It’s the time of year when the bugs are back, and there is one pest you probably don’t want to leave unchecked if it shows up in your home: Termites. Though termites might not harm you directly, their damage to a home can cause thousands of dollars. Managing termite infestations doesn’t have to hurt the environment; there are natural termite prevention methods.
Termites thrive in most parts of the U.S. and mature colonies can reach 1 million members. They may live in the ground or prefer to nest in wood, particularly in dry wood in the Mid-Atlantic states and damp wood along the Pacific coast. Rutgers University estimates that termite control spending nationally costs more than $1.5 billion a year, and damage estimates range from $5 billion to $40 billion annually.
Know Your Enemy
Several signs indicate the presence of termites in your home. You might see “swarmers,” winged termites, their discarded wings, or their poop, known as “frass.” If you find these in your home, it’s a sign of an infestation. You can also identify termites by the mud tubes that they build as protective tunnels between colonies and their food sources. Check for mud tubes along foundation walls, wooden beams, or other areas where the ground meets your home.
Wood damage is also a dire indication of termite trouble. Termites feed on wood from the inside out, so you may notice their presence once significant damage has occurred. Tap your siding to find hollowed-out or damaged wood, which may be blistered or darkened. Call a pest professional to check for termites if you have sagging floors, ceilings, or loose window frames.
You might also hear termites because the soldier caste insects may bang their heads against wood or shake their bodies to signal danger to the rest of the colony. If you hear clicking or rustling sounds from the walls or wooden structures, it could signify termites.
Once you know you have a problem, it’s time to choose a strategy to remove them. Commercial termiticides commonly contain chemicals such as chlorpyrifos, imidacloprid, and fipronil — all of which are known to have human and animal health effects. But there are ways to control termites without using toxins or other environmentally damaging chemicals.
We found five ways to treat or prevent termites using environmentally benign, natural materials. Ask your pest specialist about using these nontoxic options to protect your family, pets, wildlife, and beneficial insects.
Using orange oil as a repellent should temporarily repel the bugs or resolve a dry termite problem in hollowed-out wood. An inspection to locate the termites is still necessary because orange oil treatment must be sprayed directly on the infestation. If not used for prevention, the oil can be used as a secondary treatment to prevent re-infestation. Orange oil’s effectiveness is limited if not applied directly to the insects and their tunnels.
This DIY termite solution involves wetting cardboard and leaving it out near the affected area until termites feed on it. When a group of termites appears, wrap and remove the cardboard, then burn it to eliminate the infestation. The problem with this method is that you might not catch every termite, and the colony can restart. Consider combining orange oil treatments on affected areas with cardboard traps since the odds of a whole colony feeding in the same place at one time are low.
Beneficial nematodes are microscopic, non-segmented roundworms that can be used as a natural and environmentally friendly method for controlling certain outdoor pests, including termites. However, it’s important to note that beneficial nematodes are primarily effective against subterranean termites, not drywood termites.
Apply a mixture of nematodes, potting soil, and cold water — one tablespoon of nematodes per gallon of water — to affected garden areas. This treatment can help prevent indoor infestations and help control other pests that can damage your home and yard.
Spreading silica-rich soil, which is fossilized aquatic creatures, is an effective spot treatment for subterranean and dry wood termites. When termites cross this type of soil, it will dehydrate the insect and can lead to them dying out. Spread diatomaceous soil in areas where you suspect termites — such as an entry point, hole, or area with swarms nearby. It can work as a treatment or preventative measure.
A frequently used ingredient in many termite insecticides, borates are highly effective. These products, typically in sprays or dusts, contain borate compounds that are toxic to termites. Spraying your wood surfaces evenly with the acid should kill subterranean and dry wood termites.
To create a solution, use 1 teaspoon of borax powder per 8 ounces of hot water and mix well. It’s best to use this treatment sparingly, as boric acid is toxic to people as well. Keep it away from pets and children.
If you’re facing an infestation, we recommend you speak to professionals about how you can best handle the situation. A termite problem can cost you your home if not completely eradicated.