Termites are the most destructive economic pest in the United States, and they are widespread throughout most of the country. These wood-chewing insects are thought to account for billions of dollars in damages every year, with some estimates placing the annual cost at a staggering $7 billion.
For property owners throughout the states, termite prevention is a critical aspect of home maintenance. There are numerous pest control measures that can reduce your risk of termite infestation, but could pine straw be one of them?
Does pine straw attract termites?
Pine straw does not attract termites; in fact, termites are pretty indifferent to pine-based mulches.
This is because termites feed primarily on cellulose, and pine needles have a low cellulose content.
What is Pine Straw Mulch?
Pine straw mulch is made from the dead needles of pine trees and is commonly used as ground cover in gardens. Gardeners may prefer pine over other mulches for a variety of reasons; pine needles are lightweight and easy to distribute, they aid soil oxygenation, and can even encourage the growth of such acid-loving ornamentals as hydrangeas and rhododendrons.
Yet another benefit of using pine mulch in your backyard is that, unlike other types of mulch, it is less likely to encourage termites onto your property. If you live in a region where termites are common, the addition of pine straw mulch to your garden can reduce your risk of home infestation.
Benefits of Using Pine Straw Mulch
Using a wood-based mulch in your garden won’t necessarily lead to a termite infestation, as long as it doesn’t touch the foundations of your house. However, many homeowners choose to use pine bark or straw mulch to reduce the number of termites on their property, and for the benefit of the soil beneath.
Termites don’t feed on pine straw or pine bark mulch
Many types of organic mulch are made using wood chips and other cellulose-heavy materials. The termite diet is composed mainly of cellulose so, although wood mulches won’t actively draw termites onto your property, they may put you at higher risk of infestation.
For example, subterranean termites (the most widespread termite pest species in the United States) live in large, underground colonies and come to the soil surface to forage for food. If you are using wood mulch rather than pine needles, the soil beneath the mulch layer could be crawling with hungry termites. If the mulch line touches the foundations of your house, this can create a termite highway directly from your garden and into the wooden structures of your property.
People living in termite-infested regions may choose pine mulch as part of an integrated pest control plan. Using a pine-based mulch can reduce the number of termites around your property and, therefore, reduce your risk of infestation.
Pine straw mulch improves soil health
Termites may be turned off by pine, but pine straw mulch can significantly benefit soil health and produce favorable conditions for plant growth. Standard length pine needles tend to create a loosely-interlocking layer on top of the soil, which allows water to easily penetrate the Earth. Pine mulch also helps to prevent evaporation of water from the soil, further helping to maintain moisture. Finally, mulches like pine straw create an insulating layer on top of the soil, which can help to protect plant roots in the event of cold weather.
Unlike some other ground covers, pine straw also prevents the formation of a hard, top-crust. This further allows water and oxygen to penetrate the soil beneath the mulch layer
Pine straw can help prevent weed growth
Using pine needles as mulch can also help to prevent weed growth in your garden, as the needles create an interlocking layer over the surface of the soil. This physical barrier can stop rogue weed seeds from taking root, improving the appearance of your backyard and reducing your need to use harmful weed killers.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does mulch in general attract termites?
Mulch in general has no special, termite-attracting qualities. There is also no such thing as ‘mulch termites,’ though the soil underneath mulched areas may be home to colonies of subterranean termites.
However, many organic mulches are a good food source for termites. This is because mulch is often made from cellulose-based materials, which are a key part of the termite diet. Therefore, termites may forage food from certain types of mulch but are only likely to infest your house if the mulch makes direct contact with the building.
Choosing a mulch with a low cellulose content, like pine straw, can be an effective pest control strategy in regions where termite infestations are common.
What is the difference between pine straw and pine needles?
Pine straw is the name given to fallen pine needles that have been harvested specifically for landscaping and gardening purposes. Needles used for pine straw are typically tied up and sold in ‘bales.’
Wrap Up – Tips for using pine straw as mulch
Pine straw mulch is an excellent choice for gardeners in termite-heavy regions, as the low cellulose content makes it less likely appealing to these subterranean structural pests. Pine straw mulch also has several benefits for soil health, but it must be applied correctly for the best results.
Inspect the soil first
Before you get mulching, make sure you prepare the area to be covered. Carefully remove any and all existing weeds, and consider applying a weed preventer to the soil. This will stop problematic plants from emerging later on.
If you have ongoing termite trouble, you may also want to apply termiticide for an extra layer of pest prevention. Contact a pest control professional for more advice about using chemical treatments against termites.
Apply mulch evenly
Pine straw can be applied at any time of the year. When spreading your mulch, do so as evenly as possible and aim for a layer of needles around 3 inches thick. This may seem a little high, but the straw will settle and reduce in height after a few days.
Keep mulch away from the foundations of your house
No matter what type of mulch you are using, you should always keep a clear border around the perimeter of your house. Never allow mulch to come into direct contact with any wooden part of your house. Termites may not be fond of pine, but they aren’t the only bugs that can be found in mulch