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Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - December 28, 2012

Garden Tips

Gopher wars escalating

by Jack McKinnon

I've got good news and bad news: Which do you want first? I'll give you the bad news. The gophers and squirrels are collaborating and it doesn't look good. They have finally breeched the language barrier and started classes in GSL and SSL, Gopher as a second language and Squirrel as a second language.

Take note: If they start sharing recipes we will really be in trouble. We will be seeing gophers in the trees and squirrels in our gardens. I mentioned back in August in the initial Gopher Wars column that there was a significant need for a witness-protection plan for gophers so they would start turning each other in. You didn't listen and look where we are now? Oh my gosh! It looks pretty grim. This month's tips will be Plan B to deal with this situation.

We need to all be on the same page, especially this one. Soon the rats will be getting involved and you know the rat problem here. Sticking together, collaborating and forming a coalition, just like the presidential candidates were telling us they were going to do, is the trick. Here are the tips:

1. Build outdoor sound systems to play music that calms the wild rodent soul. You will need it to be weatherproof so put everything in those non-disposable plastic bags you buy at the market to save paper bags and seal them up with clothes pins. Then turn on the Bach, Rachmaninov and if the problem is really bad, Wagner.

2. Eat outdoors; it makes them nervous. We want them nervous; they have been getting way too casual about showing up at all kinds of events. Once they realize we are watching them, they may re-consider avoiding the negotiating table and start learning English.

3. If you notice a gopher in a tree, show a little compassion. They know deep in their little hearts that they are not supposed to be up there. They feel bad enough already. What we can do is help them realize where they really belong and give them a way to get back down. After all, look how long it has taken cats to learn how to get out of trees. I recommend a long pipe about 4 inches in diameter and 20 feet long leaned in such a way as to provide a nice dark opening at the end of a branch that they can sneak into to hide their embarrassment. They will slide down to the ground and hopefully never climb again.

4. I wrote in August about gophers and their cheeks. Being very functional but a bit gross, gophers needed respect for having such big cheeks. Well, squirrels need respect too. Just imagine if you had a tail that was twice as long as you and so bushy that you could barely get through a doorway. I think squirrels could use 12-step programs to help cope with their problem. After all where else are they going to talk about it? They have to admit they are powerless and their life is unmanageable. Just think, what self-respecting squirrel would actually talk to a gopher? They must be scraping the bottom of the barrel to do that.

5. The rat situation is getting pretty bad now and it probably won't be long before they are talking to the gophers and squirrels. I think there should be weekly showings on outdoor movie screens of "Ratatouille" the movie. Clearly one of the best movies ever made and what a great gift to the rats of the world. To see with their own beady eyes the possibilities they have at their disposal for success and recognition.

6. Funding should be made available for rat-owned bistros and restaurants. Of course culinary academies will need to be started (there are a lot of rats out there) and fitted out with size-appropriate tables, stoves, pots, pans and little rat-sized French knives.

7. It is December and pruning time. All plants that lose their leaves should be pruned at least to clean out the dead, dying and diseased branches. Most need to be pruned quite a bit. This will cause a big expose for the tree-climber community. If when you are pruning your shrubs, trees and vines you note squirrels looking at you like you are a clear-cutting snoot, they are right. You are guilty and a pair of sunglasses will give you some relief. Remember, if they can't see your eyes, they can't stare you down. Put on those sunglasses and finish your pruning.

8. Remember that the only true way to keep rodents out of your fruit, vegetables and ornamentals is with proper caging techniques. This is not easy or simple to really make work and the gardener needs to be diligent in their application. The rodents, birds and other vertebrates, insects, mollusks and children that mess up our gardens need boundaries. Give 'em to them.

9. Good predators are worth their weight in recycled gold. I'm not kidding here. If you can get a Great Blue Heron to hang out in your yard you are a better person than I. Owls are coming up in population in the urban forest. It may help to put up owl boxes. They need to be at the right elevation with the right-sized hole or the owl won't identify it as a possible nesting place. Google "owl nesting" to learn more. Most important is to start sewing camouflage cat suits. Cats are the best predators for the garden you can have. The trouble is they come in such cute fluffy colors these days the squirrels, gophers and rats can spot them three properties away. Kitty camies is the solution here. Also cut back on the crunchies — cats work better a little hungry.

10. Gophers and rats are fair game. Squirrels are still protected and it is illegal to trap, poison or otherwise hurt them. No shooting please, besides being illegal it messes with the music you are blasting into your backyard and now that your cat has full camouflage you will probably blast your cat and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals will have a dark-suited guy knocking on your door in minutes (even though they are lethally injecting thousands of cats every year). No, the solution is really down to one thing. Meditation: It works when nothing else does. Just sit still and breathe (if you stop breathing your rodent problems are over anyway) for a few minutes. You will be amazed at how much better you feel. Money-back guarantee.

Good gardening.

Garden coach Jack McKinnon can be reached at 650-455-0687 (cell), by email at Visit his website at