Do Red Cedar Chips Cause Termites

Do Red Cedar Chips Cause Termites?

Termites are known for the characteristic drilled-hole pattern they leave in wood.

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Mulch does provide a source of food for termites, but cedar woods are among the more reliable in deterring termites, so are unlikely to cause an infestation. Nevertheless, to give your home the best chance of withstanding termites, keep mulch several inches away from it.

Cedar Species

Cedar is one of the more wide-ranging tree classifications. Himalayan or deodar cedar (Cedrus deodora), for example, is a true cedar, which grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 through 8. Red cedar or Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana), which grows in USDA zones 2 through 9, is not a true cedar, but still provides good protection against termites. Western red cedar (Thuja plicata) is a member of the cypress family, and grows in USDA zones 6 through 8.

Termite Resistance

In a study rating termite resistance along with decay, the Forest Research Laboratory at Oregon State University found deodar cedar was moderately resistant. Red cedar, listed by the study as Virginia pencil cedar, ranked between resistant and very resistant, making it a good choice for landscape mulch near houses. Western red cedar, while not quite as resistant as red cedar, still withstands termites and rot well, and is therefore rated resistant.

Heartwood and Sapwood

While cedar is a naturally termite-resistant wood, it is not totally rot- or termite-proof. Rather, the natural chemical compounds that deter termites concentrate in heartwood, not sapwood. Over time, the sapwood that carries nutrients up and down the tree changes to heartwood, which is closer-grained and maintains significantly higher levels of the toxic, termite-resistant chemicals. So, the heartwood has the greatest resistance to termites, and you should use heartwood mulch exclusively to be on the safe side. Included sapwood, contained in the heartwood, also has a lower resistance.

Mulch Precautions

Some types of mulch do seem to attract termites, including many hardwoods, so it is best to use a resistant variety, such as cedar, when using landscape mulch next to house foundations. Even then, you should exercise precaution: Keep mulch several inches away from the house, never allow it to touch foundations and do not cover windows with it. Seek professional help if you do have a termite problem. Also avoid leaving other, larger pieces of wood next to your house, such as stakes or leftover construction material.

Which Mulch Is Best for Repelling Bugs?

Which Mulch Is Best for Repelling Bugs?

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Mulch is an essential component in gardening. It is used to suppress weeds, help the soil retain moisture and also to reduce erosion due to wind and rain. Additionally, as organic mulch decays, it provides helpful nutrients to the soil, enhancing microbial activity and improving the overall health of your plants. When choosing mulch for your garden landscape, there are an overwhelming number of choices. Although all mulches have pros and cons, some mulch types benefit your plants by deterring unwanted insects.

Organic Mulches

Mulch is broken down into two categories, organic and inorganic mulches. Organic mulches are byproducts of natural sources, such as grass, bark, straw, leaves or nut shells. Inorganic mulches are typically man-made products such as plastic or rubber, or inert materials such as rocks.

Of the two, organic mulches are better for repelling bugs. As organic mulches break down, they improve the chemistry of the soil, thereby increasing the number of helpful bacteria, fungi and insects. Helpful insects keep populations of harmful, plant-destroying insects at bay. It should be noted that some organic mulches, such as compost, attract certain insects like saw bugs, earwigs or pill bugs. But these bugs are easily controlled and eliminated with organic insecticides.

Cedar and Cypress

Bark or chip mulches made from cedar or cypress trees are helpful for repelling insects. Both cedar and cypress wood contain natural oils and chemicals such as thujone that deter bugs. Cedar chips repel, kill or can inhibit insects such as termites, cockroaches, cloth-eating moths, carpet beetles and certain ants, such as ordorous and Argentine. Spread cedar or cypress mulch around your garden or landscape plants to keep insects away. The wood of these trees is also resistant to decay, allowing it to last longer than other mulches.

