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How to build a gopher cage

How to build a simple and effective gopher cage

 

Background:

  • If you live in California and you are not in a major city, you probably have gophers lurking nearby.
  • Gophers are a serious problem and can kill a young tree very quickly.
  • There are a lot of ways to address these pests which range from poisons to owl boxes.  However, no solution is full proof and therefore it is a good idea to have a second line of defense for your fruit trees.
      • (Side note: if you have ever thought about getting one of those electric/solar Sonic Spikes for Moles and Gophers, dont bother.  In my experience they don’t do anything at all).
  • A gopher cage is a great way to protect your newly planted tree. The roots will eventually meander outside the protection of the cage.  However, the core roots of the tree will be protected.
  • You can find gopher cages pre-made, but these are not available everywhere and they are considerably more expensive than the cost of making one yourself.  Besides, you can custom make the cage to what ever size you want.
Easy to make gopher cage

Finished gopher cage in hole

 

What you will need:

  1. Galvanized hard wire cloth with 1/2-inch openings
  2. Heavy duty gloves
  3. Some tool to cut wire. I like to use heavy duty wire side cutters
  4. Plastic cable zip-ties

 

Step 1, Get some galvanized hardware cloth:

  • You can get this at many different places including Amazon.comas well as your your favorite home improvement/hardware store.
  • The cloth usually comes in rolls that are 2 to 3 feet high and in variable lengths.  For gophers, the wire mesh hole openings should be no less than a 1/2 inch (the last number in the given dimensions on the package).  If the holes are too big then small gophers can squeeze through.  Chicken wire for example has holes that are too big.
Galvanized hard wire cloth for gopher cage

Galvanized hard wire cloth

 

Step 1 cont, put on some heavy duty gloves:

  • The ends of the wire is stiff and sharp.

 

Cut the wire mesh to size:

  • Just bend the wire cloth to the diameter you want for your tree roots and cut from the rest of the roll.
  • The bigger diameter, the more of the roots you will protect, but the bigger the hole will have to be.
  • You can use wire cutters or metal cutting scissors to cut the wire hard wire cloth.

 

Secure the sides of the gopher cage:

  • Attach the ends of the wire with some zip ties.  Allow about an inch of overlap.
Wire cloth cylinder secured with zip ties

Wire cloth cylinder secured with zip ties

 

Make the bottom of the gopher cage:

  • Bend one end of the wire mesh cylinder in half and make a crease in the wire.  Do this again in the other direction.  In doing so you have quickly measured out 4 roughly equal distance spots in the wire cage.
  • Now cut down the wire mesh where you creased it to create flaps.
  • The amount you need to cut down will depend on the diameter of the cage. A bigger diameter cage will require more cutting so the flaps can cover the bottom.
  • If there is still a gap at the bottom that is open after you fold the flaps, you will have to cut down further to make larger flaps or add in a patch.
  • Secure the flaps with a few zip ties.

 

Fold once on one side of the gopger cage and crease

Fold once on one side and crease

Fold the gopher cage again in the other direction

Fold again in the other direction

After you cut down about 6inch where the creases are made, fold over the edges to create the bottom of the gopher cage.

After you cut down about 6inch where the creases are made, fold over the edges to create the bottom of the gopher cage.

 

Put the gopher cage in the hole:

  • Flip over the cage you created and drop it in the hole.
  • You can adjust the height with soil you add in.
  • Many suggest that the gopher cage should rise about 4 inches above soil level to prevent gophers from walking over the top and getting into the cage.
  • Depending on how much you want sticking up from the soil line his might affect your decision to get the 2 foot tall or 3 foot tall hardware cloth.  However, wire sticking up out of the ground may be a hazard due to the the exposed sharp ends of the wire cage.  On the other hand, if it is sticking up (a lot) it may also deter rabbits.
  • Check out my recent post for planting tips to help you avoid transplantation shock.
  • http://tastylandscape.com/2013/06/09/best-planting-technique-6-important-steps/
Easy to make gopher cage

Finished gopher cage in hole

 

 

Gopher Cage Update:

Cage: 1

Gopher: 0

That’s the new score in the ongoing battle.

