Oak Wood Chips as Mulch?

playsinthedirt20(z6 HudsonValley)May 29, 2007

We had to have an old oak tree taken down last year,and asked the tree service to leave the chips in a pile, which they gladly did. It smelled so sweet! I started spreading it around my beds and have been loving it.

Now some of my neighbors are gently hinting that oak mulch can attract termites,and it's better to buy cedar mulch. I haven't put it up against the house, and wouldn't put it up against anyone else's house or garden structure. It seems to work well, looks great and is true organic recycling.

Should I be concerned about the termites? We did all experience termite swarms last September (the tree was taken down in the early Spring), but the swarms seemed to start down the street and worked their way up to my house and beyond. No one has suffered any damage and I haven't seen any termites since. Is it still safe to spread the wood chips? If not, what do I do with the nearly five-foot tall pile of oak chips at the edge of my woods?

Thank you all.

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In something around 50 years of using wood chips as mulches I have not yet found any termites in any of those mulches. Maybe it happens, but it is not something I have seen. On occassion with a tree that has fallen in the forest I have found that termites are working on the, now very dry, wood in the trunk, but only occassionally not with every tree trunk I find. Wood chips, used as a mulch, should be moist enough that the termite species we have you here will not be eating them (they eat dry wood only) and not quite moist enough to allow them to nest in that mulch.
Now, I have found ants nesting in that same mulch, and ant larva which are wee white thingys that many people, that do not know, may well think are termites.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2007 at 7:30AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Playsinthedirt, there are some precautions that need to be taken with mulch, just to be on the safe side. The problem with subterranean termites is that we don't see them, oftentimes, until they have set up housekeeping. ;-(

Termites can live in the soil, and will take advantage of the nice environment that mulch makes in order to build large underground chambers. From there, they seek out their feeding sites (trees, buildings, fallen logs, and even mulch).

Because of this, it is not recommended that you use wood mulch right up against a building. And it's best to keep the layer of mulch to 2 or 3 inches. Don't pile mulch up against the trunk of a tree (which is bad anyway, regardless of termites).

I've used wood chips as mulch for many years and will continue to do so without reservations. But understanding a bit about this 'foe' and how to prevent possible infestation is important.

Cedar mulch is derived from the eastern red cedar (actually Juniperus virginiana), and only the relatively rare heartwood has proved to have any termite (or other insect) resistance at all. The sapwood, which comprises most mulch products, is termite food just like most other woods. ;-)

    Bookmark   May 29, 2007 at 1:47PM
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playsinthedirt20(z6 HudsonValley)

Thank you very much. I have taken care to pile the mulch to a depth of about three inches,and I know about keeping it away from tree trunks and, as I said, the house.

Maybe those white things last Fall weren't termites at all!

    Bookmark   May 30, 2007 at 1:31AM
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