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Is Bagged Mulch Treated For Termites?

We’re considering putting some bagged mulch from the store on our flower beds, but will it be treated for termites, and will the mulch itself attract them?

Some store-bought bagged mulch is treated with pesticides to deter slugs, snails, ants, and termites, but other types of bagged mulch are not, so always check the label before you buy – especially if you’ve got an organic garden.

Let’s dive down into the subject of bagged mulch being treated for termites in more detail, and discover what this means for your garden – and if you should really use mulch at all…

Can I Find Termites in Bagged Mulch From Stores? (Is It Treated?)

Sometimes you can, but mostly this is just a vicious rumor. Bags of mulch are not really a termite’s thing. They like to live in giant colonies underground. They like it where it’s moist, and most bagged mulch is really too dry for them.

For sure, some bags of store-bought mulch are treated with pesticides to kill slugs, snails, ants and termites – but you can’t use this is you have an organic garden. You obviously won’t find termites in the bagged mulch that’s been treated in this way,

Finally – most bagged mulch is treated not many would survive being fed through a chipper (you betcha).

Does Store Bought Mulch Attract Termites? (After Being Used in the Garden?)

There is an undeniable connection between mulch and termites. Termites love moisture and they love warmth. Big thick piles of mulch create a pretty perfect environment for termites.

So, while store-bought mulch is not a favorite food for termites – they prefer more massive, dense wood – they really love the home that the mulch provides.

Particularly if you go a little overboard with your mulching.

Experts say to limit the thickness of your mulch to around 3 inches. With 3 inches of mulch, you can help your beds or trees retain moisture but not leave the soil too wet. 

Work some of that excess mulch into the soil with a shovel. Your soil will drain better, your flowers will be happier and your garden soil will be too dry for the termites.

Here’s the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Horticulture and Home Pest News about termites in mulch.

Is It Common to Have Termites in Mulch? (In General)

Well, yes. Wood is their food, although they don’t really prefer dry chips. Also, the moisture hidden under thick mulch gives them a great place to live. In some areas, it is common to have termites around mulch. Even rock mulch. 

If you discover that you’ve got termites in the mulch around your plants, don’t freak out. However, do make sure your house is protected. Most new homes have had a termite treatment.

The treatment is a liquid, sprayed by an extermination company around the outside of your home next to the foundation. Experts say they usually last around 7 years.

If your home is older than 7 or 8 years and you think you may need another treatment, get some expert help. Go online, find local extermination companies and even have some come to your house to do an evaluation – often the evaluations are free. 

Termites in your garden could be good news or bad news. The good news is that termites help aerate the soil. They recycle tough plant fibers, dead trees and bushes. 

Healthy garden soil needs oxygen. With plenty of oxygen, other living things will find a happy home in your soil. Then your plants will be happy too.

The bad news is that although termites love dead wood best, they have been known to attack live trees and roots. Even vegetables.

If you want to get rid of the termites in your garden, there are some organic repellents you can try. We’ve found that most of Mother Nature’s creatures just want to be left alone to live their lives and reproduce. 

Bothering them – just a little – sometimes works to get them to move on out. You just have to be relentless. Here are some ideas.

Termites hate light, so try upending your mulch to expose as many as you can. Scatter the mulch in a wide area in the sunshine. 

Or, if you can locate their colony, try using some vinegar on it. Spray a dilute solution of white vinegar and water around the area. Be aware that most bugs don’t like vinegar either, so you will be repelling more than just the termites.

Nematodes will eat termites. Check out some diatomaceous earth. Buy a big bag and mix it with that mulch. Termites hate the smell of orange oil and neem oil. Or, try an essential oil in the area, like peppermint, lavender or eucalyptus.

Termites love moist soils but will drown in too much water. Try flooding the area with the hose.

Here’s an interesting Master Gardener video from the University of Michigan Extension Office.

Is It Ok To Put Mulch Around Your House? (Or Am I Just Asking for Termites?)

Experts (unanimously) say to avoid laying mulch directly against your home. Yes – you may be asking for termites. 

For one thing, you shouldn’t have any plants within three feet of your home’s foundation, so mulch shouldn’t be necessary. For another, piles of mulch will hide the clues that termites have found a home in your home. 

Termites can’t stand sunshine. So, to travel from the outside of your home to where the termite king and queen reside with all those termite babies – inside your home – the termites build mud tubes along the cement foundation.

The mud tubes are important clues, and mulch piles and plants can hide the tubes. Here’s a resource with information about termites and photos of some mud tubes.

Another reason that mulch is not OK against your foundation is it can provide a “termite bridge”. If you live in a termite-prone area, exterminator companies may have sprayed a chemical termite barrier all around the foundation of your house.

If you mulch on top of the chemical termite barrier in the soil, you can accidentally create a “bridge” for them to get to your foundation. Experts say to keep wood mulch at least six inches away from your foundation to avoid creating a bridge for them.

Mulch should not touch siding or door frames and shouldn’t be laid within a foot of your foundation. Avoid having wetness around your foundation – something termites like – by maintaining your gutter system and keeping the landscaping grade sloping away from your foundation.

Bagged mulch

What Is the Best Mulch to Use to Avoid Termites?

If you live in a wet climate, try using a pest-resistant mulch, like cedar, melaleuca, redwood, eucalyptus or cypress heartwood. The smell and taste of these wood mulches may discourage termites. Or use a non-wood mulch, like rocks or rubber. 

Avoid mulches made from cypress sapwood, slash pine and loblolly pine, which termites do like to eat. Be aware that some store-bought mulches have anti-termite chemicals, so if you prefer an organic garden (like we do), be sure to check the bag before buying. 

Keep in mind that even if you use rocks for mulch – and termites really don’t like the taste of rocks – your rock mulch will still provide a nice wet home for the colony. Try to keep your soil well-drained. 

Even termite-resistant wood mulch will lose its effectiveness once the wood starts breaking down. When your wood mulch needs replacing, consider working the old mulch down into the soil – don’t just dump more mulch on top. 

Mulching your garden is very important in dry climates. Mulch in the summer will keep your precious watering water from disappearing in thin air. Mulch in the winter will give your vegetation a warm winter blanket. 

Lay down mulch around your flower beds, trees and bushes that are set away from your house. And, make it only a couple of inches thick.

Adding mulch into your garden soil has many benefits.  It helps soil drainage by reducing compaction and it provides nutrients as it decomposes.

Can Wood Chip Mulch Cause Termites?

Nope. Wood chip mulch doesn’t cause termites. But thick wood chip mulch causes a condition that termites love. Wood chip mulch gives termites a home they will really love.

Does Pine Needle Mulch Attract Termites?

Termites don’t like the taste or smell of pine needles, which may make them avoid the area. 

Final Words

So as we try and run a fairly organic garden, it looks like we’ll be buying untreated mulch from our local store.

Based on my research there’s very little chance those pesky termites will be having a holiday in there! 🙂

We’ve just got to make sure we don’t lay the chippings too near to the house, as then those little critters will set up home anyway!

Mark H.

Homeowner and property investor Mark H. aspires to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >