Owning a home is one of the most significant financial investments someone could make, which is why it is so important to protect this investment from an invisible and potentially catastrophic pest: the termite.
Termites have moisture-sensing antennae they use to detect decaying wood or high levels of moisture and gather food. However, you can lay certain mulches to deter them. Redwood, cedar, cocoa bean shell, cypress heartwood, melaleuca, eucalyptus, licorice root, and inorganic mulch, to name a few.
In this article, I’ll focus on preventing termites and how to deter colonies from entering your home. Keep reading to learn more about different mulch types and which will work best for you.
- Mulches like cedar, cocoa bean, and licorice root can deter termites from your yard and home.
- Adding termite-repelling substances to mulch can help repel termites from mulches they prefer
- Repelling termites from mulch piles will help repel these pests from the home as well.
Why you Should repel termites From Mulch
When you look at a single termite, they do not look dangerous or scary. However, a colony of termites can inflict catastrophic damage on your home in a short time.
Termites Do Unseen Damage
Termites are sometimes called “silent destroyers” because of their ability to chew through entire portions of homes undetected. They typically hide behind walls and chew through wood that is essential to the structural integrity of your home.
Because they are so small, termites aren’t able to be detected simply by listening for them like you would for other pests like mice and rats. Instead, these silent pests will chew and chew without you ever realizing it. By the time termite damage is detected, it is often a large-scale problem.
Here are some of the most common areas of the house where termites do damage:
|Area of the House
|Description and Damage
|Termites feed on wood, causing structural damage
|Through cracks in the foundation or walls
|Damage wooden beams, rafters, and other wooden structures
|Entry through vents or cracks in the roof
|Attack wooden support beams and other structural wood
|Entry through soil or cracks in the foundation
|Infest wooden joists, beams, and subflooring
|Entry through soil or foundation vents
|Doors and Window Frames
|Consume wooden frames, causing warping and weakening
|Entry through gaps or cracks around frames
|Infest wooden furniture, cabinets, and fixtures
|Entry through infested wood brought into the house
For a more detailed list of where termites might be hiding in your home, check out our guide on the places where termites live.
Termites Become Active In The Spring
In early spring, when the ground warms up, termites colonies will emerge searching for their next meal. They will usually send out scouts, sometimes called swarmers, to search high and low for the perfect home.
These swarming termites have little wings and resemble flying ants. Do not make the mistake of dismissing these swarmers if you see them on your property. You can read more about why termites swarm here.
Even if you’ve gotten rid of a termite infestation once, it doesn’t mean these pests won’t return to the same spot for a meal! You can read our simple tips to keep termites from revisiting the same spot to prevent this.
Types of Termites in North America
There are many species of termites within the United States that homeowners need to keep their eyes peeled for. Depending on your location, you might have a combination of termites you will need to be aware of to best protect your home from future infestations.
If you are currently dealing with a termite infestation, please contact a pest control expert. They can help you with your specific situation.
You can find subterranean termites in every U.S. state except Alaska. They can cause the most damage of any termite species. This termite species is best known for building “mud tunnels” to help them reach their food.
An infestation of subterranean termites can occur on either your home’s interior or exterior. When the temperature warms up and termites swarm, check your windowsills for discarded wings.
This indicates swarmers have entered your home and have potentially started their infestation.
Opposite of dampwood termites are drywood termites. They enjoy infesting the wood within your walls and roof supports, as well as any dead wood around your property.
Drywood termites do not require as much moisture content as other species to survive, making them difficult if you are dealing with an infestation.
These termites will establish their nests mostly in southern states, across the Gulf Coast, and coastal California.
As you might have guessed, dampwood termites thrive inside moist wood. So you might find them within a consistently wet pile of mulch, but they shouldn’t concern you as much as the other species of termite.
These termites usually will not infest homes because the wood lacks high moisture content. However, if you find that your home is suddenly experiencing water or moisture damage, try to fix the issue immediately to avoid attracting these pesky termites.
Dampwood termites are found in most Pacific coastal states, the southwest and southern Florida.
Formosan termites are an incredibly voracious and aggressive termite species found mainly in the Southern and Western United States. They build substantial underground colonies and enjoy building mud nests within the walls of homes or structures.
Does Mulch Really Attract Termites?
The short answer is: it depends. Certain mulches are high in cellulose, a termite’s favorite food.
These types of mulches will attract termites to your property, but a termite colony cannot sustain itself on these mulches long-term. Termites rarely thrive in mulch piles but prefer living deep underground in a moist environment.
After exploring your mulch piles, termites will seek other sources of food to feed their colony – which is bad news for your home!
Termites Use Mulch To Enter Your Home
Depending on the depth, landscape mulch will dry out enough to no longer be a suitable environment for a termite colony. Termites are only possible in consistently moist mulched areas.
A more practical issue many homeowners face is piling their mulch too high against their homes.
When mulch is piled high against your siding, it can create a bridge for termites to get around your foundation and provide an entrance to your delicious home.
