Landscaping with tanbark or mulch? Use caution!

Some Silicon Valley homeowners spruce up their yards and gardens in spring and summer with tanbark or mulch. While this is a very common practice, and often encouraged as a drought-friendly gardening option, it can be a bad idea if it is too close to the structure, especially the home’s foundation.

Tanbark is simply small bits of wood, and most common mulch is often no more than shredded wood. Why is that bad? Wood is food for termites and piles of tanbark or mulch can invite and hide them as well!

 

Tanbark or Mulch?

Beware Tanbark or Mulch by the foundation!Mulch is the more widely used term and it can cover a broad scope of materials, but the most common type you will find in stores (and in Bay Area gardens) is the woodchip mulch. If you ask for mulch at a hardware store, this is most likely what they will show you. In the local vernacular, we often refer to mulch as the fine, thin, or decomposed stuff – we have a different name for the larger bark and wood chips.

I learned only recently that tanbark is something of a local term that people from other parts of the state or country may not be familiar with. Here in the Bay Area we call the stuff you commonly see underfoot at playgrounds or piled thick on the planted berms around a shopping mall parking lot by the name of tanbark. Some people may reserve the name for the large chunky bark chips while others will call just about any wood chip substrate by that name. So tanbark is, in fact, a mulch.

Homeowners and sellers wanting their home to make a good first impression are often tempted to apply mulch or tanbark in otherwise bare patches around their yard, but you can wind up with far bigger (and more costly) problems if it’s too close to the foundation!

What Was That About Termites & tanbark or mulch?

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How Often Should You Get A Termite Inspection?

Dampwood termite seen at the Almden Winery neighborhoodIf you live in Santa Clara County, once known as The Valley of Hearts Delight, you no doubt appreciate our mild, sub-tropical climate. Unfortunately, so do the termites. With that in mind, the question often arises about how often to get a termite inspection.

Types of termites in Silicon Valley and nearby

We have two main types of termites here (and other wood-destroying pests too), drywood termites and subterranean termites.

The subterranean termites, or subs as they are called, can be identified by the mud tubes they build from the ground or floor up the side of a wall. As their name implies, they live underground, and build the tubes as they go. Pest Control operators will remove the tubes and treat the area, injecting chemicals underground at spaced intervals, to exterminate them. See my post on identifying subs here.

Drywood termites, or drywoods, may live anywhere in the the home where there’s wood to eat. If they are found only in one or two areas, a licensed pest control company may do a local treatment. The difficulty with local treatments is that drywood termites may also be lurking in places that cannot be seen, such as between the walls. For that reason, the standard recommendation is to fumigate (also called to tent or to fume) the structure.

If you live in the Santa Cruz Mountains, or close to them, you may also have dampwood termites to contend with. I have seen them in Los Gatos, Cambrian, and Almaden.
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Watch for Dampwood Termites in Silicon Valley!

Miguel Torres and dampwood termite at Almaden Winery neighborhood of San JoseI’ve been selling real estate since 1993, full time, in Silicon Valley. Until recently I had never seen dampwood termites in this area, but a few months ago I caught sight of  a dead one at the Almaden Winery neighborhood (on the Cambrian and Almaden border) when our pest inspector, Miguel Torres from Thrasher Termite, noticed it and gave me an education on them.  Luckily there were no live dampwood termites to be found! I thought it was a weird fluke.

Fast forward a few months, and  again this week I saw first the much smaller,  immature dampwood termites (so I didn’t recognize them, but suspected that they were termites of some kind as they were coming out of rotting wood) and a few days later saw the large and now mature dampwood termites swarming in the same location in Belgatos Park, Los Gatos, close to where my family and I live. Initially I thought they were strange moths as there was a lot of flapping motion, but on closer look I could see that they were indeed termites and they were big!!! (more…)