Termites in mulch!!!!! AH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

chueh(7B)June 29, 2008

I just found termites 1/8" below the surface of cypress mulch, when I pulled a weed out in the flower bed. I have never heard that mulch would invite termites. What should I do now?

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gardenlen(s/e qld aust)

g'day chueh,

yup termites will get into and help recycle organic matter in gardens or anyhwere where there is material that they are interested in.

what should you do?

well don't panic first up, leave the termites as they are i would suggest, their main nest could be some miles away from your garden.

what you need to do unless you have built a termite resistant house (and nearly all never do), is to make sure you termite protection for the house is up to date and effective, same goes for any timber structures on the property.


Here is a link that might be useful: len's garden page

    Bookmark   June 29, 2008 at 3:42PM
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jean001(z8aPortland, OR)

Or could they be ants?

I thought termites go to solid chucks rather than shredded stuff.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2008 at 3:47PM
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jbest123(Zone 5 PA)

You do not have to hurry they take small bites but do not ignore the problem. It cost me $2500 about 15 years ago to get rid of them and the treatment was only guaranteed for 10 years. For the last several years I have been using "SPECTRACIDE TERMINATE TERMITE DETECTION KILLNG STAKES" with good luck. They should be available at your local garden center or Lowes and HD.


    Bookmark   June 29, 2008 at 7:56PM
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adirondackgardener(Western Maine)

You got your yearly invitation to dinner at Great Aunt Bertha's house, a 4 hour drive each way. Since Great Aunt Bertha is expected to leave you her 5 bedroom house on three acres in Greenwich, Connecticut in her will, you load the family into the car and dutifully head out.

Along the way the kids start getting hungry for a little something to eat so you all pull into the next McDonalds for a snack. Then you continue the drive and arrive at Great Aunt Berth's house some time later, only to find she's got all her usual security precautions in place, the locked driveway gate, the alarm system, the 6 deadbolts on the front door, and the yapping dog just inside the foyer and her hearing aid turned off. Just like every year, you wonder if you're going to get inside and you're glad you stopped for that snack.

Since it's likely the termites are always traveling in your soil anyway in search of entry to Great Aunt Bertha's house, your mulch is only their McDonalds. They're not going to stay.


    Bookmark   June 29, 2008 at 8:11PM
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Thank you everybody. Nice cute little story, adirondackg. I am glad now actually that they stopped by McDonalds first (well, perhaps not first, but anyway), and I met them there. At least I go to McDonlads often and check the menu, or I just don't ever check if Great Aunt Bertha's back door is locked or not.......

    Bookmark   June 29, 2008 at 8:55PM
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jbest123(Zone 5 PA)

As long as termites have the things that they need they will stay taking food back to the colony and the queen. They are always foraging looking for additional sources of food so they can increase the size of the colony. If they are in your mulch they are to close to your house and need to be addresses. There is tons of information on the web with photos for identification, life cycles, activities and treatment options. Like the saying goes, you can pay now or you can pay later but the longer you wait, the higher the payment will be. If they find that one little hole beside the gas pipe or water pipe or that little crack in the foundation, they wont be wondering if McDonalds are open or not.


    Bookmark   June 30, 2008 at 7:13AM
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What you need is good information about termites so I would contact my local office of the University of Georgia USDA Cooperative Extension Service and find out about termites in Georgia were I you.
Termites seldom eat in moist wood of any kind, and Cypress mulch has been sold as being pest resistant, so either it is not Cypress or if you do actually have termites in that Cypress Mulch we have been sold a bill of goods for years.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2008 at 7:52AM
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that's interesting! I actually found the termites after a rainfall. I have seen termites that were identified by a professional. Just to be sure I wasn't mistaken, I had checked the pictures of termites online before I posted my question.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2008 at 10:48AM
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jbest123(Zone 5 PA)

If they are subterranean termites, they need moisture every day. Worker termites will take food and moisture back to the queen and hopefully that is when she gets her dose of poison.


