Q: I have gophers in my yard. How do I get rid of them?
A: As a master gardener, I think this is the most commonly-asked question at our “Ask a Master Gardener” information table.
Gophers are tricky to eliminate. If you have a single gopher digging in a flat part of your yard, you can use a garden hose to flood him out of his hole. If you have a more extensive problem, you can use either a Macabee or Black Hole trap. Locate the main tunnel by probing the ground near the pile of pulverized dirt. Use a hand trowel to dig out and expose a one- or two-foot section of tunnel. Set two traps and place them back-to-back into the tunnel. If you are using Macabee traps, secure them to a stake or other stable object with a 2-3-foot-long piece of twine. This prevents an injured gopher from walking away with your trap.
Place a board over your hole and wait. If you are lucky, you will trap one within a few hours. Don’t forget to check your traps regularly. If you forget for a day or two, you will have a disgusting mess in your trap. With practice, you will become an expert at trapping gophers.
Q: I was cleaning out my shed and I found a good-sized pile of empty snail shells in the back corner. Where did they come from?
A: The good news is that you have fewer snails in your yard. The bad news is that you have rats in your shed. Believe it or not, even rats have their good qualities. They are remarkably intelligent. They are a major food source for owls, hawks, snakes, coyotes and other predators. They also eat snails, as you now know.
Despite their endearing qualities, you probably don’t want them living in your shed. In this case, prevention is best. Most importantly, secure any food sources in rodent-proof containers. An example of a rodent-proof container would be a metal trash can with a secure lid. If you don’t have a regular food source available, rats are less likely to linger.
Resist the temptation to poison. If a rat encounters a dead comrade, he will sniff the other rat to determine what he last ate. Then he will avoid eating anything that smells like the dead rat. If you kill a rat with a snap trap, blood will sometimes get on the trap. Rats are repelled by the smell of rat blood, so your snap trap loses effectiveness.
Another reason to avoid poison is that it affects other wildlife and pets. Anticoagulant poison has been found in owls and other birds of prey, coyotes, scavengers like condors and vultures, bobcats and mountain lions. Widespread use of anticoagulant rodenticides has become a significant threat to wildlife.
So, is there a humane, effective way to control rats? Electrocution traps are very effective and environmentally friendly. They are reusable and you can dispose of the dead rodent without touching it. They can be found in most farm supply stores and garden centers.
Have gardening questions? Email email@example.com.
Looking for more gardening tips? Here’s how to contact the Master Gardener program in your area.
Los Angeles County
San Bernardino County