Gopher resistant plants are a group of decorative or flowering plants that are rarely found on the menu of these relentless rodents that can completely devastate the landscape.
The leaves, stems, flowers, roots, or bulbs of these plants have a strong smell, contain toxins, or excrete irritating sap that will keep gophers, but in most cases, all other harmful rodents, voles, deer, or mice away from your yard.
But before we list the plants that gophers are more likely to avoid, let us say a few words about these ubiquitous pests that can ruin all your effort and dedicated work on landscaping your yard or garden.
After all, the old rule is that you need to know the ‘enemy’ well to defeat him more easily!
What is a gopher?
The gopher is a small endemic furry rodent from the family Geomyidae that numbers about 41 species of mammals distributed in North and Central America.
Only in Northern California live five species, of which the most famous and most widespread is the so-called pocket gopher or simply gopher.
Adult gophers can grow 5 to 14 inches in length, weigh one pound, and have pronounced incisors by which they bite and nibble plants.
These tunnel diggers will quickly undermine your flower beds or vegetable gardens by eating and gnawing on the roots and bulbs that come their way.
How to identify a gopher’s presence?
Their presence is easy to notice because, while digging a network of underground tunnels where they live, multiply and store food supplies, gophers throw excess soil to the surface by forming numerous mounds.
Moles, for example, also diggers of underground tunnels make neat conical mounds, while gopher mounds are usually kidney-shaped. Unlike gophers, moles feed on insects and worms, but they can disrupt plant roots while digging tunnels.
On the other hand, gophers can make as many as 200 mounds in one yard, causing far more severe damage!
Of course, the lawn or yard does not look nice ‘decorated’ with their mounds! But, aside from the aesthetic, the mounds pose a potential danger as you can injure or twist your leg if you step on or move on that awkwardly uneven terrain.
Gophers reproduce quickly
Maybe this gopher activity will not seem alarming to you at first. After all, these animals look cute enough to be found on print thanks cards, but don’t be fooled!
A mature female gopher has three litters a year, and each litter usually has five to six cubs that separate from their mother in just a few weeks and dig their own tunnels and soon continue to reproduce further!
Gophers are active all year round
Unfortunately, these tireless animals never take a break and are active all year round! Unlike many other rodents and mammals, gophers do not have a winter hibernation period, although they are somewhat less involved in that time.
Spring and fall are when the soil is ideal for digging tunnels due to the abundance of precipitation, so they intensify their activities during this period.
But neither drought nor full sun in summer prevents them from their underground engineering endeavors, so once they appear, you can count on the gopher problem for the whole year!
Why do gophers come to my garden?
If you’re wondering why gophers appeared in your backyard, the answer isn’t that they’re attracted to nicely blended flower beds and lawns or neat vegetable gardens!
Instead, gophers are herbivores, and they eat plants, so your garden looks like a buffet with unlimited access to food sources!
So in landscaped gardens from the aspect of gophers, the offer is much more diverse because the concentration of different plants is much higher than in an uncultivated meadow.
And gophers love bulbs, tubers, and roots, but they also like to nibble fleshy aboveground parts of plants!
Another reason why gophers can settle in your yard is soft, well-cultivated, and loose soil in which they can easily dig ditches.
Actually, by digging through the yard for your needs, you make it easier for gophers to build an underground network of tunnels that can stretch miles away and be six feet deep!
Finally, let’s say that a well-kept garden provides excellent protection from predators. Fruit trees, shrubs, and dense hedges of flower plantations give a safer surrounding to hide than open plains with low vegetation where their natural enemies can easily spot them.
Gopher’s natural enemies
Although gophers may seem like relentless, persistent destroyers that only cause damage and problems, these animals have their place in the food chain and are not there just to annoy you.
In nature, they are prey for many animals, such as owls, hawks, badgers, coyotes, weasels, and snakes.
Most of these animals hunt gophers while they are outside, at the entrances to their tunnels. Weasels and snakes, however, can hunt them in underground shelters.
