Tips on Preventing Subterranean Termites
What do subterranean termites have to do with gardening? Quite a bit, actually. Gardeners can plant the flower beds around their houses in ways that give termites a free pass into the house. Since a typical termite colony consists of 350,000 to a million termites and can eat 2.3 linear feet of 2 X 4 a year, that is a serious problem.
Most people first see termites when they swarm to mate. The termites are often referred to as “winged ants” by people who do not know what they are seeing. The flying termites pair off and shed their wings. The female then goes in search of a place to reproduce and live. The male follows her. When a moist location near a source of wood is located, the termites form a chamber underground. The female then starts to lay eggs.
These eggs hatch into worker termites to help develop the colony. The termites go through several molts before reaching maturity. When the colony has a large number of workers, it will produce solder termites and alates, or termites that fly and mate to start a new colony. It may be five or ten years before the colony reaches this point.
Here are some tips on avoiding any mistakes that leave you vulnerable to termites.
- Do not plant shrubs or trees where they will touch your house. Termites will march right across that bridge and into your house. Remember when planting shrubs or trees, leave sufficient space so that the mature plants will not touch the house. They should be at least four inches away from the house when mature. Your landscaping will look sparse for a few years, but it will really look nice when mature if you are patient with it.
- Prune dead branches off of shrubs and trees near the house. Termites are attracted to dead wood and you do not want to draw them any closer to your house then they already are.
- Keep mulch at least four inches from the house. It, too, can form a bridge for the termites to enter your home.
- Make sure that your storm drains direct water away from your foundation to an area that drains well. Termites need moist soil to move in, so if your soil stays soggy, you are making it possible for them to reach your house.
- Make sure leaky faucets are repaired, as well. They can give the termites vital moisture.
- If possible, make sure only the concrete foundation touches the ground. Siding and other coverings should begin no closer than six inches to the ground.
- When the temperatures begin to rise after the last frost, termites swarm to mate and found new colonies. Turn off lights near the house at night as that attracts the swarming termites to your property.
- Seal gaps where water and gas lines enter your house to prevent termites from entering as well.
- Do not stack firewood where it touches the house. If that is impossible, cover it with a tarp to keep it dry and make it less attractive to termites.
- Make sure that water does not pool around your foundation or on your roof.
- Inspect railroad ties and other used lumber before using it in a project around your house to make sure it is termite free. Since many of us use lumber when building raised beds, this is particularly important for us.
- Seal all cracks, crevices, and other small openings in the wood of your house. An easy way to do this is put a fresh coat of paint on the house, which seals the smallest cracks.
- Install bug screens over foundation and roof vents.
- Cardboard boxes and papers are also vulnerable to termites. Use plastic boxes with lids to store mementos in and keep termites out.
Signs that termites have arrived include wood that has a spongy feel because the termites have been chewing on the inside. Termites also create tunnels out of mud that extend up the sides of the house so the termites can get inside. Evidence of these tunnels indicate the need for termite treatments.
There are no chemicals approved to kill termites that are legal for a house owner to use on their own. If you see evidence of termites, you will have to hire a pest control company to control them. Methods of control include spraying around the foundation, fixing any entry points so termites can no longer enter the home there, and putting out bait to kill the termites. Termites can forage up to 150 feet from their nest. Spraying may not get all the termites. Bait, however, is taken back to the nest and passed around as food. This impacts more termites than simply spraying them.
If the infestation is large, the house will need to be “tented.” This is an expensive procedure in which a special tent is placed over the whole house and then some fairly toxic chemicals are pumped in to kill the termites. The tent has to remain on the house for approximately three days. The home owner, his family, and his pets have to stay elsewhere during this process.
Many new houses are treated for termites during the building phase. The dirt beneath the slab is treated with a pesticide to form a horizontal barrier to the termites. After the slab is poured, the area around it is sprayed again. As an alternative to spraying, a fine mesh screen is placed under all parts of the slab. This screen is so fine the termites cannot enter it. The advantage to the screen is it lasts much longer than any application of pesticide.
The best thing to do about termites is to prevent them from getting a foothold in your house. Follow the tips to avoid the termites and call a pest control professional as soon as possible if you observe termites around your property.