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Re: CULT: Mulch?

From: Bill Shear <BILLS@hsc.edu>

>     I use pine needles to mulch beardless Irises and about everything else I
>grow.  Some dude trying to sell a termite control package claims that pine
>needles draw termites.  All of the mulched beds are away from the house by at
>least 30 feet.  Is there anything to this, or is it pure poppycock?

Well, it's not PURE poppycock... but mostly so.  I know of no evidence that
pine needles "draw" termites.  Wood-eating termites would have no interest
in pine needles.  However, heaps of pine needles or any other such material
up against the house would make termite infestations difficult to detect
and would also provide the damp conditions termites require to survive.

Most professional entomologists and extension agents hold exterminators in
the deepest contempt.  Their agents are usually poorly trained and know
little about the relevant aspects of insect biology.  What they do know is
how to scare people about termites and other insects, so they will buy
their services.  I suppose there are ethical exterminators around, but one
hears of them so rarely they must be an endangered species.

One of my colleagues (not in the sciences) had his whole house enclosed in
a tent and fumigated with powerful pesticides, at a cost of thousands of
dollars and significant potential danger to his family from pesticide
residues.  He had noticed a couple of large beetles emerging from the
woodwork.  This was a new house and the beetles had probably colonized some
of the lumber while it was in the contractor's yard, or even earlier
(perhaps in the forest; the larger woodboring beetles sometimes have
multiyear life histories).  The emergence was almost certainly a one-time
phenomenon and his home was in no danger.  But a local exterminator
convinced him that ruin was only months away.

Your best source of information on termite and other home/insect problems
is your local extension agent, who has access to the Entomology
Department's expertise at your land-grant university.  It's best not to
trust someone who has a financial interest in the outcome.

Bill Shear
Department of Biology
Hampden-Sydney College
Hampden-Sydney VA 23943
FAX (804)223-6374

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