Gopher Barriers Under Raised Beds

Question fromTeri:
You recommend lining the bottom of raised bed veggie gardens with hardware cloth, but that degrades in a couple of years, and is a huge ordeal to replace.

So I am wondering whether 6″ or more of 3/4 or 1″ rock in the bottom of the bed would work against burrowing creatures like rabbits and gophers. My beds are 20″ high and I would add 14″ of compost and weed-free soil on top of the rocks.

Answer from Pat:
Gopher problems are severe this year. They are even showing up in large numbers in my garden where I’ve never before had an on-going problem. Cracked rock won’t keep them out. They are very good at moving it and getting through the rock to the plant roots and white grubs on the other side. A tile patio or reinforced concrete slab will keep out gophers, but then you would need to make much taller boxes and provide drainage out the bottom and sides. I suppose if you dug out the area where you are planning to put the boxes one foot deep with paths around 2 or 3 feet wide and then filled the whole area with a foot-deep layer of rock and put the boxes on top maybe it would keep them out, but I don’t know that for sure. I have seen gophers go through rock barriers often.

When I first came to California in 1945 the recommended barrier against rabbits, gophers, skunks, and rats was chicken wire or sometimes aviary wire to be nailed on the bottom of raised beds and also used for rabbit fences with the bottom of the fence buried in the ground. Later the recommendation changed to hardware cloth. You are the first gardener I have heard bring up the problem of degradation of the wire in the soil which will eventually happen, of course, but not in a couple of years as you fear. In all the years I have been advocating nailing wire on the bottom of raised beds so far no one has reported back to me that the wire rusted through and gophers were now invading, and I have been in this business of helping folks with their gardens for 35 years. Perhaps our population keeps moving but I have some friends who have lived and gardened in the same house for thirty years and the wire hasn’t stopped working for them. Also I have recommended using chicken wire under lawns to keep out gophers. The gophers will still get under the lawn but they can’t and don’t make mounds. One of my sons-in- law followed this advice about twenty years ago. He enjoyed a gopher-proof Santa Ana bermudagrass lawn for over ten years. He eventually sold that house but so far as I know to this day there are no gopher mounds on that lawn. (See the Quick Tip on page 358 of my book.) I suppose the type of soil one is dealing with might influence how long the wire lasts.

Bill Nelson of Pacific Tree Farms used to advocate putting sharp pieces of cracked glass in holes when he planted trees such as avocados even though he used chicken-wire baskets also as root-protecting barriers. I always felt that burying sharp glass was not a good practice due to the fact that it is cruel and also we cannot look centuries into the future and see how the land will be used then. It might become the location for a school or a family home with children or gardeners. So we would be leaving a cruel booby trap in the soil for a future generation. That sounds like bad Karma. I could see, however, laying down 2 layers of water-permeable, weed-preventing, landscape cloth with broken glass between them and leaving a record of exactly where this was so that it could be easily and safely removed in future. (Though I wouldn’t ever do this myself.)

If you want chicken wire or hardware cloth to last longer, the most logical idea would be to paint it with long-lasting rust preventative paint prior to installation. Since I know of wire lasting in the ground for twenty or thirty years, painted wire should last that much longer. Plastic-dipped fencing is also available, but I have no idea if it would last better underground than regular fencing or hardware cloth.

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  1. Chicken wire doesn’t work out here in the Cuyamaca Mountains. I planted roses with chicken wire baskets that went 6 – 9 inches up the rose plant and the gophers found their way in. I have had gophers build RAMPS up and over the chicken wire. This past summer was the worst in my 8 years living in Descanso and I just pulled out two roses that have been growing in my garden since I planted them the year I moved in. They were protected by chicken wire. I’m going to move on to flower pots and raised beds. But…

    • It sounds as if you have highly ingenious gophers or maybe some of them are ground squirrels or rats in disguise. Gophers cannot climb but ground squirrels and rats can and do. Raised beds need to have smooth sides and be high enough to foil both. 1/2-inch-guage hardware cloth is more durable than chicken wire. Install it underneath your raised bed to keep out gophers more successfully than chicken wire. An additional reinforcement is a flat ledge or cap that juts outward by 4 inches on the top of the wall of the raised bed. There is no way they can climb past this barrier. Trapping or good hunting cats and dogs are the best solutions to animal pests. Gophers are solitary animals, so if you or your cat can catch a gopher the minute it moves in you have stopped the invasion at least until the next one discovers your garden. I find the Black Hole trap is the best trap made. There is real satisfaction in using this trap correctly since it’s possible to catch your prey in twenty minutes time.

      Regarding roses, flower pots might be a problem since in the Cuyamaca Mountains you have freezing weather in winter. A few years ago one of my daughters had a large garden in Rancho Santa Fe that was home to every kind of animal pest imaginable: Gophers, rats, ground squirrels, coyotes, mice, and voles. She had them all, but she fixed the soil by spreading on a layer of homemade compost she made by layering horse manure with alfalfa. She planted succulents and wildflowers and so many roses the animals were overwhelmed. Fran specialized in All-America-Award winners and climbing roses—great big ones on trellises and arbors. The animals chewed up a few plants but they simply couldn’t keep up. I don’t know why more people don’t grow climbing roses. You get so much more bang for the buck.

  2. I am planting an in ground garden and I am putting in a gopher barrier. How deep should i dig down?

  3. We started a vegetable garden for the first time last summer. Just before building our raised bed, we noticed a gopher invasion around the perimeter of the lawn, so we stapled 1/2 inch hardware cloth to the bottom of our 4′ x10′ bed. We’ve been trying to get this gopher for months with traps, but he just pushes dirt in them and gets away. We’ve also tried double mint gum. No luck. Today, I noticed this gopher has entered the raised bed (in spite of the hardware cloth) and really made a mess. What can I do? I haven’t wanted to use poison in our yard because we have a few neighborhood cats that come around (I keep hoping one of them will catch the scoundrel).

    • I cannot understand how a gopher entered your raised bed if you stapled 1/2 inch hardware cloth on the bottom, unless the staples came loose or there was a knothole in the wood that fell out. Never in my entire career have I heard of this happening. No, do not use poisons and do not use gas. It does not work. I wish we could blow them up as is possible on agricultural land. Looking at videos online of this process is very satisfying but unfortunately it’s against the law in residential areas. Do you have the Black Hole trap? the Black Box trap, which is a gyp.) The Black Hole trap works for me—buy it online— and I have caught many gophers with it. It is very important to follow the directions exactly with this trap and allow the air to come through the round hole in the end of it but put a little earth on the bottom of the inside to prime it and also make sure no light enters except through that small hole in the end. Once I had a wily gopher who shoved earth in the trap, but the next day, I stuck a carrot in the hole on the end as the directions said to do if I had a tough gopher to catch. That time I caught him or her. However, now that I am in my eighties I have had more trouble catching gophers because I can no longer get down on my knees to do the job. Finally I have given up on this job. This week I got a man called “The Gopher Getter Guy” to come to my property and trap the gophers. I had heard he is very good at catching gophers and only charges $25.00 for each gopher he gets. I asked him to shove their dead bodies back into the holes. I believe this helps keep them away. And, as I said before, do not use poisons and don’t get one of these fellows who thinks he can gas the gophers. That’s really a crock! if you hire a trapper make sure he traps and does not show up with poisons and gas. I have had many trappers who cannot catch these critters worth a dime, but the Gopher Getter Guy is good. If you live in North San Diego County, get him (760-419-5133) Otherwise, look for someone similar. I have heard of other talented trappers in other areas

    • Here is another idea, called the Molecat. Never heard of this one.

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