The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Formosan Termites And Bagged Mulch

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
Extension Educator, Horticulture
slmason@illinois.edu

"Good news about someone never gets past the door, but bad news will travel a thousand leagues away," according to a Chinese proverb. The Chinese had no idea how right they were now that we have email. Information travels fast and misinformation travels even faster. Recently a volcano of emails erupted this week about Formosan termites infesting bagged mulch from Louisiana.

It's time to put this urban legend to rest, but first I must get on my soap box. We should all be getting our mulch from the Landscape Recycling Center (LRC) in Urbana or comparable place in your area whenever possibleand not buying it in bags. LRC has excellent products and it's a much more environmentally sound source.That said.

The concern for spreading Formosan termites in bagged mulch from Louisiana is greatly exaggerated. We certainly do not want Formosan termites. Our native ones cause us enough grief. Formosans tend to have huge colonies that can do a great deal of damage so of course people would be worried about their spread.

First Louisiana is under a strict quarantine for the movement of wood. These websites discuss this a bit furtherhttp://www.pestworld.org/Database/article.asp?ArticleID=40 http://www.snopes.com/inboxer/household/termites.aspThe way I understand it the quarantine is being strictly monitored. The southern states don't want to move termites around in their states either. Now we all know there are unethical and illegal folks out there so I would definitely refrain from buying cheap mulch off the back of someone's truck unless you know where it came from.Reusing wood such as railroad ties and lumber and moving firewood is much more likely to spread termites. Wood from infested parishes (counties) is being sent to designated landfills within the quarantined area.

Let me step back onto my soapbox for a moment. Never, ever, ever move firewood long distances. Firewood can be a source for many nasty insect pests such as gypsy moth, pine wilt nematode, emerald ash borer and long horned beetle. If you are ever tempted, give me a call and I will do my best to talk you out of it. Plus entomologists can figure out where an insect infestation started. Do you really want to be the person that infested your neighborhood?

In addition Formosan termites are a sub-tropical species andmore than likely will not survive our winters and probably wouldn't survive the mulching and bagging process all that well either.Now we allknow that a lack of winter hardiness doesn't always hold true. The monstrous vine kudzu that can eat homes and slow moving people has shown how ranges can expand but over many years and not one season. Incorrectlystated in the reoccurringemail was that thereare no controls for Formosan termites which is completely incorrect. Control such as baiting or perimeter pesticide barriers is similar to what we use for our native termites. Here is a website from the University of Florida about Formosan termites http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/BODY_MG064

Some general guidelines to reduce termites of any kind:

  • Any structural wood at or near ground level should be pressure-treated with a wood preservative.
  • Leave at least one foot around home foundation that is clear of plants and mulch.
  • Make sure rain gutters work properly so rain water drains quickly.
  • Soil next to home should slope away so water does not stand.
  • Sprinklers should not wet exterior of home.
  • Promptly fix leaks in the basement, roof, water heater, appliances, and other sources inside your home.
  • Remove all wooden grade stakes, form boards, supports, and scrap wood after finishing construction or remodeling.

So for nowlet's relax and enjoyour upcoming spring with our usual list of concerns: rabbits, frost, rain, etc.and leave this one buried in the urban legend archives.

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