Category Archives: gopher resistant plants

Gophers in Your Garden?

I didn’t have much of a gopher problem during the dry years. All my plants went into the ground with nary a thought as to the danger they would one day find themselves in. Now it’s a different story and it’s war. I”m not giving up and I’m not giving in. Here’s my story and what I’m doing about the destructive critters.

Zebra iris blooming just one week before rhizome was eaten by a gopher.

As you know there’s nothing, well almost nothing, as heartbreaking in the garden as losing a favorite plant you’ve nurtured and enjoyed for years. Whether the death comes from fungal problems, insect infestation or a rodent, you feel a loss. And so it was with me just recently when I discovered one of my prized Zebra iris eaten by a gopher. Then a couple of years ago my birch tree keeled over in the driveway, roots mostly eaten off. I saved the birch by replanting it in a huge gopher basket. Thankfully it was dormant season so the tree had time to recover the next spring. The jury’s out on whether I can save the iris.

Did you know that gophers usually live alone within their burrow system except when females are caring for their young or during breeding season? They are nocturnal, territorial and active year round. All those mounds you see are created by one animal as the female will drive off her young just a few weeks of giving birth. If you dispatch a female before she gives birth in the spring you can often solve your problem. Don’t give her the chance to have another litter in June. She can live for 3-5 years.

White birch gopher victim

I don’t advocate using poison baits as those anti-coagulant toxins can be passed on to pets, hawks and other predators that might eat them. Each morning I do look for any signs of fresh activity and I’ll set a cinch trap with a flag after probing for the tunnel direction. I also discourage them by flooding the tunnels and stomp hard on any new surface tunnels.

There are no gophers in the Northeast but the Golden gopher of the Midwest is twice as large as our Pocket gopher who got it’s name as they love to store food in side pockets inside their head. Gophers love sprouts and apples and will gorge themselves to destruction if they are plentiful.

Urban myths to control gophers include Juicy Fruit gum and laxatives but they are not effective per studies at UC Davis. Putting glass or dried rose cuttings with thorns down a hole is effective as gophers are hemophiliacs and will bleed to death if cut. Castor oil is effective for a short time as is coyote, cat or any other urine. Fish emulsion or meat products are deterrents as gophers are committed vegetarians.

Are there plants that gophers won’t eat? They seem to avoid lavender, sage or salvia, rosemary, thyme and oregano. As a designer I have a slightly longer list of gopher resistant plants but always recommend planting in stainless steel gopher baskets anyway. You can’t be too careful.

I have to chuckle at a list of plants supposedly not on a gopher’s menu that I found in a magazine several years ago. Apapanthus was on the list. I can assure you that a gopher will burrow right underneath an agapanthus in order to get water from the roots.

A Visit to the Brook Lomond Iris Farm

Aztec SunAztec Sun

What do you get when you combine a world renowned pottery artist with a reformed corn grower? On California Street in Ben Lomond, the result is the Brook Lomond Iris Farm of Rick and Chris Moran. This fun, educational, inspiring couple recently invited me to admire this year’s crop of tall bearded iris grown with certified organic gardening practices as well as to share their organic vegetable garden, cactus and succulent collection and Chris’ unique pottery. They are getting ready for this year’s annual iris sale coming up April 30th as well as May 1st and 7th from 9:00-4:00 each day when the iris blooms will be at their peak.

IMG_7813Coiled pottery by Chris Moran

Upon arriving my eyes were torn between the colorful beds of iris on my left and the blooming cactus and succulent collection displayed on the flagstone entry garden on the right. I later learned Chris cut and laid the flagstone herself. Inside the house Chris’s fabulous coiled pottery vases, urns and jugs in their great room were so amazing I had a hard time tearing myself away to start the tour of the back garden and iris beds in the front. Cody, their new dog, was good company as I learned how the Moran’s came to start an iris farm.

When Rick Moran was 13 years old he worked at LoPresti tomato farm in Connecticut. “I hated it,” he laughs. Later when he was a student at UCSC he used to pass by the Chadwick garden and says he “got the gardening bug by osmosis”. After graduation the couple moved to Bar Harbor Maine where they started a community garden. Chris displayed the cactus and succulents she had moved there in a heated porch which was quite the talk of the town for neighbors passing by on a snowy day.

organic_vegetable_garden.1600Organic vegetable garden

When they moved back to this area and found the sunny lot in Ben Lomond, Rick added nine yards of chicken manure mixed with rice hulls and planted corn. He had visions of savoring succulent ears of corn for dinner but quickly realized that the amount of water needed to grow corn was prohibitive. That was after the Chris’ succulent failure. He and Chris wanted to come up with a crop they could make a little supplemental income. She used to sell her cactus and succulents when they lived in Capitola at the drive-in in Santa Cruz many years before but after planting fancy succulents in the front yard and seeing them turn to mush in a Ben Lomond freeze they realized succulents weren’t going to work either.

SteppingOutStepping Out

Enter “The Queen of the Garden” as iris are called. The Morans researched these stunning flowers and found them to be drought tolerant and deer and gopher resistant. Having a high water table Iris are the perfect crop. They require no extra water at all with summer being the plant’s dormant season. Chris worked for the City of Santa Cruz for 25 years and started their Home Composing program. They compost all garden waste and kitchen scraps using the compost as the only fertilizer for the iris beds and vegetable garden. They get 15 wheelbarrows of compost a year from their simple bins. Straw is spread as mulch to control weeds between the iris beds’

bearded_iris_beds.1600Tall bearded iris beds

The iris are starting their blooming cycle now. Some bloom earlier than others. By planting early, mid and late blooming varieties you can extend their colorful show for several months. Iris also make a good cut flower and many are fragrant. Chris told me that you can tell when an iris was hybridized from it’s shape. The early types are not as frilly as modern varieties. She pointed out a bed of Wabash Heritage which was first introduced in the 1920’s- simple with three falls. The lovely sky blue flowers of Striped Zebra iris smelled of Grape Koolaid. Chris explained that the flower scent develops as they sit in the sun. The aroma is not as strong when they first open.

bearded_iris_closeup.1600Bearded iris closeip

The Brook Lomond Iris Farm is located at 10310 California Drive off Highway 9 in Ben Lomond. Just look for the tall flags waving in the breeze and bring your camera. Iris rhizomes for sale are chosen for hardiness in this area and the Morans are always on the lookout and adding the newest varieties available such as the deep purple Dusky Challenger. The Iris Farm is educational as well as beautiful- a place the whole family will enjoy.