Below is a photo I took of some dramatic subterranean activity along the outer edge of the gopher cage.  As you can see, the gopher cage has stopped the varmint in its tracks despite what looks to be a major effort to get inside the cage.  That hole in the picture is new and located in an area of previously very solid ground.

Gopher cage success

Gophers can’t get past the cage.

I am sure those pesky rodents got some of the smaller rootlets that grew past the confines of the cage.  However, the core of the tree is safe.  In fact, you can see in the photo below where the Longan tree (Dimocarpus longan) has put out a new flush of growth that doesn’t seem to be affected by the unsolicited soil aeration.

protective gopher cage.

This Longan tree continues to grow well with the help of the protective gopher cage.

 

 For a list of gopher resistant and nonresistant plants, check out my post from 8/28/13.

 

 

About Thomas Osborne, MD

Dr. Osborne is a Harvard trained Radiologist and Neuroradiologist who loves to share his insight about medicine and gardening.

41 comments

  1. My experience with Gophers mirrors yours. I have tried everything from Electric Spikes which emit sounds(cost a lot and don’t work), Electronic wave emitters(hi-tech but expensive and useless), Dynamite sticks(be careful with the blow back) to Poisons which seem to work. But the cheapest and most effective deterent is wire mesh which I started wrapping around my tomato cages to keep out Squirrels. I cut the wire mesh to size and then fasten the ends by weaving thin gauge wire within the wire mesh. It is cheap and effective but require quite a bit of time digging a larger hole, constructing the cage and then stamping it down to firm the soil around the plant roots and keep the cage in place.

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      We are on the same page again Sateesh.
      It does take more time to plant with a gopher cage, but totally worth it to me.
      Without a cage, my plants are doomed to an early gopher built grave.

  2. I had a huge gopher problem as well. I have an acre in Southern California with vacant fields on two sides. It was taking a lot of time to put mesh around everything I planted. Fruit trees, flowers, shrubs, vegetables…etc. To make it worse the gophers would just eat through the store bought gopher mesh. One day I watched as a full size zucchini plant was pulled underground just like in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. There was no sign that a plant was once thriving there. Five Black Hole gopher traps later and I no longer plant with wire mesh. That was about ten years ago. The old tunnels were hijacked for awhile and I still on occasion got a new visitor but not for years now. I’d just leave the carcasses on the ground in the evening and they’d be gone by morning. Food for some night scavenger. I do feed the birds and this year wild rabbits (its been a tough three years for them), and this ends up feeding squirrels, ground squirrels and sometimes rats. But I have a nice crew of owls, hawks, rosy boa, and coyotes who seem to keep these in check. Who knows, maybe they’re making life hard on the gophers as well.

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hey Joe
      Thanks for your awesome insight.

      Those gopher traps you mentioned sound very effective.
      When I get a moment, ill add your feedback to the article and reference your comment.
      Thanks!

      Regarding your squirrels…
      I just wrote an article about how those critters can carry the Bubonic Plague!
      That article might be worth checking out.
      heres a link: Squirrels, the plague, and what to do.

      Thanks,
      Tom

  3. additional info to the above. You’ll need several traps for each tunnel and keep setting them until there’s no more activity. You do need to get good at setting the traps to get the big gophers. They’re not easy to fool and they’ll just bury a badly set trap. It did take my cat to drag the biggest one out. It stood as tall as the cat as they played who’s going to move first. My wife actually did it in with a long loaf of French bread that was about 5 days stale. There was blood and bread crumbs everywhere. The cat sniffed it a bit, kicked some dirt over it and walked away.
    So there you go – “Black Hole Gopher traps”, a Cat, some stale French bread and your gopher problems are a thing of the past. Cheaper and better than the electronic things, less work than mesh (if you have a lot to plant), and far far safer for everything than the poisons.