One of the properties of mulch lost when using cedar or cypress bark is nutrients added to the soil as the wood decays. Cedar, in particular, also tends to lose its color quickly, fading to a gray hue that may not be aesthetically pleasing to some. The insect-repelling properties, however, make this mulch a good choice if you want to keep bugs away.

Plastic Mulches

Plastic mulch made from polyethylene is an inorganic product that comes in clear, aluminum-coated or black sheets. The most effective for controlling bugs are clear and aluminum-coated plastics that reflect the sunlight. As they create a reflection, plastic mulches blind and confuse insects, causing them to stay away from garden and ornamental plants. Use plastic mulches to keep aphids, whiteflies and leafhoppers under control.

However, plastic mulches are effective only when the leaves of your plants do not completely shade the surface of the soil. Plastic mulches do not work if 60 percent or more of the soil’s surface is blocked by plants. Use caution when using plastic mulches in the summer, as thermal energy from the sun heats the plastic and has the potential to burn plants.

Straw and Cocoa Bean Shells

In the garden, straw mulches are effective for reducing insect populations and keeping bugs such as cucumber beetles away from your cucumber and squash plants. Straw also deters these bugs from laying eggs and multiplying in and around your garden. Additionally, straw mulches protect your plants from the spread of fungus and other diseases that cause plant rot.

Emitting a chocolate scent throughout your garden landscape, the aroma of cocoa bean shell mulch deters bugs and also has an pleasing dark brown color. Cocoa bean shells also keep slugs and termites away from your plants. But do not use cocoa bean shell mulch in homes with pets, as this mulch can sicken dogs. For this reason, cocoa bean shell mulch should also be avoided in homes with small children.

Using Cedar Mulch to Eliminate Termites

Cedar mulch has for many decades been regarded as the optimum soil alternative for repelling termites and other unwanted insects from your garden. Unlike plastic and rubber mulches, cedar mulch is one hundred percent environmentally friendly and is not conducive to pollution or plant degradation in the slightest. The following article covers the method you should use in removing your garden’s termite problem and the reasons behind its guaranteed success.

Step 1 – Identifying Infested Areas

Unless you are already aware of the areas of your garden affected by termite infestation, you should conduct a short survey of your garden plants to discover the ones suffering from these infuriating insects. You will see an incredible number of bore-holes in plants suffering. To confirm an insect is a termite, look for a lack of waist and a straight body. These insects swarm in the spring time, which differentiates them from their look-a-likes such as carpenter ants.

Step 2 – Applying Cedar Mulch

Now that you have identified the areas of your garden under termite attack, remove around six inches of the ground soil that surrounds these plants. If you are conducting an entire covering over your garden, perform this same topsoil removal everywhere. Now open your bag of cedar mulch and begin to lay a six inch covering around all of your garden trees and plants. It can be used everywhere, even in small borders and pots as it does not create an impermeable layer like similar mulches may well do. Unlike popular belief, cedar mulch does not detract from the growth of the plants that it surrounds, so do not worry as you pack the mulch around your plants using your trowel and spade.

Step 3 – No More Termites

Now that you have laid generous amounts of cedar mulch over your garden, you can simply sit back and watch as your termite problem systematically decreases until the entire garden is pest-free. Cedar mulch also acts as a repellent to countless other insect pests and plant-borne diseases. The cedar mulch is able to work so efficiently due to the chemical imbalances it introduces in the greedy termite’s diet. Extensive studies performed in the past fifty years have shown that certain varieties of tree, such as sycamore, are incredibly harmful to the intestines of the termite. Cedar is one of these woods and when it is ingested by termites they will die within two weeks due to the new imbalance in their symbiotic relationship with the wood they consume.

As well as totally preventing the termite presence your garden once suffered from, the introduction of cedar mulch into your garden has countless other benefits. Cedar mulch increases moisture absorption rates and promotes plant growth. As a result, filtration and evaporation levels drop and soil erosion is also deterred. Ultimately, the use of cedar mulch should not be limited to those with termite problems as it is a sensational gardening product that will not fail to impress any private gardener.

Do Termites Like To Eat Cypress Mulch?

