Mulch by the house = termites - fact or fiction?

roopooroo(N TX)July 15, 2006

When I bought my house the inspector was pleased to see no mulch in the foundation beds because it would "cause termites". The owner of the other half of the duplex must have hired the same inspector, because hers told her the same thing! But when I was growing up we always had those white quartz rocks in the beds (real popular in San Antonio in the 60s if I remember correctly) and every Saturday my father cursed them as they tore up his lawn mower because, as we all know, mulch NEVER stays IN the bed.

So what do y'all use in your foundation beds if organic brings termites and inorganic ruins the mower? My bed in front of the house has no mulch at all, and I'm having to water several times per week, and, of course, it's weed city. I need to do SOMETHING. Help!

BTW, the foundation in the back has cypress mulch - I guess he thought that was okay or didn't notice it! I also use cypress in the beds by the fences.

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pjtexgirl(7b DFW)

I've read and seen that native Cedar mulch is the best for repelling bugs. I have actually stayed away from the free mulches offered by the city in favor of buying Cedar. It really works well here. I don't have any mulch against my house and a gap between the plants and the house to I can keep debris down to a low and discourage all kinds of pests. They even recommend hooking vines to a trellis with a hook and eyebolt set up so you can carfully tilt the vine forward and clean out debris behind it,create and air pocket, and keep it from attaching directly to the house. PJ

Here is a link that might be useful: Mulch near house/cedar mulch

    Bookmark   July 15, 2006 at 11:34AM
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We put bark mulch (the packaged kind) in a planter box that adjoins my mother's house about 30 years ago. Termites invaded the mulch, got into the adjacent wall, and ruined the sheetrock in that room. The exterminator said the origin of the termites was that bark mulch; that they love it. The repairs to the damage done to the walls ran into the thousands of dollars.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2006 at 12:35PM
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pjtexgirl(7b DFW)

eldo, that's awful! your poor mom!PJ

    Bookmark   July 15, 2006 at 2:36PM
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roopooroo(N TX)

pj- I was wondering if just putting a gap would help - that's what I have in the back foundation bed. I also will be putting up some trellises and was planning to do something similar to keep the trellis a few inches from the house. Unless I just decide to try growing the clematis in a container after all, which is an idea I'm toying with (and is possibly the subject of another post!).

I think I'll go ahead and get a some bags of native cedar, then, and make sure it stays a few inches from the house. The yard does slope slightly downward away from the house so I don't think it will be a hard job keeping the mulch at bay.

eldo, 30 years ago my parents bought the house that my mom lives in now. It had lots of planters and they all had that bark mulch. My parents also had a horrible time with water bugs. Then one year they got rid of all the bark mulch - and in the process figured out where all the water bugs were coming from! They've never had a problem with them since getting rid of all that bark. I am terrified of roaches so I will never EVER buy bark mulch! LOL!


    Bookmark   July 15, 2006 at 4:51PM
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mikeandbarb(z8 D/FW)

I've heard of people using pine needles, leaves and grass clipping's for mulch.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2006 at 5:53PM
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trsinc(8 TX)

I've always heard that there should be six inches between the mulch and the foundation... Don't know if that is true, but once my plants grew large enough to shade out weeds on their own, I pulled the mulch away from the foundation.

In the back, my bed along the house is slow in coming. So, I planted asparagus fern all along the foundation in the hopes that it will act as a weed barrier and so I dont' have to put mulch right up to the house. I'm also liking the idea of how it will look later, growing amongst the shrubs and so forth.

My mom is PARANOID about termites - and bugs in general. So much so that she won't even grow plants up against the house because she says it attracts bugs. She used to have a small bed in the front, against the house, that was mulched with cedar chips (purely because the HOA demands that you have landscaping...). She was always worrying about termites getting into that area. Well, she got termites allright, but not there! All of the termite tunnels that were found were in the side yards where only grass grew! And, by the way, she is chemical crazy!! Spreads the yard with stuff several times a year. Used to use diazanon like it was the cure for cancer.

So, I think it's possible to get them no matter what you do... I try not to worry too much and just pray that it won't happen.

Anybody know if the 6 inch rule is valid?


    Bookmark   July 15, 2006 at 8:00PM
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rick_mcdaniel(Lewisville, TX)

Type of mulch, is a rather large factor in that discussion. The worst thing you can use for much, is pine bark mulch. It attracts a myriad of insects, including termites.

I use cypress mulch, and have no unusual bug problems anywhere, because of the mulch.

Cedar or redwood, will tend to also discourage insects. Pine needles are great for keeping out weeds, but also increase fire danger, dramatically, in such a dry climate.

So.......there are no clear cut answers, but you should avoid pine bark mulch, specifically, and select a mulch that will discourage insects.

