I hate gophers! Well, not really. I just hate what they do to my lawn every year. Traps and poisons sometimes work but can’t be deployed until the damage has started. After several frustrating years of battling the little buggers I’ve decided to adopt a more serious approach – a wire mesh barrier under the grass.
In May 2004 I began an experiment to test the feasibility of a wire mesh barrier. I removed the sod from a 100 square foot area in front of my Koi pond, an area where I especially didn’t want gophers digging. I covered half of the soil with 50 square feet of galvanized wire mesh and the other half with 50 square feet of vinyl coated wire mesh.
These materials, known sometimes as “hardware cloth,” are made from wire around 19 or 20 gauge, with ½-inch square openings. After a two-and-a-half year test there were no apparent attempts by gophers to penetrate this area of the lawn while other areas were attacked. Not surprisingly, the galvanized mesh showed some signs of corrosion, although it would have held up for many more years. The vinyl coated mesh still looked brand new.
October 2006 it was time to re-sod the 30-year-old yard. A new patio had been installed and re-grading was needed to correct an old drainage problem in the 950 square-foot lawn. I had a landscaper first remove the old sod and re-grade the lawn. I then spent a weekend covering the entire 950 square-feet with mesh. I opted for the more expensive vinyl-coated hardware cloth as it looks like it will last for decades. I purchased 33 rolls of 3-foot by 10-foot material from a local OSH store for $11 per roll. The local Home Depot and Lowes had the same mesh, but in smaller 3-foot by 5-foot rolls. The longer 10-foot rolls cut installation time considerably. The 37-cents per square foot for the mesh was about the same price as the sod (Southland Marathon II). If it keeps my lawn from being ruined it’s well worth it.
I started laying the mesh by unrolling the 3-foot by 10-foot strips, keeping them as flat as possible. I fastened the start of the first roll to the ground with two stakes. I then joined the strips of mesh end to end using four tie-wraps per strip. At the end of the run, each about 70-feet log in my case, another pair of stakes held the end of the last strip of mesh down.
Q: So why not just dig a trench around the lawn and bury a “fence” of wire mesh?
A: Gophers have legs. The can walk across the ground. They would just “climb over” the fence and dig down into the new lawn.
Q: Is there a problem getting the mesh flat enough so it doesn’t lift the new sod?
A: No, the new sod weighs about 5 lbs/sq-ft. Enough to keep the mesh pushed flat against the soil while the sod gets rooted.
Q: What about those sonic vibrating battery powered gopher repellers?
A: Gophers get used to them.
Q: How about using plastic mesh?
A: Gophers will be able to chew through that. I have even seen them chew through small gauge bronze wire mesh.
Q: How do you get into the soil later to repair sprinkler lines, etc.?
A: There are always drawbacks to every problem’s solutions! Actually, it’s not too difficult. Water the lawn well and the sod can be scraped off of the mesh using a square-nose spade. Then nip the mesh wires with a wire cutting “dikes” pliers.
Q: What about burying the mesh deeper?
A: You could still have mole problems. Moles seem to dig tunnels that are quite shallow. They might be able to tunnel between the sod and the mesh. Three to four inches deep might be a good trade-off allowing room for pipes above the mesh but leaving not enough soil above the mesh for gophers.
So, how did it work out? The following photos were taken July 2008. Gophers have been able to get under the mesh, but they have not been able to penetrate it or make those annoying mounds of dirt.
Lawn, July 2008.
The damage they have been able to do it to either pull small areas of grass down through the mesh, or to chew the roots off from below. The result is a patch of dead grass a few inches in diameter.
Patch of dead grass caused by gopher underneath.
They have also been able to travel under the mesh at the very edge. This may have been done by a mole. This photo shows an air hole they managed to open where the mesh meets the edge of the pond. This is too small of a hole for the animal to get through.
Hole at very edge of the mesh caused either a gopher or mole.
If you’re in gopher country it’s important to plant in wire mesh baskets.
Stainless steel is the ultimate, last forever material to use!
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