Homeowners want a yard the beauty of which leaves people speechless. Planting flowers, shrubs, grasses, as well as trees, however, requires mulch to ensure the plants get enough nutrients from the soil in addition to water. Mulched plants look pretty and well maintained.

Mulch, in addition to conserving water in the soil, breaks down or decomposes back into the earth. It keeps weeds from the gardens, so the roots don’t duel with your plants’ roots. Mulch makes sure extremes in winter plus summer weather don’t damage plants.

The soil temperature will remain cool in summer as well as being warm in winter. Mulch is necessary for a healthy yard.

Most anything can be used as mulch from stones to shredded newspaper. Some people use animal waste from farms which adds nutrients to the soil.

Some homeowners compost their own foods and other materials to use in their gardens. What we’re talking about, though, is mulch from trees.

Cypress Mulch. CC Image courtesy of Christopher Sessums on Flickr

Mulch is one part rotting wood and one part dirt. Many tree services mulch dead and dying trees in the course of their work.

What goes into mulch is wood chips, bark, leaves and branches, which is often given away free of charge. Any and all types of dead and dying trees are fair game for mulching.

The type of wood comprising mulch varies depending upon which trees are being mulched. Not all trees are dead. Some are blown over by terrible storms.

Others are cut for logging, leaving pitiful stumps or perhaps three feet tall remains. Tree services mulch whatever is available from birch, oak, pine, eucalyptus, ash, cedar, cypress, redwood, and other trees.

Generally, the heartwood deep inside the tree is not used for mulch. The heartwood isn’t alive, thus it doesn’t attract pests. It’s more valued as timber for building or for hardwood floors and house trim, both inside and outside. The sapwood is usually mulched. Termites find sapwood a tasty treat.

Termites look like white ants. They live in underground colonies. When the colony becomes too crowded, the reproducers lift into the air in swarms each spring to search for new living quarters. When they find a good source of food, they settle about 250 to 300 feet away from it.

The workers tunnel under the dirt in pencil-like lines to get to their feeding grounds. They eat, then bring the food back to the colony for the members.

Mulched plants are covered in rotting wood, it’s moist due to retained water in the soil, and it’s warm. These are things termites need to live.

Will Termites Eat Any Kind Of Wood?

Termites eat the cellulose from wood and other plants. They’ll even eat it out of cardboard boxes or cotton materials if no trees are around. Termites look to the sapwood, or the next layer from the heartwood of the tree, for their cellulose.

Keeping this in mind, any kind of wood will do. Knowing this, builders use treated wood in their buildings. However, there are certain types of wood termites will not eat. Some are even toxic. This is true even if the trees are still alive.

Do Termites Like Cypress Mulch?

There are certain trees with longer life spans than others. Some California redwoods, for example, are hundreds of years old. It’s easy to find cedar trees in addition to cypress, white oak and chestnut oak trees that are old but not dying. Termites won’t touch live trees with intact heartwood.

Some trees, though, simply are naturally repellent to termites. To be repellent, the live tree must:

  • Have natural oils making the wood repellent to insects
  • Not retain moisture so the wood becomes soft
  • Not have fungus causing decay

It makes sense that these types of wood are used in building, boats, deck or lawn furnishings, decks and other things facing atmospheres with high levels of moisture. You can see why termites wouldn’t be thrilled with these types of wood.

Before we go further, you should know that cypress trees grow to the height of Douglas firs and Colorado blue spruce. They’re in the same family, with the same shape, soft medium green fronds on the branches and smell pretty.

The tree produces cypressene, an essential oil useful to humans in skin preparations, deodorant, antiseptic and more. Also found in anti-termite essential oils is the compound d-limonene, a neurotoxin. It helps the essential oils to kill the pests during their feeding and grooming activities. Termites won’t go near something treated with these essential oils.

To recap, you have a pest that needs warmth, moisture, and wood to stay alive. It needs dead or decaying wood for a food source. It will only eat the parts of the wood or tree that isn’t heartwood. It won’t go near any part of the wood that smells like a neurotoxin.

