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Top 10 Natural Ways To Get Rid Of Termites – Graphic © off-grid.info. Background image © Shutterstock 1695961810 (under license)
Introduction: The Problems With Poisons
I got rid of termites at my place in California without resorting to poisons. The previous owners had used poisons… but the termites were still around – partly because they had not taken care of the other conditions that encourage termite invasion!
What will typically happen if you get pest control to deal with termites is that they may do a “soil drench” around and under your home. This contains highly toxic chemicals that are also persistent. This means they do not break down for several years – meaning that while they render the ground too toxic for the termites, they also poison your home.
There are numerous reasons you may choose to avoid to use of such chemical insecticide termite treatments. These are volatile pesticides that will continue to off-gas into your home, the surrounding waterways and soil for years and years. Huge amounts of these chemicals are used to drench soil and in order to be “effective” the chemicals need to be persistent i.e. long lasting.
Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are now a very significant pollution concern. You will be hearing much more about them in the coming decades. PArt of the problem is that remediation may be extremely difficult.
The EPA tested 500 USA homes between 2005 and 2006 for the presence of Chlordane, a highly toxic chemical used as a termite treatment from 1948 until it was banned in 1988 owing to adverse health effects. A frightening 70% of the homes tested were found to have chlordane contamination – nearly twenty years after the chemical was last in use! The chemical companies don’t care. Their job is to sell as much of their chemical as they can. They will sell a chemical until it is banned, and then introduce another one. DON’T GO THERE.
It’s not unreasonable to anticipate that the poison that kills the critters fast is likely to kill you slowly. The best strategy would therefore be to create conditions that do not support them – and, like any other nomad, in very many cases they will simply leave of their own accord. In other words, if you stop giving them free board and lodging they will pack their bags and be gone. My tip (not professional advice) would be to get the pros to do a full evaluation of the existing termite conditions (they have high tech equipment for this) so that you know exactly where the termites are.
Four termite species living in the United States: subterranean, drywood, dampwood and powerpost.
Understanding The Enemy
Understanding how termites operate is key to their prevention and treatment. They are smart soliders, but like any army they have strengths and weaknesses. Exploitation of their weaknesses can lead to victory without poisoning yourself in the process.
One of the most astonishing (and important to understand) things about subterranean termites is that they do not like to be exposed to the air. They also appear to have some remarkable edge detection system that enables them to stay inside wood. For this reason, they will hollow out a piece of wood from inside without reaching the surface, until one day you find that what you thought was a solid piece of timber is infect completely destroyed inside and just crumbles to the touch…
Here is a list of natural termite control methods. Note that a professional evaluation should still be sought for several reasons – notably a) different termites have different habits and require slightly different strategies. Subterranean termites nest in the soil and then go into the house timbers for food. Drywood termites can actually nest in the house and disturbing them can drive them deeper into the house.
10 Natural Termite Control Tips:
1. Get rid of ALL wood debris (aka termite food!) around and especially under the house.
Stop leaving them snacks! This includes old roots, construction debris, fallen branches, paper and even log piles. Store logs 18″ off the ground and at least 10′ away from the house.
You can hire a handyperson to do this work, or if you feel confident to do it yourself, work safely. Wear heavy gloves so as to be sure not to get splinters of wood in your hands, or spider bites.
At my place a tree stump was left under one of the cabins by the previous owner! They just never removed it when they built the cabin (asking for trouble!) We thought it was going to be very difficult to remove, but the termites had already eaten it away inside. The first axe blow went right through it!
2. Have tree stumps / dead trees removed that are close to the house.
This should ideally be done professionally. when the tree stump is ripped / cut out, termites can spill out and this is unpleasant. Dead trees should also be closely inspected for signs of wasp nests or other potentially dangerous creatures before disturbing them. Important; don’t just go up to the tree stump and give it a kick. If it does contain a hornet’s nest you would be in big big trouble – they will attack en masse to defend their nest and can fly faster than you can run!
3. Check your home’s “ground clearance” carefully – all the way round.
This also includes any outbuildings. Locate and correct all points where structural timbers are touching the soil. If wood touches soil, it is an open invitation for a subterranean termite invasion.
What can often happen is that leaf debris and soil washed down by heavy rain can accumulate around a house, and unless it is regularly cleared, the ground level around the home can rise gradually over time. When I moved into my place, after several decades of neglect, the soil level at the back of the house was around a foot higher than it should have been! This was the area in which the termites were.
