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Protecting young trees from gophers.

 
gardener
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I have been plagued by a canister little devil that calls itself gopher this year.  Just  can't seem to kill it, or convince it to move to another neighborhood.  I have chased it out of my veggie garden twice so far this year.  The newest causality is a 2 year old  Fuji apple tree.  It was doing well along with its pollinator friend Honeycrisp apple.  A few weeks ago I noticed it looked very bad.  I watered it well.  Started searching info on fire blight, because my brother-in-law warned me it is a problem in this area with Fuji.  It just doesn't fit.  Maybe I just didn't water enough.  But it just doesn't die that fast due to lack of water.  Not to mention I water the Honeycrisp the same amount as the Fuji, and it's fine.  It's got to be that #%^**(! gopher.  We won't go into that, I have been unsuccessfully working on that all summer.

I need to plant at least one more apple tree.  At this point the Honeycrisp becomes just an ornamental unless it gets a pollinator friend.  The local nursery has two that will grow and produce in my area. (must have low chill hours)  At 40.00 a tree I want to do something to give it a chance to be a full grown tree some day.  Plus I would like to buy more fruit trees next year when I can get bare root.  Even if I finally manage to get this gopher, there will be others, there are always others!   My husband suggested lining the hole I dig for the tree with chicken wire, or hard wire cloth.  This sounds like a good idea at first, but then I keep thinking of questions.  So of course I'm going to ask all you amazing people at Permies.  Seems like the hole would need to be bigger then the standard tree planting hole. Eventually the gopher would still be able to get the roots that extend farther then the wire, but the thought is it will damage but hopefully not kill the tree. The hard wire cloth that I have has very small hole, and is quite strong. Seems like it will hinder root growth, or choke the roots as they get bigger if they do go through the holes.  Is chicken wire strong enough to keep the gopher out, or will it just chew through?  The holes in chicken wire are small, but are they small enough?  I'm just looking for a way to protect what I plant.  If you have tried this, or have a better/different solution, I would love the hear it.  Thanks
 
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No way the chicken wire will work.  Moles will go right through that.  I've had very good success with hardware cloth.  I make 5 gallon sized pots out of it and plant each tree in them.  I design them so they will be forced open from the inside over time, but can't be pushed open from the outside.  I've got about 100 trees in the ground now.
 
pollinator
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Yeah, pocket gophers are small, so you need a fairly small mesh to the wire. I haven't done the wire mesh thing with my trees cause, like you, I was thinking I'd need to make quite a large circle of it to allow for root growth. I'm interested to hear more about how Michael does it.

As long as you protect the main root ball, it's fine if the gophers nibble the roots farther out.

What I've done is started planting very young seedling trees. It seems like if you put a big juicy root ball in the ground, the gophers come running. If you put a spindly little seedling in, the gophers ignore it and let it grow.

I planted 8 three year old trees from a nursery my second year here. Gophers ate all of them without me even seeing holes nearby. One of the trees started looking unhappy, then the leaves all died, then the trunk looked a little crooked. When I grabbed it, it came right out of the ground, all the roots munched off. The rest of the trees were already on their way out by that time.

None of the seedlings I've planted and monitored have been munched. They also take FOREVER to produce, though. Not much help for your Honeycrisp.
 
Jen Fulkerson
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Well I'm just not sure now.  I pulled on the tree, and it seems still rooted.  I cut a bit off a branch and it seemed dead. I cut a little off the top of the main center and it may be alive.  I will keep watering it and see what happens.  I do see a hole about 4 feet from the tree.  Maybe it ate some roots but not all.  I don't know if it will survive or die. It doesn't look good.

I'm on the fence about a cage for the roots.  Like I thought it can damage the roots once the tree gets older.  Chicken wire will rust out in 1 to 4 years depending on conditions.  Sounds like a determined gophers can chew through chicken wire.   Hard cloth and gopher wire are stronger, last much longer, is lots more expensive, but can damage roots.  Also I read gophers will move on top of the ground, so the wire needs to extend about 6" above ground.  What to do???  Seems like a no win situation.
 
Jen Fulkerson
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Michael I just can't work out in my head how you make your cage to open out for roots and not in for gophers. Can you please explain how you do it?  Thanks
 
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Hi Jen,

Maybe you've already seen these, but if not, I planted a variety of things this spring in Speed Baskets from gopherbasket.com. I haven't lost anything I planted in these to gophers or voles yet, and we have tons of them. The baskets are taller than their pot size so they protrude from the ground to protect from things on the surface. I haven't had any above ground damage so this either works, or it's the wrong season for that problem in my area. This company has heavier gopher baskets too that may be worth trying.

Good luck!!

Heather
 
pollinator
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There is a multipurpose stucco wire that I use for quick fences, gates, climbing snap peas, you name it. It may be tough enough for pocket gophers.

It's a galvanized square mesh used when applying stucco to the exterior of a building. The mesh is just over 1" square, more robust than chicken wire and IMO pretty nice to work with. It may be large enough and flexible enough to let tree roots thrive.
 
pollinator
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GOPHER HAWK…. You by it on Amazon.  It is the best no fail gopher trap I have ever seen or used.  I cleaned out my gophers in a season.  With one trap.. my friend has three traps and he cleaned his horrible infestation out.
 
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This shows how the gophers eat off virtually every root outside the wire basket.
Filename: wire-basket.tiff
File size: 388 Kbytes
 
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