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Are you an active gardener? If so, are you creating a lush yard or a termite haven? Termites are attracted to dampness and food sources – two things present in your mulch. These pesky mites won’t just wreak havoc in your garden, it will also invade your home and cause expensive damages. So what should you do with termites in the garden? Here, I have discussed some dos and don’ts.
Signs that you have termites in your garden
Termites are attracted to moisture and a steady source of food. These are what your garden provides. A moist mulch and wood are irresistible to these destructive insects. Termites might be small, but their colonies bring up to $5 billion damages annually in the U.S. alone.
First, let me help you conduct a brief inspection of your garden. This way, we can diagnose if termites are already present in your yard. Here are some of the tell-tale signs courtesy of entomologist Kim Reynolds of HomeTeam Pest Defense:
➡️ There’s a growing soil mound
A termite mound is an above-ground harborage of a termite colony. When you see a small pile of compact soil on your garden, mound-building termites may be on your property. The bigger the mound gets, the more expansive the termite colony becomes. Besides, what would you do if your family gets bigger? You build a much bigger house.
But hey, don’t ever consider smashing it with a sledgehammer. Below I have explained why in full detail? Smashing the mound will only open a Pandora’s box of bigger problems.
➡️ Your tree is dying
The Formosan termite species are known to eat live trees and bushes. This species is highly invasive and can eat a 2” x 4” wood in just 25 days. Once it gets into your property, it will be impossible to control using DIY methods or over-the-counter termiticides.
If you notice that branches of your yard tree are dying, it could be a sign that termites are infesting your yard. You can confirm by pressing it and checking for termite damage. The tree may sustain holes or a papery structure.
Don’t chop the tree right away as the termites may just transfer to other parts of your property. While you know where the enemy is, it’s better to ask the help of professional exterminators. They may even save your tree from dying.
➡️ You see white ants on the soil
White ants aren’t really “ants”. This is just a term for termites since some ground-harboring species tend to have a white or semi-transparent color. If you see any of these “white ants”, it’s guaranteed that you have termites living in your garden. And take note, termites don’t live in small numbers. The smallest colony is composed of thousands of members.
Pouring termiticides into your yard isn’t the best solution. Sure, you can kill a few thousand, but a large portion of the colony will relocate.
Again, professional help is unbeatable when it comes to termite extermination. This is especially true if you have edible plants growing on your soil.
➡️ You see mud tubes
Mud tubes are pathways of Subterranean termites. They create these tubes to retain the moisture of their bodies, something that they can’t live without. Also, it shields them against predators.
If the mud tubes are already running through your home, it means that the termites are starting to invade your home. The first impulse is to cut the tubes to prevent the transfer of the mites. However, it’s best to keep it intact and let the pros do the job.
Professional exterminators can use these connections to flood the termites with termiticides.
➡️ Holes in wood
If you see tiny holes on any wood in your garden, termites may be present. The presence of frass is another indicator that the pest is foraging in your yard.
Take note that termites are attracted to both dead and live wood. Also, just because the wood is dry doesn’t mean it’s not a hot item for termites. There’s a species called Drywood termites that prefer low-moisture sources of food.
Common harborage of termites in garden
Now that you have an idea what termites look like and what damages they usually bring, let’s look at some of their common harborage in your garden.
➡️ Your mulch
If there’s one spot in your garden that will be the most attractive to termites, it would be your mulch. As a gardener, mulches are excellent insulation for plants during winter. It keeps moisture for long which lets your berries and leafy greens thrive during dry seasons.
Aside from sustaining your plants, your mulch is also a perfect home for Subterranean termites. Many homeowners use wood chips and softwood as compost, which makes it more sustainable for the pest.
If you use pine straws, you’re increasing the likelihood of harboring other pests other than termites. Some ant species are attracted to this material.
Many households store woodpiles on their yard, sometimes against their walls. It’s convenient during winter when you need more wood for your furnace. However, this pile of moist wood exposed directly to the ground is another termite hideout.
If you transfer the wood indoors, you’re also bringing the termites into your home.
If you plan to store wood outdoors, pile it at least 5 inches from the ground and 15 inches away from the nearest part of your home.
➡️ Dead wood
Fallen branches and tree trunks laid bare on your garden calls for termite infestation. If you leave this undisturbed, the moisture and soil will become the perfect place for a termite colony to thrive.
Also, don’t neglect your pile of dried leaves. When it rains, this becomes an ideal place for termites.
➡️ Untrimmed bushes
Untrimmed bushes in your yard make a perfect hiding place for termites. Since the spot is undisturbed, the pest can reproduce without any threat.
You should also watch out for tree branches that are touching your house. Although the termites are based on the central colony outdoors, they can expand into your home. The untrimmed branch will be its easy pathway.
Before anything else…
So you’ve found termites in your garden? Before you bombard the area with DIY remedies, I recommend that you follow these first steps first.