The top of the foundations should be visible and subterranean termites don’t like to be exposed to the air: A few inches of exposed concrete deters them from investigating further (6-8 inches is standard code as far as I am aware). They may attempt to build their mud tubes and these can be easily spotted once you know what you are looking for. Kicking down the mud tubes and making sure the gap between ground and timber is at least 6-8 inches should deter them from continuing.
4. Fix all moisture conditions that could be attracting them.
Termites need moisture. All plumbing should be inspected and any drips corrected. Soil grade and drainage outside the house should be assessed and corrected if necessary in order to carry rain water away from the house. Moisture conditions inside the crawl space should be addressed. All gutters, downspouts and drains should be fully functional, clear of debris and not leaking or splashing water against the side of the house. Dehumidifiers can be employed in the house to create dry conditions that are less attractive to termites.
5. Correct all foundation cracks.
Termites could build “mud tubes” up through the cracks unnoticed and then access the home. Also if there are any foundation cracks, these should be repaired as the critters can build their mud tubes inside the crack and enter your home undetected.
6. Borax (sodium tetraborate) treatment for timbers.
Borax is a mineral that is highly toxic to termites. It is also not volatile, being a salt. It makes a great “termite proofing” for timbers that will also NOT off gas and hence is much better for health. Dissolve 1 to 1.5 cups of borax (i.e. “20 Mule Team”) in a gallon of hot water and paint or spray this onto timber prior to sealing, three times, to the point where it starts to drip – allowing to dry each time. This will make timber pretty much permanently termite-resistant (unless the wood gets very wet and the borax washes out).
7. Essential Oils For Drywall Termites (lots of info here).
There are MANY essential oils that have insecticidal action while being generally considered much safer for human dwellings than toxic chemicals – however be aware that some essential oils are toxic to pets, with cats being especially sensitive.
Orange Essential Oil is the most commonly used EO for termites and some professional termite control services use it as a timber treatment. The mode of treatment once a drywood colony has been found is to drill holes into the infested wood and to inject orange oil into the hollow spaces where the termites are feeding. Studies show varying amounts of residual effects from three days to three weeks. The majority of termites are killed by direct contact and since orange oil also deters them from feeding, some will simply starve. After the treatment, the home or business owner should periodically check for signs of new infestation.
Several other essential oils have anti-termite action. You could try adding these to your blend. Here is a list of oils that have scientific reports finding them beneficial:
Vetiver (this is a good one!) Repellency and toxicity of 8 essential oils (vetiver grass, cassia leaf, clove bud, cedarwood, Eucalyptus globulus, Eucalyptus citrodora, lemongrass and geranium) were evaluated against the Formosan subterranean termite, Coptotermes formosanus Shiraki. Vetiver oil proved the most effective repellent because of its long-lasting activity. Clove bud was the most toxic, killing 100% of termites in 2 days at 50 micrograms/cm2. https://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19722567. Vetiver also found to be the best repellant in a further study – https://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11521400)
Clove bud (Found most toxic to termites. It’s intense stuff. Do not use if seizure prone.)
Cedarwood. A personal favorite, but the termites don’t like it! Used as an insect repellent since ancient times and it’s the tree’s natural defense against being eaten.
Cedar / Japanese Cypress Heartwood and sapwood essential oils of Calocedrus macrolepis var. formosana (Chinese Incense-cedar) and Cryptomeria japonica (Japanese Cedar)and the leaf essential oil of Chamaecyparis obtusa (Japanese Cypress / Hinoki) var. formosana had 100% mortality after 5 d of test: https://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16495050
Ajowan, allspice, caraway, dill, litsea, geranium (essential oils) activity compared against Japanese Termite: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19722567/
Nootkatone is found in grapefruit, Alaskan yellow Cedar and Vetiver!
9. Sesame, Nootkatone, Sophora Formula
Sesame seed oil, Nootkatone, patchouli, sophora root (great article)
10. Trained Dogs (For Detection, Not Removal!)
Interestingly, trained canines have been utilized and have been found very effective in sniffing out new or previously undetected termite colonies.
General info: https://termite.com/termites/western-subterranean-termite.html
Lots of natural tips here: https://pestkill.org/insect/insects/termites/
Also this: https://termite.com/termite-control.html
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