I have been gardening for quite a few years and trying different strategies to combat gophers with varying success. In this instructable, I will show you my idea of an easy-to-make gopher cage that I had tested over 2 years in the garden with great success. The gopher enterprise and its subsidiaries used to engulf relentlessly my broccoli, celery, carrot, tomato, salad, and parsley, and countless other rare edibles and flowers, leaving sad empty holes behind. So I asked my roommates to help me dig two big trench beds to put gopher wires in, but it took months for them to finish this somewhat labor intensive work. Since I couldn't rely on others' muscles, I had to think of a design that was easy for me to make and dig the soil by myself.
I see the usual cylindrical gopher cages in stores, but they require me to dig a pretty big hole, which isn't particularly cost effective or practical if I just need to plant a tomato or broccoli, whose roots might not need as much space. The gopher mainly just wants to eat the tuberous part of roots and crown where the roots meet the central stem. In terms of cost, a typical 2' x 25' hardware cloth roll from the store ($31) can produce about 84 cages (6" x 14") at $0.37/ cage, much cheaper than the Rootguard mini basket at $1.58/cage in bulk.
My conical design only needs a smaller hole dug up, yet still protecting the crown while allowing for the roots to poke through the hardware cloth. The minimal design also makes it easy to put plants in the empty spaces throughout the garden without having to dig too wide and disturbing the root systems of nearby plants.
Step 1: Gather Materials
You would need:
A roll of hardware cloth, 1/2" holes, any bigger would allow the gopher to sneak through
A wire cutter
A bag of cable ties. Actually twist ties saved from grocery trips are more durable than plastic cable ties after a season in the ground.
A piece of paper
Step 2: Estimate the Size of the Cage
This is just simple origami. You can use the rectangular piece of paper to fold into a cone however big you want. Then use the paper as a model to cut the rectangular piece of hardware cloth.
For many of the vegetables and flowers I have, like tomato, chard, or broccoli, I cut to the size of a 6" x 14" rectangle. The root and crown will sit a bit above the pointy cone, and after filling in with soil, there should still be 0.5"-1" of the cage at its width poking up above ground. So 6"-1" = 5" deep for the root and crown. You can make it deeper as you want depending on the plant.
Step 3: Fold Into a Cone
First bend the rectangular piece in half like the picture, then pinch the bottom into a corner as in the second image. This will make it easier to fold into a cone.
Next, fold the piece into a cone with a little bit of overlapping wire at the edge.
Step 4: Tie It and You're Done!
You can use the twist tie or cable tie to tie the edges together about an inch down from the top, which is where the cage sits about 1" higher than the surrounding soil. I found that 1 twist tie was sufficient enough to hold the cage together over a year. So no need to add a second tie at the bottom.
In digging the hole, you can make a conical hole, add some compost if you want a healthy plant, put your seedling or young plants in the cage with some soil, then lower the whole cage down onto the hole and make sure that that cage will be elevated 1" above the surrounding soil level so the gopher doesn't climb over the cage. Then pack down with soil and water the new transplant. You can add some straw or mulch over the top to keep the moisture in. However, the wires under the straw are sharp so be careful in stepping or working around them.
Step 5: Some Plants Gophers Love to Eat or May Stay Away
My garden has been an experiment on gopher buffet. So here are some plants that these creatures really love to munch and you should definitely protect them:
- Poppy, bachelor button, and baby blue eyes would just vanish instantly!
- Watery roots like carrots, parsleys, celeries, sunflowers, salad greens, mustards, chards, broccoli family, tomato family, mallow family, larkspurs
- Bulbs like onions, lilies, crocus
Certain plants seem like they are not attacked:
- Foxgloves, daffodils, irises, geraniums and pelargoniums, most echiums (tower of jewels) that establish woody roots after a while, clarkias (many CA native types seem to be okay over past seasons), tree dahlia, phacelia bolanderii
Another strategy is to sprinkle lots of seeds so you would have many plants in reserve. Or you can also propagate cuttings and root them in moist perlite so you can have multiple samples of your plants in case one gets eaten.
I hope these simple and reusable cages will save you much work and heartache in your garden. Good luck with your growing efforts!