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pinksand
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Location: Columbia, MD

Termites in the garden

A few months ago I smothered a section of my lawn with cardboard and newspaper, layering compost and topsoil on top to form a new garden. At one point I found some citronella ants that I initially worried were termites. I did my research, decided they were indeed ants and was relieved for a few days until I discovered a separate colony of insects that I recognized right away as termites. Apparently they just LOVE the decaying cardboard!

The colony is along my brick walkway so it isn't right against the house. It's a few feet from the concrete front steps, and probably about 10 feet from the foundation.

Here is a photo for reference... the colony is to the right of the baby dogwood in the bottom right hand corner of the photo.
Image

I know termites are natural and a part of the ecosystem, but how concerned should I be at this point? Should I treat this existing nest myself? If so, what do you recommend? Do I need to call in the big guns? The house had minor previous termite damage that came up in our home inspection and that wood was replaced and proof of treatment was provided.

I'm also worried because I did lay cardboard all along the side of my house (see photo above). No termite evidence there yet. I'm thinking that I need to do some preventative work and was considering pulling what's left of the cardboard (mostly decayed) along the house and laying down some landscaping fabric and rocks contained by metal edging along the house. However, as we're also in the middle of another large project, I was wondering if this is something that could wait a week or two? Basically, how much do I need to freak out at this point?
USDA Zone 7a, Sunset Zone 32
"The earth laughs in flowers" -Ralph Waldo Emerson

imafan26
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Re: Termites in the garden

It is best not to leave wood in contact with the ground. You can have your house inspected by a termite control company.

You can also check your house yourself for termites. Go around and check the foundation for tubes or the presence of frass. They like doors, window sills, rafters, anything you have nailed or screwed and did not caulk, closet , areas where water pools after rain, and corners that are rarely disturbed. A screwdriver makes the best probe.

In the yard get rid of any wood that might be stored touching the ground, including firewood, moving the cardboard helps too.

They do sell termite bait and bait stations for monitoring and control. This is something you can do yourself as termite companies charge about $300 a year to place and monitor bait stations. It means that you need to install the stations and mark a calendar to make sure you check the stations regularly. If the bait is taken then you replace it with poisoned bait. This bait system is for ground termites. Flying termites can still attack the house.

Termite companies have the best legally available pesticides, but the warranty is typically only good for 3 years.
Happy gardening in Hawaii. Gardens are where people grow.

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pinksand
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Re: Termites in the garden

Thanks for your reply! I purchased the bait stations and inserted one in the location where I found the nest. It was getting dark while I was out last night so I didn't have the chance to place the others along the house according to the instructions yet.

I've seen conflicting advice regarding stones along the side of the house. It sounds like they can retain moisture against the house since the soil isn't exposed. I'm leaning towards just pulling back the mulch and cardboard 6" from the house and leaving bare dirt so that I can monitor for termite evidence. Any advice regarding this idea would be greatly appreciated. I've done a lot of planting along the side of the house and haven't seen any evidence thus far... keeping fingers crossed!

As far as the house goes, the other project I mentioned is renovating our basement. The walls were all down for the past month, exposing all the framing and foundation. We did see 2 sections that had previous water damage from a pipe that had leaked (definitely nothing current). It was also clear that termites had at one time made themselves at home in that damaged wood. These sections of the framing were replaced and there was no sign of current activity. Clearly they did get in at one time though, which is always scary! I'll definitely be keeping an eye on things inside!
USDA Zone 7a, Sunset Zone 32
"The earth laughs in flowers" -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Dillbert
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Re: Termites in the garden

with a history of termite issues, I'd be tempted to remove all temptations. corrugated is "wood" - but decays/rots to the point I wonder if termites would find it attractive. regardless...

bare ground is not likely to produce any evidence of termites sniffing around the house. they dislike dry bright conditions - the nest are underground, they build those "mud tunnels" to stay out of the sun moving from nest to house . . . and inside the house. must be first cousins to vampires or something.

as posted above, the frass and/or tunnels are the usual "first signs" - obviously in some homes - for example with a crawl space - it's not easy to see them. in the basement remodel, might want to think about 'trap doors' for easy inspection of difficult places....

treatment / smeechment - if there was previously a problem, I would have a professional/thorough inspection at least every two years until you know for sure the house is 'clean' - and I would not use the company that did the prior treatment work - if they see/find anything, one wonders if someone might just wait for the warranty to go away....

imafan26
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Location: hawaii, zone 12a 587 ft elev.

Re: Termites in the garden

The termite inspector said it is better not to plant anything within 18 inches of the foundation. Two feet is better. He said roots can get into cracks and the termites can get in that way. He also said that it was a good idea to keep the foundation clear so that it will be easier to inspect for tubes and tunnels. It would also make maintenance on the house for painting, caulking and tenting a lot easier.

Termites need a source of water. He said that it was important to drain water away from the foundation. That meant grading so that the soil slopes away from the foundation and rain gutters that have extensions so the water is discharged into a portland drain or at least channelled so that it exits 5 feet away from the house. Gutter extensions do work for a while but you need to make sure the gutters are regularly cleaned of leaves and debris that will clog the system. You can actually direct rain gutters into rain barrels to collect water for use later. Overflow from the barrels can be channeled away from the house.

Where I live termites are very active and a single colony can cover a large area with multiple queens.

They not only eat wood, they like glue and will eat the insulation from wiring.

Homes built after chlordane was banned in 1985 have more problems with termites since the newer chemicals do not last as long.

It is also important to try to avoid woody plants near the foundation as termites will eat them too. After the house was treated, the termites ate the roses one by one and they also like mock orange and hibiscus hedges. They even infested my mother's banyon, mango and avocado trees. They probably would like pines and other softwoods as well.
Happy gardening in Hawaii. Gardens are where people grow.

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