➡️ Don’t destroy the mound!
Like I mentioned earlier, don’t destroy the mound once you discover it. Doing so will only cause the termites to run in different directions, thus spreading the infestation on your yard.
Discovering the mound is actually a good thing. You’ll know where your enemy is. An above-ground harborage also means that the colony is already large, it’s best to tap the help of professional exterminators to kill the mites.
Also, don’t try DIY applications of termiticides. Exterminators will have to map out the infestation first before performing the termite purge. This way, they’ll know where the possible exit points are and they can prevent any possible escape.
➡️ Don’t spray any insecticides
As much as it’s tempting to act fast, spraying pesticides on the surface will only do a little benefit. It will alert the colony, which will trigger relocation. Also, termites live deeper under the ground that sprays alone can’t reach.
Aside from that, over-the-counter termiticides contain harmful chemicals. If you spray it on the affected area, it will seep through the soil and reach your plants. This is a dangerous situation, especially if you have edible vegetation nearby. Termiticides will also kill your decorative plants.
Take note that most commercially available termite solutions are ideal for small infestations only. If the termite damage in your garden is widespread, it’s best to call a professional exterminator instead.
➡️ Don’t try to place the termites somewhere else
Shoveling up the termites and relocating it away from your yard is a pointless effort. Although you might get a few mites, most of the colony lives underground.
In the end, you’ll just disturb the termites and cause the pets to spread on your property. Worse, the mites may start foraging on your home.
➡️ Don’t use railway sleepers to guard you veggies
Many home gardeners use pine sleepers or railway sleeper to contain their mulch or to elevate their soil beds. Also, these types of wood are termite-proof since it’s pre-treated to last long.
As you water your mulch, these chemicals will be watered down. It will seep through the soil which your plants will absorb. It will contaminate your harvest or kill your plants directly.
Soon enough, the treatment will wear down and the termites can now access the wood.
What to do with the termite in your garden?
Once you confirm that termites are present in your garden, you can take certain steps to stop them from spreading. Also, if the infestation is still small, you can arrest the expansion of the colony with the following tips:
➡️ Remove the food sources
You can prevent an infestation or suppress its expansion by removing the food sources of the termites. Woodpiles, untrimmed branches and bushes, and unkempt mulches are the things you have to work on here.
So does that mean I need to say goodbye to gardening? No. You can actually keep a termite-free mulch. Cypress and redwood are resistant to termites. If you’re using wood chips on your mulch, it’s much better to use such woods to discourage the harborage of termites.
Also, don’t forget your wooden fence. Mites might relocate here as well.
➡️ Use plant-friendly termiticides
Termiticides come with different formulas. If you have edible plants, always look for non-toxic and safe pesticides. It’s best to consult a professional exterminator to take the guesswork out of the termite situation.
➡️ Install termite barriers on your home’s foundation
If the termites are still within your yard, have it exterminated right away. After that, install termite-proofing into your home. Termite barriers made of polyethylene films can be installed around the foundations and all parts of your home in contact with the ground.
If infestation recurs, your home has a first line of defense should the mites try to dig through your foundation. Installing termite barriers are also crucial if you’re planning to put up a mulch bed close to your home’s foundation. I would also suggest installing Termite Bait Stations in your yard which can kill the entire termite colony.
➡️ Call a professional exterminator
If all else fails, it’s best to call a local termite exterminator. These people know exactly how to handle each termite situation, from the garden and up to the most hidden crevice of your home.
Termite exterminators are also licensed to handle abrasive chemicals. Aside from that, there’s a guarantee that the termites will be killed.
You can also request for a termite treatment on your yard to prevent the recurrence of the pest.
How to protect your garden from termites?
If your garden is still safe from mites, you can employ preventive steps to shield your bed of roses. First, build your mulch as far away as possible from your house. A distance of at least 15 inches is a rule of thumb if you have a small yard.
Also, choose the right trees to plant. Avoid palm, paperbark, and gum since mites love nesting on the root crowns of these trees. Also, some termite species are naturally attracted to these types of trees.
Another tip: don’t let dampness sit on the wrong places. Over watering your lawn and mulch makes it more attractive to termites. Watch out for air conditioning drips, too, since it will become a constant source of moisture in the soil.
Also, always keep your yard clean. Dispose of any dead wood and piles of leaves. It will also help to conduct regular termite inspections on your yard to arrest any brewing infestation.
Regular termite treatments should prevent the recurrence of the pest.
In this video, Dr. Blake Layton, an entomologist in Mississippi State University, tells us how to prevent termites from harboring in our garden:
Dealing with termites in the garden can be difficult. But with the right approach and the help of professional exterminators, you can get rid of the pest safely. Just remember to keep your garden clean of any termite attractants to prevent the recurrence of another infestation.