You invest your time and energy into nurturing a new sapling in your yard, only to find that your efforts may have gone to waste once you spot vole and gopher mounds dotted about the landscape. Sigh.
Fortunately, someone recommended you try gopher baskets to keep the tunneling varmints at bay – but do these actually work?
Do gopher baskets work? Gopher baskets provide an effective means of warding off gopher attacks by forming a sturdy enclosure around a plant’s root system. Baskets are often constructed from ultra-durable galvanized steel that is weaved tightly together to create smaller openings than chicken wire or similar mesh material.
Gopher baskets are an excellent option if you lack the space or budget to lay down a whole foundation of protective wire as you can place cages around the individual plants that need shielding the most.
Let’s explore how gopher baskets are made, their effect on plant roots, and more – plus how to make your own!
Using Gopher Baskets
Gopher baskets can be used on plants of various sizes and can work well against other pesky garden critters too. Let’s look at their efficacy, durability, and more below…
What Are Gopher Baskets?
A gopher basket is a cylindrical steel mesh cage with a base that is buried beneath the soil with your plants and trees to prevent burrowing animals (including moles and voles) from gnawing at the plant roots.
The basket encases the root ball so it is surrounded on all sides, but these can also be placed around potted plants.
Baskets come pre-made or can be handcrafted at home using a roll of wire netting.
Gopher basket wire is usually made with much smaller openings in the mesh compared with chicken wire to provide extra protection and stability.
Are Gopher Baskets Effective?
Yes, the heavy-duty corrosion-resistant material and placement of the basket act as an effective barrier against gopher attacks.
Higher-quality gopher baskets are especially strong as these are normally hot-dip galvanized after being woven (coating iron and steel with zinc and creating a rougher finish than regular galvanization)
It’s worth spending a little more to protect your plant investments as hot-dip galvanized designs make the mesh openings rigid and immovable where the wire overlaps to further deter burrowers from simply pushing against the mesh layers to gain access to the roots.
Can Roots Grow Through Gopher Wire?
Over time, a plant’s roots will grow outward beyond the mesh wire, but the basket’s job is to protect the core root system during its vulnerable growing period, leaving your plants with enough energy to survive, even if the outgrowing roots are attacked.
Do Gopher Baskets Stunt Growth?
As long as you choose an appropriately sized gopher basket for your plant, it should not restrict root growth while they are in use.
Sustainable gardener Deanna Talerico from Homestead and Chill reassures that “plants with extensive fibrous root systems may suffer only minimal stunting, but to help combat stunted growth, simply go for an extra-large gopher basket in relation to your plant’s size.”
Do Gopher Baskets Hurt Trees?
This will depend on the tree size and age, the basket size, and the wire material.
Most gopher baskets are designed to break down in the soil after several years to allow trees to establish and grow to a mature size first, by which time the central roots will be hardier and resistant to gopher attacks.
Heavier-duty baskets will take longer to break down, which can make tree root binding more likely to occur over time.
However, this is usually only confined to the small feeder roots, and even if the damage is more widespread, mature trees can afford to lose more root mass than a young sapling.
How Long Do Gopher Baskets Last?
Gopher baskets typically last between 5 and 8 years to keep most shrubs and trees protected during their vulnerable period.
Hot-dip galvanized gopher baskets, meanwhile, can last up to 10 years before breaking down.
What Plants Need Gopher Baskets?
Gophers have a particular fondness for any fruit tree (although citrus trees are only a target when food is scarce) and the tender roots of most saplings.
Other vulnerable plants include succulents, young vegetable crops, vines, shrubs, and flowers (particularly rose bushes).
Happily, there are plenty of stunning garden plants that actually repel gophers! Check them out here for inspiration.
Do Gopher Baskets Work for Other Pests?
Absolutely! Gopher basket wire is threaded together just close enough to let roots grow but small enough to keep out many pesky paw sizes including:
- Prairie dogs
- Wild hogs
How Big Should a Gopher Basket Be?
Gopher baskets should be several inches larger than the plant’s root ball or double your pot size. For example, a 4-inch plant should be in a 1-gallon gopher basket as an 8-inch plant would normally correspond to a 1-gallon pot/container.
Owner of Western Planting Solutions Daniel Schweitzer suggests thinking of it “like a fish in a bowl – it can only grow to be as big as you permit it to, so err on the larger side to prevent root binding and let your plants reach their full potential.”
What Sizes Do Gopher Baskets Come In?
- 1 gallon: These are suited to plants up to 8 inches in diameter and are best for perennials, vegetables, and berry plants.
- 3 gallon: Use these for plants up to 10 inches. These are perfect for group plantings of bulbs, annuals, and perennials. This size is particularly well suited to tomatoes, peppers, and squash.
- 5 gallon: This size is made for plants up to 12 inches and is great for growing flowering shrubs and vines like bougainvillea, roses, dahlias, and wisteria.
- 15 gallon: 15 gallon baskets are perfect for all young fruit trees up to 17 inches in size.
How To Make Gopher Baskets
- A 3-foot tall roll of stainless/galvanized steel wire mesh with ½-inch (preferably ¼-inch) openings
- Heavy-duty zip ties
- Wire cutters
- Heavy-duty work gloves
- Bend the wire mesh to the diameter you need for your plant/tree, taking the root ball into consideration. Tip: Even if you’ve already taken measurements, it’s a good idea to first wrap the mesh loosely around your plant/tree pot to get an idea of how large it should be around the pot.
- Once you’re happy, cut the wire mesh to the right size, leaving a few inches of overlap. Use the overlapped ends to form a basket shape that is slightly wider at the top than at the bottom to make it easier to fit into your planting hole.
- Secure the overlapped ends with zip ties at several points until you’re satisfied it feels secure. Next, bend and fold the lower 12 inches of the basket toward the center. Repeat this in sections all around until there are several overlapping flaps at the cage base.
- Finally, finish the bottom of your basket by adding a square piece of leftover wire mesh to be placed on top of the partial base you just made and secure each side with zip ties. You’re now ready to plant your gopher basket and tree in the ground!
How To Use Gopher Baskets
Pre-made baskets and wire mesh can either be placed in the ground to protect roots or placed around smaller potted plants above the ground like a cloche to provide protection from squirrels, rabbits, and other foliage-nibbling pests.
Rolls of wire mesh can also be staked or tied to plant stems and trunks above-ground to provide further protection.
If you are experiencing a serious infestation of gnawing rodents, you can use the wire mesh to create a makeshift perimeter fence by leaving at least 2 feet of wire exposed above the soil of a long plant or flower beds to prevent most critters from feeding on the surface too.
Gopher baskets can be a lifesaver for your trees and crops (especially for those living in California, which is home to 5 of the nation’s 13 gopher species alone!).
These sturdy steel cages will work against most garden rodents and come in various sizes to suit your plant type.