Friday Garden F*ck Ups: Pocket Gophers & Pest Talk

Me being dumb: May 27, 2009

Last week, I posed proudly with my mail order invasive grass. This week I look very proud of my dumb gopher catch in this questionable picture collage I made back in 2009. Gophers and pests in general can make any gardener or even houseplant parent crazy. I’ve relaxed quite a bit over the years about most pest issues, especially outside. Sluggo and Dr. Bronners soap are all I use, along with diluted rubbing alcohol for the houseplant issues. Sometimes you just have to throw indoor stuff out to avoid infecting the whole crew. I’d almost think something was wrong with certain plants if they weren’t covered in aphids or that maybe the figs were gross if even the rats weren’t taking big bites out of them. I’ve never even thought about releasing ladybugs as they always find their way to my bug buffet for free. I don’t like that they’re scooped out of the wild to be packaged and sold either. I’ll venture to guess that a bunch die in the process. I’m so happy to never had to deal with deer. Bunnies will be my new problem in Wisconsin and apparently possible frost at the end of May.

In the picture above I’m holding a scared little baby gopher. It was traumatized by my rage watering the hole it was living in with mom and it’s cute little brothers and sisters. Rage watering is when an adorable little gopher peeks out of it’s hole and taunts you after chewing the roots off of a newly planted thing you loved right in front of your very eyes. You get so angry you shoot wasteful amounts of water in to the hole until the yard feels like a waterbed, even though you know it’s the wrong thing to do. It’s usually accompanied by a lot of swearing. It does nothing except in this rare case force a little guy to climb out leaving the rest of his family to continue eating whatever they want. We relocated him to a field in Golden Gate Park where I’m hoping a bird ate it.

Gopher buffet November 13, 2010

As you can see we had mostly succulents, since the gophers went after a lot of things I tried. They never did noticeable damage to the succulents, but I’ve heard they’ll take out tree aloes and other big succulents. They mostly went after the grass, which we didn’t care about so much since it’s grass, and it would die in the summer whether the gophers killed it or not. Though the dogs going crazy trying to get them while digging even bigger holes in the back was pretty irritating. Heck, how many folks have twisted their ankles running around gopher heaven AKA Golden Gate Park? If you live in gopher country you can plant stuff in little underground gopher cages, but it sounds like they don’t always work if you live in an area with extra ruthless gophers. It also sounds like a huge pain in the ass. I was fortunate enough to get my hands on a bunch of really big, mostly turquoise containers I put directly in the garden, so I could plant things without worrying about them getting eaten from below. I also happen to really like Euphorbias, which gophers won’t touch.

Breaking Lawn

I did some really stupid stuff in the pest department, especially early on. Professionally, I’ve been asked to illegally use some sketchy stuff. I’m talking Safari level toxic chemicals going in to local water supplies in the name of eco-friendly living walls, but that’s a story for a different time. I even remember spraying nasty Sevin all over stuff in Wisconsin with no gloves on in the early 2000’s. I don’t even know what I was trying to kill (big problem there), but I thought what I was doing was fine not realizing that what I was spraying killed everything. Why would a store sell me poison? My parents in Wisconsin hired people to spray scary crap on our lawn to make it pretty in the 1990’s via copious chemicals. The company was literally called Chemlawn. I’m going to guess that they’ve since changed their scary name. These are the same parents who also volunteered to help restore the native oak savannah surrounding the lake at the bottom of the hill that said chemicals washed in to every time it rained. Above is hilarious lawn video Breaking Lawn by Manitowoc Minute’s Charlie Berens, a Wisconsin treasure.

Matti the gopher killer March 12, 2011

The rage spraying stopped and I finally told Matti to start killing the furballs the old fashioned way with Macabee traps. I freak out at the sight of any dead animal, but Matti does not. They worked almost immediately. We’d see a cute little face poking out of a hole taunting Max (the dog) and within a half an hour of setting up the trap it would be dead thanks to 100 year old killing technology. It’s always good to monitor the trap closely as Matti had to finish one off. Below are good videos from The University of California Statewide IPM Program about setting and placing traps. It’s also an all around good site for integrated pest management options and information about pests in California. Please google IPM if you are unfamiliar with this ecosystem-based strategy. The first step is asking if you can live with the pest, which often times the answer is yes. If you live elsewhere most state universities have extensions with the best information about pests and dealing or not sometimes not dealing with them where you live. Wisconsin folks go to UW-Madison, Division of Extension, Horticulture Program. It’s an amazing site and I’m overwhelmed by all the trustworthy information there. Please, don’t trust the chemical aisle at your local big box store.

Setting the trap
Placing the trap

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