Many natural enemies in the wild maintain their numbers in balance preventing the danger of overpopulation.
But, unfortunately, you don’t want to see most of these natural exterminators in your backyard either!
So, except for snakes and barn owls that can adapt to live even in residential areas, you can’t rely on the gopher problem to be solved naturally.
Gopher resistant list of plants
When it comes to gopher-resistant plants, direct gopher experiences are different. For many plants marked as gopher-resistant, there are no credible shreds of evidence so that we can classify them as reportedly gopher-resistant plants.
However, you can come across several plants that are considered gopher-resistant, but some gardeners’ experiences show they can still be found on the gopher’s menu. Hydrangea shrubs, Buddleja davidii, potatoes, and penstemon, are just some of these plants.
The reason for this confusion is simple: the fact is that a hungry gopher can eat any plant but that some of them will end up as a meal only in case of emergency!
Therefore, when we talk about gopher-resistant plants, we are talking about plants that gophers will avoid as long as they can choose!
Lavender (Lavandula Angustifolia)
Lavender is a drought-tolerant perennial plant that grows in the form of a small hemispherical shrub. A bush of lavender can be one-and-a-half to two feet high and two-and-a-half to three feet wide.
It has a woody and forked root that penetrates deep into the soil and a thick, woody, and short stem that begins to branch from the root neck.
The flower branches can be up to 12 inches long. The leaves are narrow, gray-green in color, with entire edges and covered with hairs on the reverse. The flowers of lavender are blue or purple, and the fruit contains four egg-shaped seeds.
You can plant lavender as a stand-alone shrub in groups or form an ornamental hedge when growing in the garden. However, planting near trees or larger shrubs is not the best option since it likes full sun positions.
However, it is an excellent choice for large rockeries and combines well with other plants and perennials of stronger flower colors.
It looks beautiful planted in large clay jars or combined with roses.
Thanks to the medicinal essential oils in its flowers and leaves, its pleasant, strong smell has made lavender a prevalent plant with wide medical and culinary applications.
Luckily, according to many growers with direct gopher experience, the rodents seem to avoid it because of this scent so that it can serve as an effective tool in battling gophers.
Therefore you can plant lavender as a smelly, decorative hedge to prevent gophers from entering the garden!
And another good news: no matter the type of lavender, including the common Mediterranean lavender, Spanish lavender, or hybrid species, they are all equally effective, gopher-resistant plants.
In addition, except for Spanish lavender, which is slightly more sensitive to low temperatures (climate zone 7), you can decorate your yard with this durable plant in coastal and continental regions (zones 5 to 9)!
The name rosemary comes from the Latin ‘ros’ (dew) and ‘marinus’ (sea), or “sea dew,” which says that a breeze from the sea, which brings moisture, is very favorable for its growth.
However, you can grow rosemary in colder areas (below climate zone 7) if you place it in well-drained soil next to a warm wall to protect it from the cold winter wind.
Rosemary is a shrubby evergreen plant with coniferous leaves and small, fragile light blue flowers that appear in spring.
The needle-like leaves have an intense scent and a spicy, astringent, and bitter taste, used to flavor vegetables and meat dishes.
In addition, rosemary stimulates circulation and blood flow to the brain, thus improving concentration and treating headaches.
Although dedicated to the goddess of beauty and love, Aphrodite, the rosemary is not just a symbol of love. It is also a symbol of wisdom that strengthens memory.
So, even outside the story of gopher-resistant plants, rosemary is undoubtedly helpful in the garden. If you add that its scent of leaves, stems and even roots repel gophers, growing rosemary is one of the best things you can do for your garden and yourself.
Lantana Camara is a deciduous shrub of the Verbenaceae family. These highly ornamental flowering plants grow as native plants in South America, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa and are even considered invasive species.
The stems of the lantana bush are branched and grow six feet in height and width. The leaves are opposite, simple, ovate, one-and-a-half to two inches long, and up to one-and-a-half inches wide with pointed tips and serrated edges.
