Termites hollowing a tree is the last thing any homeowner would want. Nonetheless, we see how common it is for those wood-eating insects to lay wrath on trees that people manage to grow in years and decades. The statistics suggest that homeowners across the US spend over $5 billion every year to control the termite problem and repair the structural damages caused by it. The cost of damaged and hollowed out trees is also included in this figure.
So, what actually happens if termites make a tree hollow? As homeowners with outdoor vegetation spaces and gardens, we all must know the extent of the damage that a termite can inflict on a grown tree. Usually, termites tend to eat fallen and decaying trees. In a natural setting, this termite activity is beneficial for the ecosystem. However, the problem arises when they infest a living tree and that too in your lawn, backyard, or porch. When termites start hollowing a tree, its leaves and stems start shedding, and a point comes when it trunks become unstable and fall.
This last bit is scary because a tree falling out of nowhere can’t just damage things on your property. It also poses a great threat to the wellbeing of you and your family. Since you have understood by now how consequential the tree-hollowing activity of termites could be, let’s look at how you can make sure the trees in your property remain safe from the shenanigans of termites.
The Appearance of Termites
If you haven’t encountered the termite problem before, you should know how termites that can infest your trees look like. Many times people ignore the presence of termites because they think it is just another group of insects crawling on the tree trunks. They only realize that the critters spotted on the tree were not white ants when it is already too late.
If you want to identify termites before they make any of your lawn trees hollow, take these identification points of their physical appearance in mind.
- If you find a cluster of ant-like insects on and around trees that are roughly half an inch in length with the whitish appearance and straight antennas, they are workers termites and not ants. Workers termites make the largest part of any termite colony. They are responsible for creating mud tubes, eating through the wood, and arrange cellulose for solder and reproductive termites.
- Among worker termites, you will also spot some larger insects with colored heads and large mandibles. They are solider termites and responsible for protecting the termite colony against outside invaders (e.g., ants).
- If you keep looking for the termite traces, you will also find some brownish insects with wings among those worker and soldier termites. These are reproductive termites.
If you are able to detect all these three types of insects in your garden and around trees, it is a telltale sign that a fully-developed termite colony is nearby. It can be inside the trunk of a tree as well, and this is when termites’ hollowing activity gets in full swing.
Signs of Termite Infestation in Trees
If you don’t want to experience what happens when termites make a tree hollow, watch out for the signs of termite infestation on and around your garden trees.
A lot of Tiny Holes and Wood Shavings
In the earlier days of infestation, worker termites work day and night to make their way into the trunk. As a result, a large number of tiny holes appear on the trunk. These holes are so small that you can’t even notice them from afar despite their large number. So, when observing trees for those tiny holes, look at the trunk from as close as possible.
If you notice a small amount of wood shaving lingering around the base of the tree, it is also a sign that termite has made several tiny holes in the tree.
Look in the Base of the Tree
Termite colonies usually originate just below the soil line in the ground. Therefore, look around the base of the tree. It is better if you use a small shovel and dig a little bit. If your tree is the target of termites, you will find a bunch of them just slightly below the ground level and near the trunk.
Traces of Wings and Carcasses
Termite species that infest trees in large numbers make relatively huge colonies. Due to this sheer number of active termites all the time, you eventually find discarded wings and carcasses of dead termites around the trees. Finding these signs also means that a termite colony has been there for too long.
Shelter/Mud Tube on the Tree Trunk
This is usually the last sign of infestation when termites have already caused some irreversible damage to the affected tree. Keep in mind that shelter and mud tubes don’t appear on trees overnight. If you inspect your trees regularly, the infestation may not reach that acute level.
If a tree has scars, look out for reproductive termites (the one with wings) in those narrow and shallow depressions on the trunk.
Getting Rid of Termites in Trees
If you don’t want termites to make your trees hollow, you need to get rid of them the moment you detect their presence. You can do that on your own without calling for professional exterminator service.
Wipe out the Entire Termite Colony
If you are lucky enough to identify the entire termite colony, don’t waste time in eradicating it. Use a shovel, dig up the entire patch of the land, dispose of it in the trash bag, and burn it carefully in a canister. If the colony has spread on the trunk, physically remove the termites with the help of a heavy-duty scraper, and repeat the aforementioned procedure.
Spray Termite-Specific Insecticide
Get an insecticide formulated particularly to exterminate termites. Spray this liquid in the base of the trees and the 3-4 foot radius. If there is an adjacent tree, spray the chemical in its base too. Also, spray the trunk of the affected tree up to three feet. This will put off termites from marching across the length of the tree.
Set up Termite Traps
If you are still in doubt whether your tree is infested by termites or not, buy some termite traps from any hardware or home improvement store. Make sure that the traps you buy use non-toxic chemicals that are harmless for pets and other animals. Set up those traps around the tree(s) you suspect are affected.
If you notice small white and brown insects stuck to those traps, it indicates that termites are present nearby, and you need to get rid of them through proper insecticide treatment.
If you have noticed in the above discussion, the emphasis is on identifying the termite problem because it is trickier than getting rid of them. Termites also succeed in affecting a tree to the point of hollowing it because people fail to pick up the termite infestation.
In short, if you inspect your outdoors regularly, especially trees, you won’t have to see what happens when termites make a healthy, live tree hollow.
What termite species make trees hollow?
Even though termites mostly feed on dead timber, species like Formosan can affect the live trees as well. These termites mostly target ash, live oak, and cypress trees. The US Department of Agriculture has estimated that Formosan termites infest around 30% of live oak trees in New Orleans every year. If you have oak trees in your lawn or backyard, you need to be more diligent towards the tree infestation of termites.
At what time of the year termites are most active?
Termite reproduction is not bound to any particular season. They tend to thrive all year round. However, they are seen most active during summer months when the mercury soars and humidity levels are up. This is the time of the year when a single termite colony can host more than two hundred thousand of workers, soldiers, and reproductive termites.
Are there any natural and home-based insecticides to get rid of termites?
If you are wary of using off-the-shelf insect-killing chemicals, you can use some natural and home-based hacks to get rid of termites. It has been studied that regular boric acid can kill termites and fends them off. Any boric acid product you are using as antiseptic can be used for this purpose.
You can also try out the solution of salt and vinegar and spray it like insecticide in and around the tree base and on the trunk. You can also introduce nematodes in the tree soil. These earthworms are known for gobbling up termites. You can find live beneficial nematodes on pest control and home improvement stores.
If these natural and home-based methods don’t work, you have to opt for harsh insecticides as a last resort.