Pests in Gardens and Landscapes: Quick Tips


Published   1/04

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Subterranean termite workers and a soldier (big head).

Subterranean termite workers and a soldier (big head).

Distinguishing features of ants and termites.

Distinguishing features of ants and termites.

Winged adults with a soldier and a worker termite.

Winged adults with a soldier and a worker termite.

Exploratory tubes of subterranean termites.

Exploratory tubes of subterranean termites.

Because of the serious damage they can cause to wooden structures, termites are among the pests most feared by homeowners. However, swarms of flying termites do not always mean your building is infested. A careful inspection of the structure is required to confirm an infestation. People also frequently mistake swarms of flying ants for termites. If you suspect that your house is infested, call a professional. Do-it-yourself sprays cannot be relied on to reduce a damaging infestation. Common termites in California are the subterranean termites that build nests in soil, dampwood termites that nest in moist wood and soil, and drywood termites that nest above ground in dry wood. Management of each termite species is different.

Distinguish flying ants from termites:

  • Check the antennae, wings and waist to confirm that pest insects are termites (please refer to ant vs. termite drawing).

Design your building to keep termites out:

  • Keep a 12-inch barrier of smooth concrete, sand, or other material between the soil surface and substructure wood beneath a building.
  • Choose termite-resistant wood for fences or other structures that must contact soil.
  • Remove wood piles, untreated fence posts and buried scrap wood near structures.
  • Provide adequate ventilation to substructures and keep them dry.
  • Immediately repair foundation cracks.

If termites are invading your home:

  • Destroy shelter tubes that subterranean termites build between soil and wood structures.
  • If dampwood termite nests are accessible, remove infested wood and eliminate excess moisture.
  • Drywood termites can be controlled with heat, freezing, electricity, microwaves, fumigation, or spot treatments of chemicals.
  • For any infestation, contact a professional for help. Pesticides licensed only for use by a pest control operator are usually necessary to control subterranean and dampwood infestations.

Using pesticides for termite control:

  • Pesticides may be injected into the soil by professional applicators through drilling or rodding. Special procedures must be followed to prevent contamination of ground or surface water.
  • For soil injections, ask your applicator to use a product other than chlorpyrifos. Newer types of products such as fipronil and chloronicotinyls are safer for your health and the environment.
  • Baits can be effective in some cases, but may take several months to control the problem and must be followed up with constant monitoring.

Read more about Termites. See also Drywood Termites.

Minimize the use of pesticides that pollute our waterways. Use nonchemical alternatives or less toxic pesticide products whenever possible. Read product labels carefully and follow instructions on proper use, storage, and disposal.

Statewide IPM Program, Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of California
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