Lantana flowers are small, clustered in shield-shaped inflorescences up to one-and-a-half inches in diameter, initially yellow, later orange. Flowers appear from late May to late October.
In addition to the classic yellow-orange lantana, there are numerous cultivars of this drought-tolerant plant with flowers in different color combinations and dwarf or creeping forms.
You can grow lantana in climate zone 7 and more as a perennial that overwinters in the garden.
In warm regions such as Southern California, lantana can bloom. However, you can treat it as a seasonal, summer-blooming plant in colder areas since it proliferates and gives the flowers approximately two months after planting.
However, the flowers and stems of lantana have a strong scent that not everyone likes. In addition, like most plants on the list of gopher-resistant plants, lantana is poisonous to both humans and animals.
Red flower lantana has an exceptionally high concentration of harmful triterpene acids. As a result, even touching the lantana leaves can cause skin irritation!
Gophers somehow know that, so they bypass lantana in the garden! Many gardeners with direct experience confirm that gophers are not interested in this plant.
Therefore, growing lantana in the garden has a double effect: like a deer and gopher-resistant plant will not be exposed to the danger of attack by these pests. At the same time, its vivid flower colors will add interest to your garden.
Indian Hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis Umbellata)
Indian hawthorn is an evergreen shrub of the Rosaceae family, native to Japan. It has glossy, oval dark green leaves one-and-a-half to two inches long. Young leaves are gray-green and eventually acquire a dark color. In the winter, the foliage has a purplish tint providing additional interest.
The shrub is slow-growing and can reach up to seven feet in height and width. It blooms in spring with fragrant white flowers gathered in inflorescences two to three inches long. Some species can rebloom during the summer or fall. Pollinated flowers turn into blue-black berries that provide food for birds.
The plant tolerates light shade, but constant exposure to the sun results in abundant flowering.
Most varieties are hardy in the USA zone 7 and more, so you can see the versatile plant in many coastal gardens. Its application in the landscape is varied from solitary shrubs to hedges that provide shelter all year round.
Indian hawthorn is a shrub often labeled as a deer and gopher-resistant plant. But you should still take this info with a grain of salt since it belongs to the group of plants that gophers more likely will not touch if grown in gophers’ territory!
In other words, the Indian hawthorn is probably not the favorite food for gophers. But you will know it for sure only when you plant it in your yard.
Amaryllis Belladonna is a bulbous plant native to South Africa that blooms in the northern hemisphere in late summer and early autumn. This beautiful flowering plant is also known as Jersey lily, Naked-lady lily, March lily, August lily, and sometimes you can find it under the name Garden amaryllis.
Amaryllis Belladonna should not be confused with the famous indoor Amaryllis Hippeastrum, which blooms during the holidays. They are two different plants that do not even belong to the same genus.
Amaryllis Belladonna has a sizable brown bulb that gives long, rounded leaves with fresh, light green color. They are one-and-a-half feet long and about two inches wide and usually appear after the flowers, explaining the plant’s name, Naked ladies.
The reddish-brown stem, up to 30 inches high, has ten petals at its apex. The fragrant flowers are trumpet-shaped, pink in color, two to four inches long, and one-and-a-half to four inches wide.
They are lovely in group planting because they bring in scents and colors at the other end of the season when the landscape has already taken on the pale fall shades and most other plants have completed their flowering season.
As can already be assumed, due to its origin, Amaryllis Belladonna is not resistant to low temperatures, so as a garden perennial, it can grow in climate zone 7 and above, where it needs mulch to protect it from freezing.
The sight of blooming Amaryllis Belladonna in a gray autumn landscape may be breathtaking, but you should still know that this is a very poisonous plant.
Namely, both bulbs and leaves contain lycorine and toxic alkaloids that cause vomiting, diarrhea, and other digestive problems.
The good news for all those facing the gopher problem is that they mostly avoid it. No matter how attractive the large and juicy bulbs may seem, gophers will not even touch them in the garden. That is why Amaryllis Belladonna is rightly on our list of gopher-resistant plants.
