either nailed or stapled). It’s an added chore, but the only way you will get to harvest your own crops.

As for voles, you need to manage the population in your area before it reaches high numbers. You often can achieve this by removing or reducing the vegetative cover, making the area unsuitable to voles.

If there is a lot of vegetation around your new community garden, this would be a good start to control the voles. Exclusion, using quarter-inch mesh, trapping and baiting are all effective methods of controlling the vole population once you’ve removed the surrounding vegetation.

The IPM website has Pest Notes on Voles and Pocket Gophers that will provide you with additional information.