Termites will, however, snack their way through a live tree. The tree will have roots, branches, bark, and a trunk. Although naturally decay-proof, the cypress tree will still have moisture in those parts. Although termites aren’t happy with the tree, they’ll eat it.

Of course, when the cypress tree dies, it’s fair game. This is when mulch companies grab the trees to mulch. All parts of the tree are used, even the parts containing the essential oil. When the mulch is placed around your yard, it’s like a flashing neon sign to termites. There’s warmth, moisture, and, oh, yeah, food!

The trouble with cypress mulch is that it takes a long time to break down or decompose. Add this fact to the essential oil, and you have one unhappy termite. Not that the little buggers will stay away. No, they’ll just burrow deeper to find something they like, much like small children do at the dinner table.

Termites do catastrophic damage to buildings and other expensive structures made of wood. The expense makes people do whatever it takes to get rid of termites. We can’t help giving the winner’s prize to cypress mulch.

Do termites live in cedar mulch

Mulch is used in landscaping to inhibit weed growth and help soil retain water. Wood mulch is a popular choice for New England homeowners, but the moisture-retaining wood chips also provide habitat for wood-dwelling pests, such as subterranean termites.

Placement of mulch around a structure’s foundation can support the survival of termites already established in the soil or draw termites to the structure (foraging termites may locate wood mulch prior to finding entry point into structure).

Some types of mulch are less palatable to termites than others, and home owners should consider selecting termite-resistant mulch for their landscape projects.

Melaleuca Mulch

  • Considered to be termite resistant and the most termite repellent mulch.
  • Least preferred mulch for termites according to scientific studies.
  • Termites will not eat melaleuca and have difficulty maintaining habitats under mulch piles.

Cedar Mulch

  • Has termite repellant properties.
  • Shown by studies to be detrimental to termite attack and survival.
  • Resin found in heartwoods of cedar can be toxic to termites.

Cypress Mulch

  • Extremely resistant to termites.
  • Decays very slowly; termites feed minimally on the wood.
  • Contains resins similar to those found in cedar that are detrimental to termites.

    Cypress heartwood can be scarce, and mulch may be harvested from cypress sapwood. Homeowners should avoid using cypress sapwood, as it does not possess termite-resilient properties.

    Non-wood Mulch

    • Gravel and shredded rubber are excellent for repelling termites.
    • Eliminates the food source for termites but may still provide shelter/moisture for the pests.

    Use of Mulch

    Homeowners should be cautious about termites when applying mulch around foundations. Use these precautionary measures to avoid termite infestation:

    • Foundation: Mulch should be kept at least six inches from the foundation of a home and never contact siding.
    • Application: Homeowners should apply mulch sparingly. Keeping mulch levels below two inches makes nesting difficult for termites.
    • Replacement: Mulch should be replaced every two or three years. This will help repel termites.
    • Cover the Ground: Laying ground-cover fabric down between the soil and mulch will also reduce chances of termite infestation.

    Homeowners should remember that the naturally occurring termite-resistant resins in melaleuca, cypress heartwood, and cedar fade over time and could eventually become conducive to termite infestation.

    If termites are found in mulch around the home, contact pest control specialists for proper elimination.

    Does Mulch Draw Termites? Should I Keep It Away From My Foundation?

    The Full Answer May Surprise You

    Some readers, out of an abundance of caution regarding pest control, write in to ask if a layer of mulch applied next to a house foundation will draw termites (and therefore should be avoided). The short answer is this:

    • To be on the safe side, you can leave a 1-foot-wide swath of ground mulch-free all along your foundation (and keep the ground here as dry as you can).
    • Outside of this “mulch-free zone,” you may apply mulch (as people often do to suppress weeds in their foundation plantings), but limit its depth to just a few inches and inspect it vigilantly for termites.

    Now that you have the short answer, let’s explore this issue in greater depth.

