Does Wood Chip Mulch Attract Termites and Other Insects?

Wood chip mulch
Mulch helps retain moisture in planting beds.
If you dig down into a thick layer of wood chip mulch, you’ll find that it’s full of insects. They’re drawn to the moist environment; and the thicker the mulch, the more insects you’re likely to find.
However, the popular idea that mulch attracts, or is the cause of, termites and other insects is something of a myth.
When you put down wood mulch, it’s not like a call goes out for a convention of termites and other insects in your yard. Instead, the insects that are already in your soil (and there are plenty of them, including termites!) wander into the mulch in your planting beds, like it, and decide to stay.

Those centipedes, millipedes and earwigs in your mulch are there because of the moisture. You’ll see even more insects during wet seasons, particularly if your mulch doesn’t dry out easily.

Most of these insects aren’t anything to worry about. However, termites are another matter, since they may use the favorable environment in the mulch to gain access to your home.

Wood mulch piled up next to house
This mulch is too close to the wood framing and siding.

Termites and Mulch

Most pest control companies advise against piling mulch against the side of your house, since it can increase the chance of termites entering your home.

This is good advice, since termites are subterranean and have to keep themselves moist, and mulch provides good cover for their underground tunneling activities.

However, ANY mulch can provide this cover, whether it’s organic wood or bark, inorganic gravel, or even ground rubber.

Termites are not drawn to the wood itself but to the cool, moist protection it provides. They can be found in similar numbers beneath bark, wood, gravel and rubber mulch, though fresh wood chips may have the added attraction of providing a food source.

As with other insects, the mulch doesn’t cause termites to multiply, it just offers a conducive environment for the ones that are already in the area. You don’t need to avoid mulch in your yard, just apply it carefully and keep an eye out for invading insects in your home.

Tips for Applying Mulch to Protect Your Home

Follow these tips to protect your house from tunneling termites and other insects:

  • Provide a Buffer Zone: No matter what kind of mulch you’re applying, leave a strip of bare dirt a foot or more wide between the mulch and your house foundation to help deter tunneling termites.
    Also, make sure to leave 6 inches of foundation showing between the ground and your home’s woodwork or siding. This is standard in most building codes to keep moisture from seeping into the wood, and it’ll deter insects and rodents as well.
Checking mulch for moisture
Keep mulch dry.
  • Don’t Water the House: Avoid wetting the bare strip around your house to keep that soil dry and unattractive to termites. When setting sprinklers, make sure they don’t spray the wall of your house.
  • Keep Mulch Dry: If your yard tends to stay wet, limit the mulch layer to 2 inches or less, and periodically rake the mulch so it can dry out and aerate.
  • Stay Vigilant: Keep an eye on your home’s foundation (both inside and out) for signs of termites, especially aboveground tunneling structures. Also, watch for termite activity and damage inside your home, and address any problems immediately to limit the damage.

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