Termites cost homeowners in the United States more than $5 billion in property damage each year. Commonly referred to as the “silent destroyer,” this pest has the ability to cause devastating damage to homes without being detected. Consider this: Many homeowners’ insurance plans will not cover any of the costs associated with termite damage. With that said, it’s easy to see that having no termite protection in place can lead to big problems.
There are several factors that attract termites to homes, and unfortunately, every home, regardless of construction type, provides these things: food, moisture, shelter and optimal temperatures. The good news is there are proactive measures you can take to help your customers eliminate attractants. One of these is creating and maintaining a termite-proof landscape year round.
Many homeowners only associate landscaping with the spring and summer months, but it is important to also be thinking about landscaping in the winter months. During winter, termites may seek refuge deeper in the soil, so taking time now to address landscaping will have you better prepared for the warming soil in the spring.
Work with your customers to eliminate or modify conditions around the home and yard that attract termites and reduce their access to moisture, food and shelter. Here are a few landscaping tips to work on with your customers.
Remove Food Sources.
Termites eat cellulose, the main ingredient in plant matter. This means that any wood materials found around the home and yard can serve as a food source and attractant for termites. To termite-proof the landscape, work with your customer to implement the following tips:
- Remove rotting stumps, dead trees and roots, and other wood debris in the yard.
- Move firewood and woodpiles at least 20 feet away from the home and store off the ground, if possible. When stacked against the foundation, firewood and lumber offer hidden entry points into the home and may allow termites to bypass a protective soil treatment.
- Keep wood mulch to a minimum and avoid using it near the foundation of the home. Mulch not only serves as a source of food, but also retains moisture, which is conducive to termite activity. If mulch is used, keep the level of the mulch several inches below the siding and wooden parts of the home’s structure. Consider replacing mulch with gravel.
- Monitor mulch for signs of termites. Look beyond the surface and dig down into the mulch bed since termites will not always be close to the surface.
- Avoid planting any vegetation near to the home, including groundcover. If possible, keep vegetation 3 to 4 feet away from the exterior of the home.
Termites are dependent on moisture to survive and they thrive when given access to areas with excessive moisture. As a result, it’s important to ensure that there is proper drainage around the home to avoid water accumulation. The following tips can be implemented to ensure proper drainage:
- Homeowners should immediately repair leaking water pipes, faucets and air-conditioning units.
- Remove excessive plant cover and wood mulch.
- Make sure there is no standing water on the roof.
- Grade soil away from the foundation of the home.
- Divert rainwater away from the foundation by installing down-spout extenders and splash blocks and maintaining clean gutters and downspouts.
- Divert lawn sprinklers and irrigation water away from the foundation.
Protect Protective Barriers.
Termite barriers serve as a first line of defense against infestations. Liquid termiticides create a treated zone in the soil in which termites forage and bring termiticide back to the colony. These barriers can be disturbed, however, when homes are re-landscaped or re-graded. When new soil is brought into the yard for these purposes, it will not be treated. This can render the home vulnerable to infestation. If you have a customer whose property has been treated for termites previously, make sure they are aware that soil will need to be re-treated if new soil is brought in. New soil also may affect baiting stations placed throughout the property if they are buried or compromised.
Keep this in mind if you have customers who are adding on to their homes also. If an addition is made to the home, any termite barriers should be reapplied around the addition and at the junction of the original structure and addition.
Termite barriers also can be compromised in times of flooding. This was the case for many homeowners along the coast of New Jersey in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The following conditions have the potential to damage or ruin termite treatment efforts:
- Bait stations may wash away due to flood waters.
- Soil erosion may have removed protective treatment zones or soil may have been deposited around the house. If this is the case, protective treatment zones may now be under several feet of top soil.
- Previous soil treatments that were more water soluble may no longer be effective enough to protect the structure from potential termite invasions.
Landscaping can go a long way in reducing a homeowner’s risk of termite infestation. Work with your customer year round on landscaping tips and remind them to keep an eye out for signs of termites any time they spend time in the yard or garden. Proactive measures are the key to mitigating the risk of termites and the headache they can cause.
Hope Bowman is a technical specialist and board certified entomologist with Western Pest Services, a New-Jersey based pest management company serving residential and commercial customers throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. Learn more at www.westernpest.com.