If you spend any time at all working in your lawn and garden in most of the United States, chances are you have encountered the handiwork of a gopher. Digging its burrow about 8 inches (20 cm) below the surface, the gopher greedily gathers and stores the succulent roots and underground stems of turf and and ornamental plants. Sometimes the plant survives, but sometimes the plant dies.
It all seems rather harmless. But if you are a typical California homeowner, you have spent between $25,000 and $50,000 (either directly out of your pocket or in the cost of your home) for your lawn and garden landscape. And a single gopher can wipe out that entire investment in a single year, then moving on to leave your yard to be eaten by its friends when you set out more plants.
Moles, gophers, raccoons, squirrels, and skunks are can cause damage to home lawns and gardens. Waiting to take action always makes the problem worse. Let’s take a look at the kinds of landscape damage these varmints can wreak.
Gophers don’t just kill prized plants. Their “holes” mar your landscape. The tightly packed earth plugging a gopher hole can dull and sometimes break the blade of your lawnmower.
Gopher tunnels also redirect irrigation water. One morning you might wake up to find a shallow sinkhole where your lawn used to be.
Gopher tunnels upset pipelines. A gopher can break the lines that lead to your underground sprinkler system. Or its tunneling might tilt just part of the foundation of your deck. Or it might shift the ground around your pool just enough to cause a crack you will never notice until your pool starts draining away.
Although gophers are vegetarians, moles are carnivores. Eating grubs that might hatch into beetles is your mole’s service to your garden. Eating earthworms, however, deprives your garden of their aeration of the soil and their contributions to humus. The tunnels dug by moles disfigure your lawn and sometimes cause flowers and shrubs to tilt topsy-turvy, falling over after watering or rain.
Raccoons don’t do a lot of damage to the landscape itself. They may knock over garbage bins and they feast on your pet chickens, but they seldom do direct damage to plants or turf.
The problem with raccoons is that they carry parasites. Their feces usually contains the eggs of roundworms. The eggs can lie in the soil for up to a year, long after any sign of the raccoon’s presence has dissolved or has been picked up. A pet can roll in the soil and bring the eggs into the house, and a child or a hurried adult can transfer the eggs into their mouth. The roundworm hatches, circulates through the bloodstream, and finds a nice cozy internal organ or muscle in which to hibernate. Roundworm cysts in muscles just cause puzzling allergic reactions that don’t have anything to do with dust or pollen. In infants and the very old, however, roundworms may form cysts in the eye, causing blindness, or in the brain, causing seizures or depression.
Raccoons also carry up to 13 other kinds of diseases humans can catch. Occasionally a single raccoon is infected with all 13, but usually it is just five or six diseases that you or your family can contract from the raccoon.
The National Geographic talks a lot more about their habitat if you are interested in reading about it.
Skunks are best known for carrying just one infectious disease, rabies. It is extremely rare for humans to catch rabies from skunks, but it is relatively common for dogs and cats to be infected by skunks. And even if your pets are vaccinated, they become “unpettable” for many weeks after an encounter with a spraying skunk.
Nearly everyone likes squirrels, because they look so cute from a distance or in a photo, but if you are raising nuts, fruit, berries, or tomatoes, these furry little friends will usually help themselves to your crop—just before it is ready to be harvested. And if you try to make friends with the squirrel in your yard, you may discover that squirrels are cute but not friendly. Squirrels bite. And a visiting friend or neighbor bitten by a squirrel on your property might be legally entitled to sue you for damages. Imagine—hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills and a court judgment all because you fed the squirrels.
The best time to take care of problems with moles, gophers, raccoons, skunks, and squirrels is always as soon as possible. This site can tell you what you need to and how to do it inexpensively. It explains the different types of pest control traps available, saving you time, money, and the grief of ruined landscapes and personal injury.