California Lilac (Ceanothus)
California lilac or Ceanothus is another shrub you can plant in your garden whether you share it with a gopher or not! Namely, this fantastic plant with beautiful blue flowers so rare in nature is fortunately not on their list of preferences.
California lilac is all you can want from a shrub: it is easy to grow, the evergreen blooms beautifully, and has shiny dark green leaves. In addition, it tolerates drought and does not require any exceptional soil.
Ceanothus will be happy in clay, loamy or sandy soil, slightly acidic or neutral, and does not mind dry and salty air on the coast. In addition, Ceanothus can grow in full sun but doesn’t mind a partially shaded position!
These shrubs belong to the Rhamnaceae family, which includes over 60 species of shrubs or small trees native to northern California.
Although California Lilac provides interest all year round, the peak is in spring when the famous fluffy blue flowers, gathered in clusters on the tops of the branches, appear.
Depending on the cultivar, the shrub blooms in different shades of blue, from azure to cobalt blue or marine blue.
In addition to arousing people’s admiration, the fragrant flowers are attractive to bee birds, hummingbirds and butterflies, bringing liveliness to the garden. At the same time, it seems that gophers do not show interest in this shrub, so it rightly deserves a place on our list of gopher-resistant plants.
The next candidate in our list of gopher-resistant plants is Vinca minor, one of the most famous representatives of the Vinca genus in the Apocynaceae family. It is a low-growing perennial with shiny, opposite, oval or round leaves with a leathery structure and dark green or variegated color.
This low ground cover and weed repellent has two types of stems: one that grows horizontally on the ground and the other with a vertical height of up to eight inches on which leaves and simple, single purple flowers grow. Flowers have five petals which are up to one-and-a-half inches in diameter.
Vinca minor blooms profusely in spring, and sporadically flowers appear until autumn. The leaves do not fall during the winter, so they are natural refreshments in a gloomy winter environment in the garden.
Vinca minor creates a dense cover on the ground because a new root develops from each node on the horizontal stem, spreading the plant on the bed.
After all, the Latin name of the genus has to do with the verb vinicio or tie since this multi-useful plant binds the soil with the branched roots on steep slopes and prevents erosion.
Due to the high tolerance to lack of light, you can plant Vinca minor below dense treetops where the soil is quickly stripped because few plants can cope with the deep shade that reigns there.
However, these highly adaptable and resistant plants grow equally well when exposed to direct sunlight!
Although not dangerous to humans, Vinca minor is a plant that gophers will not eat because of the toxins contained in all plant parts.
Yet, it is advisable to wash your hands after pruning or transplanting the plant, as toxins can cause mild skin irritation.
Mexican Sage (Salvia Leucantha)
Medicinal and decorative, Mexican sage is a plant you will notice in every garden. This species of sage originates from South America, more precisely from Mexico, where it grows freely as a native plant in subtropical and tropical areas.
Due to the similar climate, the plant has spread as a native species in Central and Southern California.
Mexican sage is a bushy perennial that grows from two to four feet tall and the same width. Its stems are square and erect and bear narrow lanceolate leaves of silvery green color.
Sometimes you can find it under the name Wooly sage due to the slight white ‘wooly’ features of the young stems and leaves’ reverse.
From spring to late autumn, beautiful purple flowers appear on the tops of the stems with white patches forming long flower spikes under whose weight the branches bend gracefully.
However, in coastal California and other regions with mild climates, Salvia leucantha can bloom in waves of varying intensity throughout the year.
Mexican sage is a drought-tolerant plant that grows best in full sun like other plants of similar origin.
Unfortunately, it is not resistant to low temperatures, so you can grow it in a larger container in the continental regions and store it out of reach of frost in the winter.
These plants have intensely flavored leaves like rosemary, which is a plus for its growers but a disadvantage from a gopher’s perspective!
Its leaves and roots do not seem to attract gophers, so you are free to grow them without fear of ending up on their menu. For the same reason, they are deer, and rabbit-resistant plants as these animals also do not show interest in Salvia leucantha either.