    Drainage (Moisture), Termite Control, and Your House Foundation

    When it comes to termite control, opinions vary on the degree of caution one must exercise when applying mulch near a house. But when mulching foundation plantings, you should, at the very least, be aware of termite issues, especially if:

    • Termites are known to be a concern in your area.
    • You, yourself have had trouble with termite pests in the past.

    The very word, “termites” is enough to make one shudder, and with good reason. That is why it may be best to play it safe and err on the side of caution when mulching near your home’s foundation.

    Drainage and termite control are two matters to keep on the front burner when applying mulch to a foundation planting. Ensuring adequate drainage is relatively simple: Grade the ground underneath so that it has about a 5-percent slope away from the house, to channel water away from the foundation. But termite-control recommendations are more complex.

    Can I Mulch Around My House, or Will This Draw Termites?

    Consider the various sub-questions implied when we ask such a question:

    1. Should the mulch be allowed to come into contact with the foundation?
    2. If so,
      • How deep a layer of mulch is acceptable?
      • And how close should the mulch be allowed to come to a wooden surface?
    3. Are some types of mulch preferable when it comes to termite control? Does a wood mulch actually draw these pests to a yard, in search of a snack?

    Each of these termite-control questions deserves individual treatment.

    There is some disagreement over the answer to the first question above. Some advise against letting the mulch come into contact with the foundation at all (you certainly should not allow such contact if a termiticide was applied to the soil along the foundation when your house was built). In other cases, if you want to err on the side of caution for termite control (and it is hard to fault a homeowner whose general policy is, “Better safe than sorry”), then this would be the correct answer for you. As mentioned above, simply keep your bed of mulch a foot or more away from the house (if this mulch-free zone allows you to sleep better at night, then it is a precious foot of space, indeed).

    If you are going to be a bit less paranoid and will let the mulch come into contact with the foundation, then limit the depth of the layer of mulch to about two inches (in fact, even if kept further away from the house, a mulch layer in a foundation bed should not be much deeper than this, with four inches being maximum depth). But how close should the mulch be allowed to come to a wooden surface? Burnett’s Landscaping in Salem, Connecticut (U.S.) recommends “at least eight inches of exposed foundation between the top of the planting bed and the wood sill plate of the house structure.”

    Finally, when it comes to the best type of mulch to use when termite control is a concern, there is a widespread misconception. Folks assume that, because termites eat wood, only wood mulches present a problem. That is a myth. There is also the separate question of whether, technically speaking, mulch actually draws termites to your land.

    The issue is not termites being drawn to a property by the promise of a wood mulch that they can eat, but rather termites that are already present (in the soil) exploiting the mulch as a hiding place, using it as a launching pad to invade your house. Termites like moisture, and all mulches provide that to some degree. In fact, good moisture-retention is one of the prerequisites for the most effective mulches. Your plants enjoy this quality in a mulch, but so do the termites. And remember, even mulches that retain less moisture (such as stone mulches) still furnish pests with a place to hide. To sum up, the case is not so much that mulch draws termites to a property (they were probably there already), as it is that mulch makes life more comfortable for these pests. And placing mulch near the foundation, specifically, just invites them to rise up out of the soil and search for ways to penetrate your house’s walls. And who needs that, right?

    The good news is that there are actually some kinds of wood mulch that termites dislike:

    • Cedar mulch
    • Mulch that comes from the heartwood of cypress

    Incidentally, it is more accurate to say that termites eat cellulose than to say that they eat wood. Cellulose can be found in the cell walls of plants (not just trees). Consequently, termites give you another reason not to like them: They can damage your landscape plants.

    Home Termite Control Requires Diligence

    So what is a homeowner worried about termite control to do? First of all, if you do not already know, find out what the heck a termite looks like, anyway, using the termite picture above for identification. Next, be diligent and inspect the mulch in foundation plantings regularly, to determine if any termites are present. If you find any, do not procrastinate: Contact a reputable professional in the termite-control business immediately.

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