Published on 04/24/13

Cut down on moisture, debris around your home to help keep termites away

By Sharon Dowdy

Most people take action against pests when they see them – roaches scurrying across the kitchen counter, ants taking over the cookie jar, moles digging up the petunias. But what about the pests you can’t see, like termites?

University of Georgia entomologist Brian Forschler says you may not be able to get rid of termites without a professional’s help, but you can make your home less appetizing to them.

Constantly searching for food

“Termites need darkness and moisture, and more often than not, moisture is associated with a termite infestation,” he said. “There are usually at least 50,000 termites in a colony, and they are constantly moving around, looking for a new food source. Then boom, they run into your house.”

To discourage termites from putting your home on their menu, Forschler encourages homeowners to keep the areas around their homes free of debris like stumps, woodpiles, excessive mulch and anything that could be a potential food source.

“Ten thousand termites could be feeding on a stump 3 feet from a house, which means at least 10 of them are looking around for new food, and it only takes one of them to turn to the right, find your house and let the other 9,999 know where to go for their next meal,” he said.

Clean up and reroute water

Forschler also recommends keeping the perimeter, especially the foundation, of your home as dry as possible. Remove excessive mulch (more than 2 inches) next to the home’s foundation, and make sure irrigation/sprinklers do not create wet spots on siding or foundations. Redirect rainwater and air conditioner condensation away from your home, too.

“All these things will go a long way in keeping termites at bay,” he said. “Gutters that look like window boxes with gardens growing in them or mushrooms popping up beside the house are also signs of moisture that can be addressed by a concerned/involved property owner. The goal is to keep the soil right-up-next-to the foundation dry. No self-respecting termite will construct a tunnel into bone-dry soil.”

They're not smart

Forschler, who has researched termites for the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences for the past 22 years, says the pests are really different from the textbook definitions.

“They are really simple, stupid animals,” he said. “Sometimes they share food and other times they don’t. They do not stay in one spot. They are constantly moving around and are far from territorial.”

As part of his UGA research, Forschler studies the pests at sites across the state. He has seen first hand that five of the six species of termites found in Georgia usually swarm in the spring and eat more in the summer and less in the winter. Ninety percent of the termites he encounters in Georgia buildings are Eastern subterranean termites. “This is an invasive species that can survive even in rearranged habitats,” he said.

Termites follow cracks

If termites have targeted your home, you may feel like a victim, but Forschler says most termite invasions aren’t planned.

“When termites run into a guideline, a root, a crack or a crevice, they are going to follow it every time. Particularly cracks and crevices because half of their tunnel-building work has already been done for them,” he said.

Sometimes these cracks and crevices are part of the home’s construction, like expansion joints. This is why termites are often found between the garage slab and the home slab or at chimneys and front/back porches.

Homeowners and professionals must work together

Termites can cause significant damage to structures, but they don’t do it over night. This gives homeowners and termite service providers an advantage in trying to manage them. Forschler says pest management professionals can treat for pests like termites, but homeowners have to do their part, too.

“Pest management professionals are not magicians, home repairmen or landscapers. Homeowners have responsibilities, too, when it comes to termite control… like making certain that their landscaping choices and construction maintenance does not ‘invite’ termites,” he said.

Even Forschler has fought termites at home.

“I let some wooden pallets and roofing shingles sit beside my driveway for two years. I repotted some plants, but let the pots sit for several weeks next to those wooden pallets before setting them on my porch. A week later when I watered the plants, I noticed a termite tube coming out of the pot,” he said. “At first I thought the termites were traveling into the pot from the porch. But then I realized, I had moved them onto the porch.”

Sharon Dowdy is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

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