Usually they are just as invisible as the minute insect pests that chew, suck, and generally wreak havoc in the garden. And that is because many of them are nocturnal or they are very good at hiding. Rabbits come out in the very early light of dawn or the waning gleams of dusk. Gophers, however, do their dastardly destruction below ground and may rarely be seen.
Rabbits, the native cottontails to be exact, can do major damage to tender young plants. They do seem to be selective, so protecting the newly planted peppers and coleus until they get a bit bigger may be enough of a deterrent. Parsley, though — forget about it; they will graze it to the ground at any given point. Methods for discouraging rabbits include removing brush and other overgrown areas. Unfortunately garden elements such as clipped hedges may provide exactly the cover they like. Live trapping is an option if one is willing and able to “relocate” the catch. Urine-based repellents may provide some control but need to be reapplied fairly often in an irrigated garden setting. Permanent fencing (remember the rabbit-proof fence in the movie of the same name) is definitely an option if the infestation looks to become permanent, too. It doesn’t need to be high (two to four feet max), but it should extend below the surface of the ground by at least six inches to prevent them burrowing under.
Gophers can be equally as destructive. They live here, they eat almost anything, and what they don’t eat, they burrow beneath to make their subterranean homes. Effective control (without the use of poisons that can enter the ecosystem and affect raptors and pets) can be achieved by persistent trapping with box-type traps. But gophers are smart little devils, and traps must be camouflaged and baited just so to catch them.
Find the main run, and excavate a hole large enough to insert the trap flush against the opening into the tunnel. In fact, make it big enough for two traps, placing them back-to-back facing both directions of the run. Always handle the traps with gloves on to avoid leaving a scent that they will detect and avoid. Put a drop of anise oil (available at your local supermarket in the spice aisle) on the back wall of the trap, and add a nice fresh sprig of cheeseweed (one of gophers’ favorite weeds) to camouflage the trigger mechanism. This little salad will be irresistible to even the wiliest gopher. Cover the traps and run so that no light can shine in. Check the trap after a few hours, and if the gopher has managed to steal the bait, redo the whole thing. Reset the trap in the same run even after catching one, as several gophers may use the same tunnels. New gophers may move into old runs, too, after the first inhabitants have gone. Be persistent.
The best protection against either pest is, of course, a chicken-wire cage installed around the roots of plants to deter gophers or around the above-ground parts to keep rabbits at bay. The chicken wire will last for years and stop those burrowing, nibbling beasts in their tracks.
Virginia Hayes, curator of Ganna Walska Lotusland, will answer your gardening questions. Address them to Gardens, The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., S.B., CA 93101. Send email to email@example.com.