By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia
Inspecting your landscape for termite-attracting features could reduce your chances of inviting the tiny destroyers into your home and your wallet.
"Termites need moisture and food to survive," said Brian Forschler, an entomologist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "So homeowners need to make a conscious effort to reduce conditions around their homes that attract them."
Search out moisture
To reduce moisture around your home, you have to know how to detect the signs of moisture problems.
"If you see mushrooms cropping up alongside the foundation of your home, you likely have a moisture problem in that area," Forschler said. "Or, if you have tiny trees growing in your gutter, it's time to clean them out."
Another problem moisture site is your air-conditioner drip line. Forschler suggests making sure your gutters and A-C drip line drain away from your house.
"Don't aim sprinkler systems toward the house, either," he said.
Inspect your home, too, he said, to make sure no wood or foam board insulation contacts the ground.
Shrubs and stumps
Although holly shrubs may win you 'lawn of the month,' Forschler said, hollies planted along your house line can lead to termites there.
"You plant a small holly bush, and in seven years it blocks the view of the foundation," he said. "When termites tunnel through the ground, they like to follow roots, and these can lead them right into your home's foundation."
Rid your landscape of anything termites would consider food, Forschler said. "If you have stumps in your lawn, get rid of them," he said. "Rent a stump grinder if you have to. The cost will be worth it in the long run."
Despite having studied termite biology and behavior for the past 14 years, Forschler admits to leaving termite food in his lawn once.
"I had a new roof put on my house, and the leftover shingles were sitting on a wooden pallet beside the driveway," he said. "A few months later, when I got around to removing the shingles, I discovered termites living in the pallet."
Call a professional
If, despite your efforts, you have a termite infestation, seek a licensed pest-control operator, Forschler said.
"First and foremost, try to choose a pest-control operator whose contract includes a damage-repair warranty," he said. "In other words, if termites damage the house after the treatment, the pest-control operator will repair the damage at no cost. This is your insurance that the pest-control operator is doing everything he can to protect your home as if it were his home."
Forschler says if a damage-repair warranty isn't available, make a point to be present when the termite inspection takes place. And take an active part in the process.
"I guarantee you that every home landscape in Georgia, from the mountains to the coast, has termites living in it," he said. "I've taken samples (from home lawns) all across the state, but rarely do I find a structure infestation."
Ridding the world of termites is "a pipe dream," he said.
"We're never going to kill them all," he said. "We just have to focus on keeping them away from structures while keeping an eye on yard termites."
(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)