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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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…)

“The house was ‘termited’ four years ago. Do we need to do it again?” – Question of the Day!

This afternoon I was driving along Blossom Hill Road in Los Gatos, with my destination being the salad bar at Whole Foods, when my cell phone rang.  A woman who did not identify herself or her location said to me, after noting that she called the number from the blog/site, “a house was termited four years ago. Do we really need to do it again?”  She needed professional, unbiased real estate advice, and figured that since I had nothing to gain either way, I’d tell her the truth.

I asked her what she meant by “termiting”.  Was it an inspection, a fumigation, or some other treatment that was done 4 years ago?  She elaborated that the house was tented for (drywood) termites four years ago.  She didn’t want to waste her money “termiting” again (to use her words).

“Are you buying a house?” I asked her.  “Yes” she confirmed.  I continued, “then you probably should get a termite inspection from a licensed and reputable company because drywood termites can come right back after the treatment.  Not only that, but the inspector will look for other things, like subterranean termites, dry rot, fungus, boring beatles, and more.” (I did explain that you don’t just tent for drywoods – they may or may not be a problem. What you want is an inspection to see if there’s anything that does need treating. The inspector might find cellulose debris, for instance, and will note whether it’s infected or not.) (more…)