    Bookmark   June 30, 2008 at 12:45PM
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sudzy(5b IL)

My sister just recently had a severe termite infestation. The entire front of her house had to be re-built! (luckily family members are in the trade) The termite exterminators sure gave the impression that the bagged and sold as safe cypress mulch was the cause. My sister had brought and layed it down yearly for several seasons. I'd be careful. Our city had a tornado two years ago. Afterward the city crews mulched all downed trees and gave to public as free mulch.(not treated) I went and got a truck load, my bro-in-law a union carpenter, said to get rid of it. He wouldn't have it anywhere on his property. My house is brick so I thought I was safe. I've heard lots of different opinions. Guess, moral is, yearly termite inspections.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2008 at 1:09AM
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Most all "brick" houses are wood frame construction with a brick veneer so the "brick" houses are not immune from termites. Homes around here get termites whether there is mulch used or not and an annual inspection for them is a good idea, a fairly inexpensive means to prevent damage if you are where there are termites. But, no matter, what those guys from the "pest control" companies might tell you (keep in mind they want to sell you something since they do not make any money if they do not) mulches do not contribute to the presence of termites.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2008 at 7:15AM
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sudzy(5b IL)

kimmsr: U of I county extension's hosts a TV program in this area. And their mast gardeners share your opinion, I saw a show on it.(convincing my sister is another matter!):)

    Bookmark   July 3, 2008 at 12:11PM
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There was much concern about termites in mulch after Katrina-- this brochures (1) addresses some of the concerns.

And here is another link (2) that discusses types of wood and termites.


When buying mulch I buy the melaleuca--it is also considered an invasive and trash tree here. But my husband brings in truckloads of the 'utility' mulch (from city tree trimming operation). I don't ever plan on using it super thick around the house. ALso sub. termites like moist condition so keep the sprinklers away from the house. I have damp conditions next to the AC plus mulch-now that is not a good idea. I should divert the water away from the house.

Concerning termites vs ants---- Ants have a distinct 'waist', termites do not. A hand lens helps.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2008 at 3:39PM
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It seems to me that the rate of surviving termites and other critters in wood chip is greater than pine straws; it's just my impression. Wood chips seem to compost and rot easier too; am I right?

    Bookmark   July 3, 2008 at 4:30PM
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I don't need another person to tell me whether termites thrive in mulch. I have two eyes and can see that just fine. And cypress mulch is no different. I do, however, know an exterminator (wife's uncle) that says that as long as people are convinced that mulch doesn't attract them he will not have to worry about running out of residential work. The mulch up against the house provides the perfect conditions for termites to thrive. The nest is usually under the house if the house is on a slab or near the walls of a low foundation. And what's this about not liking moisture? They love moisture. That's nonsense. That's why you find them in wet logs and stumps all the time. Not to mention long standing piles of wet leaves. Again, I don't need a resource to find the evidence all over the place with my own eyes. That might be why moist climates have more termites. . . I find it humorous that some extension sites say that mulch doesn't attract termites but it provides perfect conditions for them. Obviously these people don't know that what attracts any insect is that which provides perfect conditions for them. Duh.

If mulch doesn't attract or at the least aid in the establishment of termites, then millions of people that find mud tunnels coming directly to and from the mulch must be delusional. Unfortunately, many of them make the mistake of believing everything they read and will become ignorant to the very real threat those mud tunnels indicate.

When I found the termites here at my house I found them in my mulch. Not my rock bed. Not my sidewalk. Not my grass. Not even the pile of firewood. Guess where all my neighbors found termites?

Oh, yeah. One last thing. It isn't fresh mulch that does the attracting, I'm told. It's the old mulch that lays there for a very long time as you put new mulch over it. I bet you'll notice that your termites are worse in that layer.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2008 at 8:26AM
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One week before selling our house we bought some cheap bags of mulch from K-mart to freshen things up. It sold fast and the termite inspection two weeks later found two week old tunnels. $950 later we are in our new house and I am wiser.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2008 at 9:31AM
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jbest123(Zone 5 PA)

It you live anywhere in the USA other than the desert southwest you probably have termites on your property, they are ubiquitous. The advantage of using mulch is it will bring the termites to where you can place poison baits. If there is no mulch for moisture, they will go "subterranean" looking for a little hole or crack in your foundation. If they find an entrance, they will build mud tubes on the inside of the cement block leading to the wood base plate and then the wood studs. It will not make any difference if the house is brick or wood. If the mulch is not, there you may not know you have termites until the colony in side of your house is big enough to swarm. Be fore warned.


    Bookmark   July 4, 2008 at 5:29PM
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adirondackgardener(Western Maine)

Throughout most of the country, those termites are traveling unseen around in your soil, with and without mulch, with your house as the holy grail. John is correct. Termite inspection to prevent them from entering your home is essential as well as taking steps to prevent access.

