Article by Dana Richardson, Back to Eden Film producer & gardener.
Hello gardeners worldwide! Today we will answer some of the myths and facts about mulch and termite problems. Our goal is to teach you how to avoid termites in mulch. Let me start this article by saying that Paul Gautschi has never had an issue with termites nor have we heard testimonies of any gardeners having termite problems due to wood chip mulch. Nevertheless, one of the common concerns we receive from gardeners is, "does wood chip mulch attract termite infestations?"
What is the best mulch to use to avoid termites?
Did you know that some types of wood chips deter termites and are even toxic to termites!? Cedar, cypress heartwood, melaleuca, southern tidewater red cypress and California redwood are not edible to termites and decrease a termites chance of survival. Research has proven that Cypress heartwood extracts actually are one of the most effective natural repellents of termites. If you are concerned about termites or already have a termite infestation, ask for one of these types of trees mulch when you sign up for a wood chip delivery. The Chip Drop App is free to sign up for and allows you to make special requests such as this.
Does mulch attract termites?
Although termites like feeding high cellulose organic matter, wood-based mulches aren't going to provide termites with a source for heavy feeding.
Drywood termites are the most common termites to infest your home. This is because drywood termites feed on dry wood, obviously! They will usually feed on your home's framing, structural timbers, hardwood floors and furniture. However, drywood do not make contact with the soil. They are able to survive with the little bit of water they find in the dry wood they inhabit. Because drywood termites don’t make contact with the soil, putting mulch in your garden shouldn’t affect their population or provide an attractive food source for them. Furthermore since their colonies infrastructures are made up of long tunnels that enable them to work together their ability build this infrastructure in wood chips is not possible.
The second most common termites species are dampwood termites like the Subterranean Termite. Dampwood termites do like moist wood and often can be found eating dead or decaying tree stumps and logs. Again, they work in colonies so wood chips don't provide an ideal structure to build tunnels in like they can in a decaying log for example. Although dampwood would find a layer of mulch an attractive habitat to nest underneath, they rarely are less likely to infest buildings do to their affinity to feeding on wet organic matter, not dry structures. In the case they do try to infest a building they would enter at ground level or have to build mud tunnels to enter through an existing opening into in a house. This enables them to travel without contacting sunlight since sunlight kills termites. Bottom line, although an existing dampwood termite colony may enjoy a moist garden mulch habitat they are not likely to infest your home unless your home has an already existing rotting wood problem. Keep mulch away from your foundation to prevent problems.
Will Wood Chip Piles Have Termites In Them?
A termite would not normally live through the chipping process that is used to create wood chip mulch. Even if a few termites were to survive the wood chipper, they wouldn’t survive long after being separated from their colony. Additionally, termites that feed on mulch have a lower rate of survival when compared to a termite that feeds on solid wood. In conclusion, chances of having an infestation of termites brought to your home from a wood chip load is very slim and unlikely. Furthermore have you seen the heat that comes off a turned wood chip pile?! This is a naturally purifying factor in the composting process of wood chip piles that makes them an unlikely habitat for most bug infestations.
How to Avoid Termites in Your Home
Even though wood chips are not an attractive food source for termites, they do like moist soil. So, if you already have a termite infestation in your soil the moisture from the mulch could be an attractive area for them continue to survive. To avoid problems, reduce excess moisture around the siding of your home. If your wood chip mulch is laid down right up to the side of your home, rake it back 12-24 inches to give some space where the dirt lays bare. This will prevent excess moisture around your home that will prevent not only termites but also rotting. Also, make sure your sprinklers aren’t spraying the side of your house to avoid too much moisture at your foundation.
Natural Remedies for Termites
Remember, termites are a natural part of the ecosystem. They are actually one of many insects that help break down wood into compost. So once you've removed the threat from them damaging your home you need not attack them for harmlessly doing their job outdoors. When the termites population has not gotten out of control it is probably due to another disruption in the local ecosystem, solve that first. Are you watering too much near your foundation? Is mulch too close to your home causing overly wet soil? Are decaying logs or dead plants touching your house? If so, fix this and the nature will rebalance on its own.
IF you have wood chips in your garden or in a pile that DO have termites in them do NOT spray it with insecticide! Not only will you create a toxic growing material you will also kill all of the beneficial organisms that are vital to process of decomposition of wood chips into compost. Even using organic sprays is against the principles of growing with sustainable permaculture methods since it can kill beneficial organisms.
The following remedies are recommended for use in or around your home. Although they are non-toxic I'm not sure how your vegetables or beneficial organisms will respond to large amounts of them. If you have a termite problem inside your home, don’t panic and grab toxic pesticides either! There are other very effective solutions that wont hurt you and your family as well. We’ve already shared that Cedar and Cypress heartwood are great naturally toxic to termites so it’s no surprise Cedar Oil is one effective solution that’s safe for humans. Orange Oil or clove bud oils are other effective, non toxic, termite repellents and they smells great too! Many forward thinking pest control companies are beginning to offer these non toxic termite repellents as part of their offered fumigation treatments.
DIY Organic Garden Insect Repellent
Researchers found that garlic oils are one of the best for termite elimination. Although it wouldn't smell great indoors its perfect for garden use! First, Paul recommends focusing on getting the plant or tree healthy so it can defend itself from infestations naturally. If all else fails Paul Gautschi uses his garden fresh garlic and cayenne peppers thrown in a blender with water and applied via a sprayer bottle to help solve a bad insect infestation. The cool thing is these ingredients can be grown yourself and are safe for use on your vegetables and fruits!
Bottom line and Conclusion
Putting wood chips mulch in your yard won’t start a termite problem. If you already have a termite problem, take care of it with a natural treatment before adding a ton of mulch to your yard and keep mulch 6-12 inches from your foundation to avoid issues. Remember some mulches prevent and eliminate termites! So ask for a delivery of wood chips that contain the trees listed above.
It's simple, put down your wood chips a safe distance from structural foundations and watch the incredible results in your Back to Eden vegetable garden melt away any worries you had in your mind!
Gardening with Wood Chips
Watch the Back to Eden Film on DVD to own helpful Wood Chip Gardening FAQ videos answered by master gardener Paul Gautschi. Or watch them for free when you buy Back to Eden to download On Demand. Please follow us on facebook to read the first hand success stories of Back to Eden gardeners!
The information shared in this article is gleaned from research shared on Orkin, Terminix and SFGate articles as well as first hand experiences shared from Back to Eden gardeners testimonies worldwide.