Stone is less advantageous than it would seem, because the stone will get hotter, and dry out the soil around it, from the radiant heat. It will also trap every weed seed known to man. It is best used to contain washes and prevent erosion, where rain tends to run hard, and erode the soil.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2006 at 10:39AM
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Roopooroo -
You might want to check the link below. It pertains to the e-mail scare that went out several months ago, in regards to LA mulch, but the link also has some good general information about termites and about mulch.

I used to use cypress, no I go mostly with cedar.

I definitely agree with Rick's comments about stone - the maintenance is painful.
It may set you mind at ease if you learn more about the signs of termites, the historical and current infestation rate in your area and if you consider an annual termite inspection.
Best of luck!

Here is a link that might be useful: Termites and Mulch

    Bookmark   July 16, 2006 at 11:34AM
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Bev__(z7/8 TX)

I have beds around about 1/3 of my foundation.
It is right up to the house pretty even with the cement pad. My exterminator sprays my foundation when he does the inside of the house every 3 months.
My exterior is brick & cement siding,I hope that helps keep the termites out.
I use only cedar mulch from hopefuly healthy trees. Won't touch that free stuff, who knows whats all in it.
I prefer bagged soil & mulch. I think the heat in the bags may kill some of the critters & weed seeds.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2006 at 12:49PM
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FHA requires a certain amount (3" rings a bell, but it may be 2" or 4") of bare slab to show between the mulch *or soil* & the first row of bricks.

Termites in the soil or mulch cannot jump, say, 4" to get into the weep holes & invade the house, but if you pile mulch or soil against the weep holes, you've just built them a super-highway.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2006 at 12:42PM
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I work in the industry and the 6" rule is correct, and 12" is better.

The kiss of death is ANY contact between the ground (mulch is considered ground here) and the wood that sits on your foundation. As was said above, the contact is the conduit that allows entry. Any gap between the 2 will lessen the chance of infestation, and a 6" gap will discourage all but the feistiest of termites.

Remember termites are everywhere and if they find wood, they will infest. Your job is to keep them from finding your wood.

Follow these tips to help keep your house termite free:

1. The 6" gap must ring the entire house. Decks and wooden stairs that contact the soil are 2 prime entry routes that often get overlooked. Never pile firewood or scrap lumber against your house (repeat, never).

2. Termites must have moisture to live and breed. Use gutters, downspouts, and good grading to carry water away from the house. DonÂt let in-ground sprinklers wet your exterior walls. You should have no standing water near your home 30 minutes after a rainfall.

3. If you have a crawlspace, it must be kept dry. Also check the crawlspace for wood/soil contacts  builders get sloppy down here because not many homeowners bother to look. Remove any scrap wood, trash, and clutter. Inspect at least annually.

4. Keep the humidity inside your house low (A/C is the easiest way). If you have a basement, run a dehumidifier periodically. If your sheetrock sweats, call a pro. Waterproof bathrooms and kitchens and fix any leak anywhere immediately.

5. Walk around your foundation often and look for: (1) ground/wood contacts; (2) small tunnels made of dirt or dried mud that bridge the soil/wood gap; and (3) any signs of wood rot. If you see the tunnels or rot, you may want to call a pro. Inspect often because things change.

These 5 steps will prevent almost all infestations. The added bonus is this routine also slows down mold growth. The best part is it is free.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2006 at 6:24PM
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trsinc(8 TX)

If I may ask, is that 6-12 inches horizontally away from the foundation? Or vertically?

I will definitely be taking your advice! I've been watching this thread to see what would come up.


    Bookmark   July 17, 2006 at 7:13PM
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In my reply I meant vertical. There should be a minimum of 6 vertical inches of foundation between the ground (which can be mulch, grass, dirt, landscaping timber, ...) and the wood of the house that sits on top of the foundation.

You can pile mulch directly against the lower part of the foundation as long as the home's wood sits 6 inches higher. In my opinion, mulch is not great directly against the foundation because it keeps the soil near the house wet. If you can facilitate a few inches or more of horizontal space and still meet your landscaping goals, you're better off.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2006 at 1:23AM
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dallasbill(z8a - Dallas, TX)

If you don't have mulch up against the foundation -- not the brickwork, the concrete perimeter -- then that is going to dry up faster than all the surroundings. That spells huge trouble in Texas with slab foundations. Why do you think that a soaker hose is recommended about 18 inches out from the slab -- to keep the ground moisture controlled. No mulch for that 18 inches means no moisture control.

If you have trees and bushes around your house, where do you think the (living and dead) roots are? Do you think they are in a permanent holding pattern, 18 inches out from the slab? No. Is your mulch *below* the soil where the common termite lives? No.

