Gophers are the scourge of backyards the length and breadth of North America. They cause a lot of damage and it’s not easy to get rid of them. However, what many homeowners fail to recognize is how a gopher’s diet could be the reason they are attracted to a yard in the first place.
By cutting off the food sources of what gophers eat in your yard, you could discourage them from living there in the first place. Having said that, the time and effort you put into making your yard an oasis could be the very things that are attracting gophers in the first place.
Understanding this is key to protecting your lawn and plants.
With that in mind, here’s what gophers like to eat in yards, plus tips on how you can protect any plants, trees, bulbs, fruits, and lawns they like to munch on.
1. Roots and bulbs
Gophers can dig tunnels up to 200 yards long. That means that what might start out as a small hole and mound in the middle of your lawn, could quickly end up being a tunnel beneath your planters and beds.
A gopher will be very happy to chance upon bulbs you’ve taken the time and effort to plant, or some nice and juicy roots of a shrub you cared for.
And the worst thing is, all this eating could be going on without you even knowing until the plant succumbs to no longer having roots as the gopher has eaten it from the bottom up.
You can protect bulbs from gophers in several ways.
- Place wire cages over valuable plants (don’t use chicken wire, here’s why).
- Plants bulbs into raised beds rather than in soil on the same level as the yard’s lawn.
- Put gravel and crushed rock into the soil around the bulbs.
- Provide a food alternative (which defeats the object a little, but some do this).
- Place gopher repellent granules (view on Amazon) around the bulbs and shrubs.
Another strategy is to plant bulbs that gophers don’t like the taste of. Whilst no studies have been made, some gardeners say the following bulbs don’t tend to be eaten by backyard gophers as much as others.
- Camassia Lily
- Giant Snowdrops
- Grape Hyacinth
- Spanish Bluebells
2. Grass on lawns
Gophers will play havoc with lawns. It’s not just the holes they dig into the ground and the tunnels beneath your yard, but they will also eat grass.
Some gardeners I know have used sonic repellents (view on Amazon). These stakes stick in the ground and emit sounds into the earth that burrowing critters hate, hopefully making them leave your yard a more accommodating environment.
Types of grass gophers like to eat include:
- Mosquito grass
- Needle and thread grass
- Kentucky Bluegrass
- Prairie Junegrass
- Scouring Rush
3. Fruits and berries
Whilst gophers can climb, it’s unusual to see them up a tree, so you might ask how do gophers eat fruit? Well, simple – it falls on your lawn from a tree, and its fair game to a gopher.
To discourage gophers from eating in your yard and making their burrows, regularly take fallen fruit off your lawn and compost or trash it.
Whilst wild clover is considered poisonous to people when eaten in large quantities, gophers have no such qualms and will eat it.
If gophers are eating clover in your yard, let’s hope they don’t munch one of the famous lucky four-leafed ones. If they do, you won’t be feeling lucky when you see the holes in your lawn.
Gophers love bird seed and will be attracted to yards that are encouraging birds by leaving food out. If this sounds like you, re-think how you’re feeding the local birds.
For example, do not scatter bird seed on your backyard lawn. Gophers will love this and will take the seeds down into their burrows.
Instead, always place bird seed up high on special raised feeders or bird tables. Whilst gophers can climb, they are unlikely to go to the trouble of climbing for seeds.
Gophers are opportunistic creatures that are most active around twilight and early evening hours. This is when they will come out to forage whatever food thay can find in your yard.
If you are growing vegetables, gophers would like to eat these too. Favorite veggies for pocket gophers include:
- Brussel sprouts (they love the taste)
- Sweet potato
Obviously, this will only affect people who own yards in certain geographies, but it’s one to watch out for. The liquid in a cactus can be very succulent and prove refreshing to gophers in your backyard.
The Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus is a particular favorite thing to eat for gophers in the Midwest.
More on the eating habits of gophers in your yard
What do gophers eat in the winter?
As gophers do not hibernate, they still need to access food in your yard during the winter. As many of your plants will have died down, their dietary choice does become more limited.
However, gophers will still find things to eat in your yard in cold winter months including:
- Earthworms and insects that might fall down their holes or appear in their tunnels.
- Underground root systems and decaying plant-based material like dead leaves.
- Evergreen plants that thrive in the winter months.
Gophers have also been know to chew into PVC pipes to get to water in winter. You can watch a video of how this can happen, here.
What plants do gophers eat?
Gophers are not fussy about the types of plants they will eat. If it’s in your yard and they are hungry, they will eat it. That could mean flowers, shrubs, vegetables, lawn grass, cactuses, and small tree saplings.
Do gophers eat fruit?
Gophers do eat fruit when the opportunity arises. This will include fruit that has fallen from trees, or fruits and berries that grow low to the ground.
Gophers can reach for food 10 inches high, so if fruit is within their reach, they will eat it in your yard.
What is a gopher’s favorite food?
There’s no scientific study to say one way or the other what the favorite food of a gopher is. However, observing gophers in yards, you will see they gravitate more to eating roots and tubers or plants, or seeded acorns.
More backyard guides…
- How to get rid of gopher holes in your yard
- How small a hole can a rat fit through?
- How gophers can damage artificial turf
Gopher eating photo in header via https://unsplash.com/photos/EDpOoa2RE2E