  4. I have lived in the Bay Area since the 60’s and battled gophers, I am amazed you haven’t mentioned either iris or daylilies as being gopher resistant. The nasty rodents killed my orange tree, my cherry tree, and used to suck glads down their hole like a kid slurping spaghetti! But they have never eaten an iris or a daylily, so I have a LOT Of them. Also the various succulents, like jade plant, seem to not interest them. Pampas grass is safe from gophers, but it has nasty fronds that will cut you like a chainsaw if you aren’t wearing gloves, so I will pass on them in the future. they don’t touch my Pride of Madera (I have a lot) either.

    PS read your prior comment on Red Baron peach, our new house has baby Red Barons planted by the previous owner, and they are FANTASTIC.

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Awesome Christy.
      More gopher resistant plants to add to the list!
      Thanks for the useful additions.

      And yea… Red baron is yum!

  5. I have been using galvanized chicken wire in a similar way as these gopher cages. So far the chicken wire is working. The holes in the chicken wire are not as small as the mesh used in these cages, but is still too small for the gophers. I believe the chicken wire is cheaper, easier to find and easier to work with as well. I have a raised garden that has been hit hard lately. I placed chicken wire at a depth of approximately 2′ around the parameter, but that was not enough so I plan to dig the whole 20’x60′ garden to a depth of 1′ and line the whole thing with chicken wire. It will be a pain, but I hope it will end the problem. As far as traps, gas, poison, etc. I think if you live in the country like I do those are helpful to control the gophers, but it would be a full time job if you expect those methods to save your trees or plans. It only takes one gopher a short time to kill a young tree. One other tip is that you want to make sure the gophers can’t get over the top of the wire cage. Either place rocks over the top of the cage or leave the wire mesh above grade enough that the gopher can’t climb over it.

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Thanks Andrew.
      Great info.

      I totally agree, you just need one gopher to kill a tree.
      Therefore, you cant rely totally on gas, poisons or traps.

      As you mentioned, I have also seen reports of gophers climbing over the top of the cage.
      Some people have said a couple of inches is tall enough to keep them out.
      What do you think it the best height?

      Side note:
      I have seen some reports that gophers (esp young gophers) have squeezed through the chicken wire holes.
      Sounds like this has not been a problem for you though.

      Thanks!
      Tom

  6. Frank ( Hochman, MD)

    Thanks for this advice. A bit late for this year after a massive invasion of gophers on my tomato plants (lost 14 that I grew from seeds). Nothing really worked. Traps, baits, SO2 bombs etc. This damage was done in an area that hosted 26 healthy tomato plants last year. Next year I will use your design and perhaps throw in outdated Plavix for good measure.
    Frank

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hey Frank
      lol… the Plavix statement cracked me up.

      Painful story about your 14 tomato plants.
      Some people have said that gophers wont touch tomato plants… I was always hopeful but suspicious of that idea.
      Unfortunately, your experience confirms that gophers will eat tomato’s.
      Bummer.

      Thanks for the note
      Tom

  7. Frank ( Hochman, MD)

    Whoops – that was meant to read hydrogen sulfide bombs.

  8. How much larger that the original can should the gopher cage be made? I want to plant a 15 gal. pineapple quava. Also, is the 1/2 in. too small for the roots to grow large enough through the mess without being restricted so much that the plant becomes root-bound? Diggers has a tree basket that is just a little larger than the 15 gal. can but claims the galvanized wire will break down in 3-5 years so that the roots will be able to grow beyond the confines of the gopher basket. Does the 1/2 in gopher basket break down soon enough for root growth? Thank you.

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hey Stanley

      Great questions:

      Gopher cage size:
      The bigger the gopher cage better… and the more roots that will be protected.
      But the more materials you will use, so it will be more expensive. The best size is a ballance.