Daffodil is a widely-known and cultivated bulbous plant genus of the Amaryllidaceae family, which includes 26 species of wild daffodils and several hundred cultivated species. Wild daffodils grow in Asia, Europe, and North America.
This lovely herald of spring has narrow, oblong, soft leaves of light green color. The stem is hollow and generally has only one flower.
The flower consists of six petals and a trumpet crown. The primary colors of the flowers are white, yellow, and orange and can be monochromatic or bicolor, and some species even have a pleasant odor!
You can plant the bulbs in the fall until mid-October and later, depending on the weather, but no later than two to four weeks before temperatures that lead to freezing.
However, this plant, whose flowers delight us as early as the end of February, peeking out from under the snow cover, contains the dangerous toxin lycorine in the bulbs and leaves.
Gophers, voles, mice, and other pests fend off their poisonous bulbs. Therefore, you can plant them around shrubs or fruit trees that are not gopher resistant to protect their roots from these underground destroyers.
And one more little tip: if you want to prolong the flowering season, plant the bulbs at different depths. Shallowly planted bulbs chase leaves and flowers before those deeper in the ground!
In addition, you should know that one bulb in a few years gives four or five baby bulbs, so if you do not separate them and plant them individually, it will result in smaller, less attractive flowers!
Magnificent Nerium oleander is an evergreen shrub of the Apocynaceae family, can grow up to nine feet and is widely distributed in coastal areas and areas with mild climates.
For example, due to its endurance and modest desires, this drought-tolerant shrub can often be seen along roads all over Southern California.
It got its name because of the similarity of its leaves with olive leaves (olea). They are leathery, narrow, elongated and grow on thin erect, long branches.
Large flowers with a pleasant scent on the tops of branches appear from June to September and come in white, yellow, red, pink, and purple colors.
All parts of oleander contain the heart-active glycosides folinerin and oleandrin, which means that this plant is poisonous. Symptoms of poisoning include slow heart rate, vomiting, difficulty breathing, and dilated pupils. In addition, skin and lips flood and cramps occur, and severe poisoning can cause death.
So this is one of the most poisonous plants you can ever grow! Still, it is a favorite decoration in coastal landscapes, and you can often see it as a container shrub in continental areas.
If its venom has any good aspects, then it is gopher-resistance, as its poisonous leaves and roots will not end up as a meal for gophers, rabbits, or deer.
Society Garlic (Tulbaghia Violacea)
The native plant of grasslands in South America, the Society garlic, got its name because the leaves have the smell and taste of garlic but do not cause bad breath.
It belongs to the genus Amaryllidaceae like garlic and other onions but comes from the genus Tulbaghia, which includes plants that grow from the rhizome root, not the bulbs.
Society garlic is a low herbaceous plant whose grass-like narrow leaves form one-foot high, dense clumps. In early summer, gorgeous tubular pink or lilac flowers appear above the leaves on stems up to two feet tall, which open like a star with six, pointed petals and have a pleasant scent.
This plant overwinters outdoors in climate zone 8 to 18, is modest in its desires, and is the most effective in group planting or as a ground cover.
However, if you decide to decorate your garden with these gopher-resistant plants, you should consider that leaves release a garlic-like scent when moving.
So even the slightest breeze will cause your garden to smell like garlic, which is not a pleasant atmosphere for many.
Therefore, it may be better to plant it in remote parts of the garden to enjoy the beauty of its flowers but without exposing it to a pleasant scent.
Rock Rose (Cistus)
Rock roses are perennial, resistant plants with branched roots from the genus Cistus which includes about 20 species native to the Mediterranean basin.
They are flowering evergreen shrubs with semicircular shapes. Rock roses grow in dry and sunny places, from the coast up to 700 meters above sea level on poor karst soils and rocky areas with alkaline pH.
Modest and durable, they tolerate long, hot, and dry summers well, and without much care, they often decorate inhospitable stone landscapes with little fertile soil.