Anyone can look with their own two eyes and see no termites until they spot them in their mulch. Hence my McDonalds analogy. Only a fool would think there would be no hungry people driving on the highway if McDonalds hadn't conived with state legislatures to put their "restaurant" at every service area on the state's interstate. Those termites are in your soil and would be in your soil if that mulch was not there. That someone is working in the garden and disturbs the mulch, exposing the termites does not prove the simplistic and wrong assumption that the mulch attracted the termites.

If university extension services support the idea that mulch does not attract termites, it probably is only because it doesn't. It is because they were always there, long before the mulch was laid down and will be there long after the panicky homeowner removes it because someone unaware of the habits and life cycles of termites warns them their home is in peril if they don't.

The average person is not trained to dig up a soil sample and spot a termite but will see some strange insect in the mulch, run to google and identify it. Then leap to the conclusion that the mulch resulted in termites, much as my dammned and long gone rooster's crowing resulted in the sunrise.

My house is approximately 30 feet from the forest, where one might assume there to be rotting wood, downed trees, etc, all of which might be equivilent to mulch in attracting termites. I guess it's just a miracle that with all those termites feasing out there, this house has managed to stand these 90 or 100 years.


    Bookmark   July 5, 2008 at 3:34AM
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Because for many years no one was overly concerned about termites few home builders would spend the little bit necessary to install termite barriers, even today, and I find many of these builders will look at you with a blank expression if you even suggest that. Because of that the "pest control" industry has built upon the paranoia many people have today about any "bug" in general and there are simply many charletons working in that business feeding you a line that won't stop. This is one business where the term "buyer beware" really applies.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2008 at 7:28AM
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Wayne, your rooster doesn't bring on the sun, but the sun (the indicator of a new day to diurnal species) brings on the crowing. The termites don't bring on the mulch, the mulch brings on the termite. Particularly the flying swarmers (those that spawn new colonies) that look for suitable environments and find them in combination with with a nice, protective, moist, warm foundation. Someone so knowledgeable in the life and habits of termites should know this, eh? Your home is still standing and likely untouched BECAUSE you live next to the woods. Are seriously failing to see that? Suburbs don't have woods that will allow the termites easier food sources. The constant removal of trees and dead matter leaves the termites no choice but to feast on the only breaking down cellulose in the area. Mulch and homes. And the mulch is more readily available. Understanding the habits of termites teaches us this. And you think the termites were in that soil for so long when that soil has been excavated and newly developed with most the dead matter containing cellulose removed? No. They re-establish themselves. When the swarmers go flying, they look for suitable new homes. It doesn't take a mathematical genius to add this up. Cellulose containing material + regular watering in even a drought = sustainable food source. And when you keep adding more food every year they simply don't have a need to move on further than a few feet. Also, they don't have to go so deep to avoid freezing. You are providing them insulation.

John, you make a really good point. One thing I've noticed is that damage to the homes that have termites in the mulch is not usually very major. The fact is that those termites go to the best food source and mulch is much better than the dry wood because they can also farm fungus in it. Providing that food source actually probably saves the home from the majority of the damage and allows the homeowner to find them early.

Those that choose to go off of extensions or other written sources that try to convince people to disbelieve what is easily observed, well have fun with that. The extent of your observation might be seeing a rooster crows at sunup and thus the rooster brings the sun. Yep, you'd be a fool to stop investigating. But upon further investigation you will find that the rooster's incessant crowing IS related to the sun coming up. You will even find that they aren't crowing at the sun. They are crowing because they are awake and establishing territory for the new day just like every other bird you hear in the morning just before they go to find food.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2008 at 9:24AM
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jollyrd(Richmond VA)

I posted this yesterday in a separate post and someone directed me to this threat.

We have a new house, new lot, hard clay soil, so starting from blank. I am starting slow by creating flower beds and shrubs area by the house. The house sits in the woods, but there is at least 30 ft open area around the entire house perimiter, then dense forest. Most of the trees close to the house are pines, some hardwoods and native cherries, the neighbor across the road has lots of hardwoods and happy to give away all the fallen leaves I can get. We have a powerful chipper shredder and used it first time this weekend to get some wood mulch mixed pines and hardwood, whatever I could find. Applied it to crape murtles and fruiting trees that we planted in the spring, made sure to put mulch away from the trunks;-) Husband and I are wondering should we avoid putting wood mulch by the house to avoid inviting termites to the house? We could stick to only putting shredded leaves and/or pine needles by the house. Husband heard that there some sort of treatment that we can soak the wood mulch before putting it by the house, true or false? On the same note, does it matter what trees I use for wood mulch native cherries, oaks, pines, or should I just use what mother nature gives us? The house sits on a concrete basement, which puts the house about 3-4 feet above ground, vinyl siding, wooden front porch.
Now, I read this entire threat and would like to believe that having plenty of woods around and away from the house gives termites plenty of food so that they are not targeting our house. I guess I should check with neighbors to see if they had any termites problems. Thank you for chiming in -- I really love to see different points of view on this new (to me) issue.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2008 at 10:04AM
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david52 Zone 6

