Mulch is one of the most versatile and beautiful landscaping and gardening resources. Whether you’re using it to keep weeds tamed and keep moisture in your soil, or you just love the beautification it can provide to your property, mulch is something that all gardeners know and use.
But, one harrowing concern about mulch is it might attract termites to your property, and subsequently let them attack your home, deck and other structures. Is it true? Does mulch attract termites?
Yes, mulch may attract termites because it’s a ready food source for them, and because it is a good cover and makes for a great hiding place. Mulch should be routinely inspected and if necessary treated for the presence of termites.
Lots of bugs inhabit mulch as a matter of course, and most of them are harmless or even helpful. But termites are definitely harmful.
Mulch might conceal the activities of termites in and around your home until it is too late, and only when the damage is substantial will you discover their presence. I’ll tell you a lot more about how termites interact with your mulch below.
Does Mulch Make Your Home Vulnerable to Termites?
Mulch itself does not necessarily make your home more vulnerable to termites. However, it can if used carelessly!
Using the wrong type of mulch or applying mulch incorrectly can increase the likelihood of termites finding their way into your home or other structures and doing major damage.
Why Do Termites Make Their Home in Mulch?
Termites are attracted to mulch because it provides them with food, shelter, and moisture. Mulch is often made from wood, which contains cellulose – a compound that termites digest as their primary food source.
When termites consume mulch, they break down the cellulose with the help of microorganisms in their digestive systems.
In addition to providing food, mulch also creates an ideal environment for termites to thrive. Mulch can retain moisture, creating a damp and humid environment that termites prefer.
For subterranean termites, which are the most destructive type of termite, mulch also provides a bridge between their underground colonies and above-ground food sources or paths to food, such as the foundation or walls of a home.
For these reasons, termites are naturally attracted to mulch. This means it is doubly important to use the right type of mulch and place it correctly to reduce the likelihood of termites finding their way into your home.
Are All Kinds of Mulch Attractive to Termites?
No, not all kinds of mulch are attractive to termites. In fact, some types of mulch can actually repel termites!
For example, cedar mulch is naturally resistant to insects and can prevent termite infestations in and around your yard. Other known repellent woods include redwood, heartwood cypress, and eucalyptus.
Synthetic or inorganic mulches are also less appealing to termites since they aren’t a food source, though they can still work as cover or a bridge for termites to get to the wood in your home or other structures.
Pebbles, gravel, rubber mulch, and similar materials are much less attractive to termites than organic mulches above.
How Can You Find Out if Termites are in Your Mulch?
The easiest way to find out if termites are present in your mulch is to inspect it regularly. Look for swarms or columns of marching insects, sawdust piles and other signs of termite activity like mud tube on your exterior walls or near the base of the foundation.
If you’re in doubt, flipping and turning mulch is an effective way to search for termites. Be sure to wear gloves and long pants while doing so!
Look out for swarmers or alates which are winged, reproductive termites; these are the most likely sign of an infestation.
Keep in mind that subterranean termites may be able to access your home even if they are not visible in the mulch, so it is important to inspect all areas of your property and contact a pest control professional whether you suspect a mulch infestation or not.
Keeping Termites Out of Your Mulch
While the use of mulch near the foundation of a home can attract termites, there are ways to use mulch that can actually help reduce the likelihood of termite infestations. Here are a few tips.
Use termite-resistant mulch: Certain types of mulch are less attractive to termites because they are made from materials that are not cellulose-based.
Rubber or rock mulch, for example, are not a food source for termites, so they are less likely to be attracted to these types of mulch.
Apply mulch sparingly: Apply only a thin layer of mulch around the foundation of your home, and keep the mulch at least 12 inches away from the foundation.
This will make termites easier to spot if nothing else. If you must use deeper mulch, thin it out near your foundation.
Avoid moisture accumulation: Termites are attracted to moisture, so make sure that the soil under the mulch remains dry.
This is contrary to why some will use mulch in the first place, but if you are only relying on it for decorative use then you can periodically turn the mulch to promote thorough, quick drying.
Consider use of a moisture meter to monitor the soil moisture and water only when necessary. Avoid overwatering the plants that the mulch is covering.
Clean up debris: Keep any dead wood, leaves or stems out of your mulch as it can give termites an additional source of food, particularly when the mulch is inorganic.
Inspect regularly: Make sure to inspect your mulch for signs of termite activity regularly. Look for termite swarmers, termite mud tubes, or damage to the mulch if you don’t turn it often.
Treatment: If you do find signs of termite activity, the best course of action is to contact a pest control professional to advise or take care of it.
However, immediate interdiction and prevention can be performed with insecticides.
For a more ecologically friendly option, consider using diatomaceous earth mixed in with the mulch, but know that it will kill other, beneficial insects just the same.
Don’t Cover Perimeter Sprays with Mulch
One common mistake I see people make over and over concerning the use of pesticide perimeter sprays and similar countermeasures is in their placement on and around mulch.
For starters, never spray the ground around your foundation and then cover it with mulch; termites and other insects are still able to cross the treated area alive by crawling over the mulch!
Similarly, don’t treat the mulch itself and then turn it or cover it later with additional mulch; same outcome, and though some insects will still contact it and die efficacy will be greatly reduced.
The best course of action is to spray the wall of your house right at the ground and the ground itself, then either keep the mulch back or place the mulch and then spray the wall above the mulch line.
This way, termites are far more likely to contact the poison no matter what route they take.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.