From spring to late summer, rock roses are adorned with small one-inch wide, papery pink or white flowers. The flower remains open for only a few hours but is quickly replaced by newly grown blooms.
Although the flowers have no scent, like lavender or rosemary with which it shares Mediterranean origins, it has very aromatic leaves that hold off gophers and other rodents.
Other methods to gopher-proof the garden
Of course, you do not want to see gophers eating and destroying your favorite plants! So, if you wonder how you can gopher-proof the garden aside from planting the gopher-resistant vegetation, you may consider some alternatives.
Here are some standard protection measures you can take to preserve your garden or minimize the damage gophers can and will do when they realize that your estate provides safe and unlimited access to food and shelter.
The gopher cage is a wire basket designed to protect newly planted trees or shrubs and individual solitary plants.
You can make gopher cages yourself or get ready-made ones. Their size depends on the type of plant you want to preserve, and they represent physical barriers that will prevent the gopher from reaching the plant’s roots.
You will place a gopher cage by first digging a hole the size of a cage, in which you first place the cage so that its upper open edge is at ground level.
Next, place the plant’s root inside the cage and bury it. It is always good to place larger cages so that the root has room to develop while remaining protected from gophers.
The hardware cloth is a galvanized wire mesh thick enough that gophers cannot pass through. Unlike chicken wire, which has a hexagonal shape, hardware cloth is a welded fabric with a square pattern, and it is made of a more resistant and durable material. It is resistant to moisture and different weather conditions and lasts for 20 years.
You can use it as a horizontal base or blanket over which you will set a few inches of soil and form a lawn or put ground cover plants with shallow roots.
Another way to use it is to place it vertically into at least the two feet deep trenches previously dug around the existing beds with the top edge at ground level. It will prevent gophers from penetrating the flower bed and reaching your favorite plants.
Gopher traps are deadly devices that work on the principle of a stretched spring. There are oblong and narrow to fit in a gopher tunnel, and the gophers come to the trap lured by the bait of lettuce, apples, or some other tempting food.
Although it may sound cruel, they are still the most effective method to get rid of gophers physically.
Poison baits usually come as whole grains coated with a potent toxin such as strychnine or zinc phosphide.
Since gophers love grains, they will not resist a seemingly delicious meal if you place a pile of grains in tunnel openings or on the surface. But, you should take care that the bait doesn’t end up being eaten by someone for whom it isn’t intended.
Once the bait gets into the gopher’s digestive tract, they cause death within 24 hours, sometimes less.
If you want to learn more about fighting against the gopher invasion, check out the video below!
Frequently Asked Questions
Is heavenly bamboo a gopher-resistant plant?
Yes, it is. These shrubs native to Asia but very domesticated in North America, especially in southern California, are toxic plants that gophers do not usually eat.
What is gopher spurge?
Two native Mediterranean plants share this name: Euphorbia Rigida and Euphorbia Lathyris. In addition to their origin, they have in common that leaves and stems in cross-section secrete irritating sap, which is why they were once considered reliable gopher-repelling plants. However, it turned out that these euphorbias were not significantly more effective than other euphorbias.
What smells keep gopher away?
Castor oil, mint oil, native plants of the Mediterranean, geranium, pine, eucalyptus and other strong scents mask the smells of food, so gophers do not like them.
Will landscape fabric keep gopher out?
Unfortunately, it will not. Landscape fabric is an excellent way to stop weed growth, but it will not stop gophers.
Do gophers eat marigolds?
Although marigolds have an unpleasant, intense odor for many, this does not place them in the group of reliable gopher-resistant plants. French marigolds have the best chance of being on this list because many growers claim gophers bypass them in the garden. Again, however, there are opposite experiences.
Will cayenne pepper deter gophers?
As a hot spice, Cayenne pepper is often mentioned in recipes for home remedies to get rid of gophers. Supposedly, ground to a powder and added to water or castor oil can be sprayed into gopher or mole tunnels at the entrance.
However, as the effect of this method varies from experience to experience, it would be best to try it yourself! For example, maybe the gopher in your garden is sensitive to hot spices!
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