We have termites in the desert SW - both the underground kind and the kind that fly and build nests in the attic. The underground kind I've got. Not fun. Expensive. Found anywhere there is irrigation, concentrated in old orchards.

The flying kind are worse, and have been found in houses 500 feet lower in elevation, 20 miles away as the crow flies, moving closer all the time as things warm up. Found everywhere it's warm enough for them. Turn over an old piece of wood driving through the desert down by Lake Powell, and there they are.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2008 at 10:47AM
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Subterranean termites are apparently very misunderstood. The cypress mulch is only holding moisture for them, they cannot eat it. Cypress is a hardwood,subterranean termites eat only soft wood. In your area there can be up to 20 threatening colonies per acre. Home remedies won't stand up to that kind of pressure. Do yourself a favor and find a pro you can rely on for real information. You may not need a treatment yet but definitely you should be inspected regularly.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2009 at 9:24PM
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Another "prime rib" of termite dining is the cellulose (aka PAPER) that covers the gypsum wallboard in your house.

Ask me how I know.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2009 at 6:19AM
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So long as you have no easy places for them to get in termites aren't an issue. The biggest thing is never let vegetation grow up against the house where they can build mud tunnels up the foundation and into the soft innards of your house. Also promtly have any foundation cracking; which can also give them access. Where I live they're everywhere. So you just follow those 2 rules and they're a non issue.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2009 at 4:18PM
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I am an Exterminator. I have my WDI license. (Wood Destroying Insects) I inspect and treat for Eastern Subterranean termites at least 2-3 times a week.

Firstly, jeremiyjs, the guy above me, has no idea what he's talking about. Almost all termite invasions occur through hairline cracks below the soil line in the foundations of a home that the owner will never see or be able to see. Situations where termite tubes and termites are seen before they hit a basement sill plate are few and far between. If you've found them in your mulch, or tubes on your foundation and they aren't in the wood of your home consider yourself luckier than tens of thousands of others and get your house treated immediately. Not seeing termites does NOT mean you don't have them.

Mulch does not attract or detract termites. Mulch does not transport termites in bags. If there are termites in it they will die without their colony. Mulch IS food for termites, and if found termites will eat it, but they will not seek out mulch anymore than they will your home. Termites forage blindly, making random tunnels and tubes in search of wood.

Mulch will not protect your house from termites or guarantee early warning. One job I did the owners had mulch around their entire house. They didn't know they had termites till they were tunneling through the drywall in the living room (drywall material is just packed dirt to termites). Their mulch was untouched.

There are on average 13-14 termite nests an acre. These nests can tunnel 1/2 a mile in a single day when foraging, but usually don't. Any given nest will have several sources of food that it's workers go to. If they are eating your mulch, it's not going to stop them from eating your house as well.

Termites require moisture to live. They do not require you to provide it for them by watering, though it does make things easier for them.

Subterranean termites do not live in wood, they live in soil, this is the main reason moving mulch will not transfer a termite infestation. (Drywood Termites are a completely different story.)

Treatment: Get a foundation treatment. This is when your exterminator will inject or trench termiticide 6-12 inches deep around your entire foundation. I recommend Termidor specifically out of the various termiticides. Do NOT rely on baits or monitoring stations to protect yourself. Termites are just as likely to skip them and hit a house as they are feed on them.

The Rule of 5: Termidor will last for 5 years in the ground before fading. A new nest takes about 5 years to reach a point where it can cause significant damage to a home.
Newly built homes are generally safe for 5 years because of this. The Rule of 5 is subject to Murphy's Law, but holds true 99% of the time.

Long story short, if you have evidence of termites anywhere in your yard they could sit there and never touch your house for 100 years. Or they could find a crack in your foundation and be inside your drywall in less than a month.

Get your house treated.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2011 at 8:30PM
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