As long as you keep the mulch away from any wood, and away from the brick or stucco line, you will be fine. Termites that live in the ground do not hop or do jumping jacks.

And the cedar recommendation was a great one -- the oils repel pretty well any bugs. And, if you are really really concerned, lay down benficial nematodes twice a year, in spring and fall, and they will consume any critter larva anywhere near your slab.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2006 at 2:32PM
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House + Southern heat and humidity = termites.

My house is RAISED on brick pillars and had termites. Not a bit of mulch anywhere in site. BUT the back porch had a leak and the wood stayed wet. Ain't no crawl space, ain't no basement, ain't no slab. We tore off the porch, replaced the foundation beam and had the place treated.

Termites can actually build a mud tunnel up the brick, so they don't need to jump up there, they build themselves a nice little sheltered tunnel and crawl happily up and down.

And THEN there are the formosa termites, which have eaten a good portion of New Orleans, nasty things.

Tally HO!

    Bookmark   July 18, 2006 at 9:12PM
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When we bought our home, the inspector complianed that the mulch was a tad high--around a 20' brick column that held the roof over the front entry. We thought he was a tad nuts.

Also--am I going to have to rip out my climbing roses when I want to sell the house to get past the inpectors? Do they hate vines? Is that why I see all the vines disappear from the homes for sale around here?

    Bookmark   July 19, 2006 at 9:01AM
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roopooroo(N TX)

Well, now, dallasbill, all my life I've heard that the goal is to keep the soil around your foundation moist, lest the slab cracks. So, dry=no termites and wet=no cracks. Decisions, decisions.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2006 at 12:19AM
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dallasbill(z8a - Dallas, TX)

I hear ya, roopooroo! I keep the beds mulched 2-3 inches with cedar and use a soaker hose. I have good drainage. I spread nematodes. I watch for termites.

It's a lot cheaper than a cracked foundation and shifting walls... ;-)

    Bookmark   July 20, 2006 at 2:00PM
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saltcedar(Sunset zn 30/usda 8b)

I agree that no mulch should be in contact with any
wooden portion of the home. 6 to 12 inches at least.

Having said that I have raised beds of Sandy Loam mulched
with decomposed granite. Agaves and other drought lovers
in those unwatered beds. When it rains hard enough
to trigger swarming of subterranean termites those beds
have as many or more swarms as the rest of the yard.


    Bookmark   July 20, 2006 at 2:52PM
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I just posted a similar question. I should have read this one first.

My concern is the same but my exterior wall is brick (veneer), should I still keep the 6" rule?

I've thought of putting a row of bricks or pavestones against the foundation between the wall and the mulch. However, it can be costly.

Today, I went to Lowe's and saw a mulch strip (10'x4.5") made from recycle rubber tires. I was thinking of using this since it's not wood but rubber. It's also long lasting.

Have any of you used this rubber mulch? Do you think this might minimize termites?



    Bookmark   August 25, 2006 at 11:39PM
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several months ago, i bought a load of "manure compost" from the local yard. This stuff looks just about like potting soil. I dumped it from the traile on the ground. now, it is full of termites!

i guess these are local bugs as i used a good amount of this stuff when i first got it and saw no signs of them.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2006 at 3:21PM
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I amended the soil next to my house with redwood mulch and got termites in that area later. I don't know if it was from the mulch but I had to have the house tented and the soil injected with termite killer, as I had both subteranean and drywood termites.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2007 at 10:32AM
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I put mulch in a planter box next to my mother's house, and put mulch in it, and termites colonized there, went through the wood walls of the house, and ruined the living room. It was one of the things I most regret in my whole life. The exterminator, of the best in Texas, said it was the mulch up against the house that caused the termites to colonize there.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2007 at 11:37AM
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lindseyrose(8b/9 Texas)

I haven't read the thread yet, but Randy Lemmon, a Houston garden show host on AM radio, says it's NOT true. In fact, one Saturday morning I was listening and a caller snidely said something like, "randy, I'm an exterminator and I'd like to thank you for all the business you are giving me..." and Randy cut him off and was ranting at him for the rest of the show. LOL So, there are some in the business who say it simply is NOT true, that termites are not attracted to mulched up wood. They ARE in the soil, whether we like it or not, in Texas. Randy says mulching our beds (as long as you don't heap any material right up against the foundation--I've heard 6 inches should be visible) is not going to invite them into our house.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2007 at 2:53PM
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We had termites last year. They were in a tree stump the previous owners left in the backyard. They didn't have it ground out or anything, so the termites were happily munching away on the roots underground. They worked their way up into the side of our enclosed sunroom. There is no mulch near it. Had the house examined for termites, none found except in that one area and the yard. The pros came out and treated.