      Also:
      If you make the gopher cage to small it is really difficult to fit the rootball into the cage and then push the extra soil in around it. Since you dont want air pockets, this can be an issue if the cage is tight up against the root ball.

      Galvanized life span:
      The lifespan of a galvanized cage is quite variable and depends on both the quality of the material and the conditions it is in. Since Southern California soil is often dry, the breakdown process here is much slower than it would be in a place like Seattle. The oldest caged trees I have dug up have been in the ground for 5 years and they have show no sign of breakdown.

      They dont get root bound:
      In my fairly extensive experience, a gopher cage will not make your tree root bound.

      What does happen is that little rootlest grow and meander into the openings between the wires and grow outward from there. There is no real blocker. As the roots enlarge they usually grow into the wires of the cage…. basically engulfing the wire of the basket. You might have seen something like this with old tree trunks growing into a fence or barb wire. For reference, here is a pic of this type of thing in a botany educational link. Sometimes the roots will also pull apart the cage too, but the first step is that the roots engulf the wire after they pass through the openings.

      Best,
      Tom

      • Cynthia Najarian

        Here is an idea. Well actually two.
        I was using the ashes from our BBQ to acidify our very alkaline So Cal soil and noticed afterwards all the gophers were gone. Since I was trying to smoke in our BBQ it generated a LOT of ashes. So was able to cover about 20 x 12 foot area. They came back after a few months because I ran out of ashes tho’.
        The second idea is French Roast coffee grounds. (It may be the same reasoning where the gophers think there is a forest fire in the area?)
        We get the Kona Coffee when I go home to Hawaii pretty regularly so not sure it will be the same experience with other types of coffee grounds. I save the grounds so there is a substantial amount to sprinkle the same area at one time.

        • Thomas Osborne, MD

          Thanks Cynthia
          Thats great news about your BBQ charcoal experience deterring gophers.
          Coffee grounds also sounds like a compelling solution.
          However, I have recently heard from another reader that coffee grounds didnt work for them.

          Thanks,
          Tom

          • Cynthia Najarian

            I think the type of coffee grounds is the key. I prefer Medium Roast but Hubby likes the Dark Roast. As in black, charred almost French Roast. So our coffee grounds simulate a burnt area is my thought. And the coffee layer I can achieve would appear to be like dry rub on meat.

          • Thomas Osborne, MD

            Umm… A tasty deterrent
            Makes sense, these guys are sensitive to smell.
            Hope it works.
            Thanks!

  9. Cynthia Najarian

    So French Roasted Kona coffee beans with Mango Truffle Medium Roast (a scent our local gophers may recognize versus Vanilla or Chai) in a generous layer on top only.
    Say, I wonder what Starbucks does with their Coffee grounds, eh?

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Good question about Starbucks.
      I know that (at least some) Starbucks and other coffee shops will give away their grounds to gardeners.
      The coffee grounds is a great acidic organic fertilizer.
      If it could also be used to keep the underground terrors away then all the better.
      Thanks,
      T

  10. I planted four Columbine and they lasted about a month before the gophers found them and they literally disappeared from site. $20 down the drain or hole in this case.

  11. Hi
    We are living in Houston .In our backyard we planted several types of vegetables like tomatos eggplants etc.
    There are some squirrels that are always coming and eat them or spoil their roots.Need to know by which
    way we could repel them and protect our produce.
    Thanks
    Good luck
    Teza

  12. How deep do I need to make the cage for perennial flowers?

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hey Becky
      Good question.
      Different annuals have different root structures (some deeper than others).
      However, you dont have to protect all of the roots for it to be effective.
      If some of the roots grow out of the cage and get trimmed by a gopher then that might be ok.

      I would think that one foot deep should be enough. The cage should also extend at least 4 inches above the soil level so that the gophers dont walk over it into your gold mine of tasty perennials.

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