Then, we applied beneficial nematodes to our yard in two applications 1 week apart. No more termites! We also sprayed BN earlier this spring, before swarming season, and we've had no more problems.

We use native cedar mulch and when we apply the nematodes, we make sure to spray all the beds as well as the yard.
So, I would recommend the native cedar mulch and beneficial nematodes to help curtail any termite infestation. The nematodes actually attack the termites underground and eat them. There is a certain kind of nematode you have to apply, though, so pay attention when you get them. My husband had to order the termite eating kind online. Not only do the nematodes destroy the termites, they also help control fleas, ticks, roaches, june bugs, grubs, chiggers, and ants.


    Bookmark   April 28, 2007 at 6:14PM
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Here's a link that will give you lots of info on termites. It's the Louisiana State University Ag Center's website, so they talk specifically about the Formosan Subterrarean Termite. However, most of it applies to all subterranean termites (but not drywood termites). When you click on the link, you'll get a pop-up box asking for your zip code, but it's the only pop-up you'll get.

If your house has a concrete foundation you should probably be more worried about cracked corners and the bath traps than the mulch. There are good pictures of both on the link I provided, so that you'll know what I'm talking about.

The site says that mulch can be a problem if you put it on top of a treated termite barrier around your house because it can give the termites a bridge over the treatment. It can also be a problem against a foundation if it keeps you from seeing the termite tubes (which are not usually as large and dramatic as ones you see pictures of on the web). They recommend leaving 6 inches of your foundation showing so that you can inspect it easily for termite tubes.

When you inspect your foundation, occasionally take a little spade and dig 6-10 inches down at key points (places where plumbing enters or exits your house, cracked corners, wood fence posts, wet areas, etc). Termites look like little white larva with brownish heads. They move away pretty fast, so look as you dig. It can help to dump the dirt you remove on a black plastic bag and mash the dirt around to check it. Be especially alert if you find roly polys where you dig. Note: if you've had the perimeter treated, don't follow this advice unless you plan to re-treat the areas you disturb.

Now, anyone want to talk about carpenter ants?!

Here is a link that might be useful: subterranean termites

    Bookmark   April 28, 2007 at 8:34PM
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denisew(z8 TX)

We just found a little mud tunnel where termites were trying to get into our house a couple weeks ago. We have to realize that they are in the soil whether we like it or not. As someone told me the other day, there are two kinds of houses in Texas - those that have termites and those that will get termites. We're having a company come out to treat for them where we found them this coming week. They're going to put out bait stations too - although there are reports of how well these things work (or not).

As far as termites being in bags of mulch - it is not likely. The bags of mulch generally get pretty warm and if there were any in there, they would not be able to stand the heat and besides, it is kept pretty dry and they like cool, damp places like deep in the soil. It is just smart to keep the mulch a little bit away from the foundation of our homes.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2007 at 10:05PM
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maden_theshade(8 - Austin)

My house had active termites when I made an offer. They had crawled up behind a plant on a trellis, made their little mud tunnel up the concrete slab and got into the wall.

I really freaked out and almost didn't buy. But I did a lot of research and went with a local guy (recommended by both realtors) who didn't try to sell me a maintentance package. I got one treatment of Termidor and haven't had any problems since. (3 years). My termite guy said the company who sells that product recommends retreating after 5 years, but he told me there are still field studies going on w/ a 20 year-old application still repelling the termites. It also kills any other type of insect that passes through the barrier. And true enough, I've had no problem w/ roaches, crickets, ants or anything else in the house.

They put this type of product around the perimeter of the foundation. (Even under my wooden deck.) The only way I can get in trouble is if I get a foundation crack and they somehow tunnel under the barrier and into the foundation crack. But I think if you have that situation you're screwed anyway!

My parents had termites in the 90's and had holes drilled into the foundation inside the house, something sprayed in, and then bait traps put out in the yard. They still got reinfested.

I use the cedar mulch and haven't had any problems. I'm not really sure if it repels them or not, but I think they are less attracted to it. You definitely don't want to set out a buffet for them right next to the house.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2007 at 11:21PM
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liz_h(7/8 DFW Texas)

I don't have much to add on the termite issue, but would like to comment on the idea of "watering your foundation". I have a friend who is a forensic engineer in Dallas. His job entails things like determining why a building collapsed or a support failed. He says not to water your foundation. We just left a house we had lived in for 25 years. Some summers we (or Mother Nature) watered the yard. Other years we totally ignored it and it was very dry. We never had a problem with our slab foundation.

A lot of foundation problems in this area are caused by not properly engineering the foundation for the soil on the site. These will crack whether or not they are watered.

Just my $.02 worth - I know this is contrary to what most people in North Texas believe.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2007 at 8:47PM
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