Termites are more likely to live within landscape timbers or pressure-treated railroad ties than within your mulch. These are trendy choices in landscaping, so beware!
Here Are The 9 Best Mulches To Deter Termites
Planning ahead and focusing on the prevention of termites will set you up for success in the long term.
I will always advocate for using a combination of methods to help with the prevention of these destructive pests, like Spectracide Terminate Termite Detection and Killing Stakes. The stakes have an insecticide to rid your home of the pests while also indicating when termite activity occurs with the pop-up detection system.
Now that we have reviewed the importance of why mulches need termite-repelling properties, here are our recommendations for termite-resistant mulches. These mulches work to repel and prevent termites for months and keep them from seeing your home as a potential food source.
1. Redwood Mulch Deters Termites
Redwood mulches are abundant across the Pacific Northwest. It’s both natural and durable and smells fantastic.
Redwood trees contain resin that termites dislike. When the trees are mulched, this resin will work to your benefit if spread around your home. In addition, this mulch will work to resist both termite and ant infestations and lasts longer than most other types of wood mulches.
Redwood mulches come in many varieties. You can buy bagged redwood mulch from big-box garden centers, or you can try to source in bulk from your local landscaping supply company. This mulch usually will come in either large bark chunks, small wood chips, or shredded.
Use redwood mulch if you are looking for a natural appearance in your landscape, as the size of the mulch pieces is usually not uniform. Many prefer shredded redwood mulch like MIGHTY109 Shredded Redwood Mulch, but the pieces will degrade and decompose more quickly and can trap too much moisture beneath them.
2. Cedar Mulch Smells Fantastic And Keeps Termites Away
Cedar mulch is another excellent choice to use in your landscape to repel termites. Cedar mulch is a byproduct of the wood industry and is made from the shavings of the bark of cedar trees.
Cedar trees grow quickly and are often considered a renewable resource, making them a popular choice for gardens or flower beds. In addition, they come in a variety of colors based on your aesthetic preferences, like natural red, black, red, or brown.
Cedar tree resin contains a chemical called thujone, and termites hate it. Many gardeners favor it because it repels various insects, not just termites. Cedar mulch might be expensive, but it can last up to 6 years in your landscape and make it smell and look beautiful.
If cedar mulch is not within your budget, try mixing a few bags of cedar shavings into your mulch piles. Wood Smith USA’s 100% Natural Cedar Shavings still contain the chemical thujone and will act as a repellent for termite species looking for a snack. They can be used as an air freshener or pet bedding as well!
3. Cocoa Bean Shell Mulch Will Send Pests Running
This product, also known as cocoa mulch, is created from the roasting process of cocoa beans. The shell of the cocoa bean is used to make mulch, which smells sweet and like chocolate as it decays.
Cocoa mulch is beneficial to your garden because it contains nitrogen and phosphate, which are great additives to your soil. Check out Garden Elements 100% Natural Cocoa Bean Shell Mulch and consider using it in your garden or flowerbed!
Alongside deterring curious termites, cocoa bean mulch also prevents slugs and snails from eating sensitive plants in your flower beds. It is best practice to only use cocoa bean mulch sparingly in a 1-inch deep mulch bed. The thin layer promotes aeration so moisture will not get trapped beneath the mulch layer.
If ingested, this mulch is toxic to dogs, so do not use it if you have curious pups wandering around your property. Instead, it is wise to select another non-toxic mulch from this list.
4. Cypress Heartwood Mulch Is Long-Lasting and Termite Repelling
The heartwood of a cypress tree contains anti-fungal properties, which also keep the mulch from decaying quickly. You will want to make sure any mulch you purchase does not contain cypress sapwood, as this will attract termites instead of repelling them.
Old Castle Lawn & Garden’s No Float Earthtone Cypress Blend Mulch can help keep termites away from your home.
5. Termites Dislike Melaleuca Mulch
This is another termite-resistant mulch you can use to repel termites and other bugs. Termites will not eat it and dislike living within or under the mulch. But what exactly is melaleuca?
The Melaleuca tree originated from Australia and was brought to Florida in the early 1900s. Since then, it has become an invasive tree and there has been much effort to remove it from landscapes and forests.
The University of Florida tells us that between cypress, eucalyptus, melaleuca, and pine bark, melaleuca mulch deterred termites the most.
6. Termites Cannot Eat Inorganic Mulches
Inorganic mulches do not provide termites with a food source, so using this mulch in combination with other repellent methods is another good choice. Examples of this might be pea gravel or shredded rubber such as NuPlay Rubber Mulch.
If you are using this type of mulch, remember to keep the moisture levels beneath the soil low. You can do this by adding a 1.5-inch layer, which will promote aeration beneath the soil and help moisture to evaporate.
7. Eucalyptus Mulch Repels Pests
Eucalyptus is world-renowned for being a natural insect repellent within homes. This also translates to mulch made from the eucalyptus tree.
In the short term, Eucalyptus tree mulch can be toxic to plants. Keep this in mind when laying your mulch around your property. Do not place eucalyptus mulch directly against your garden plants, or they may become damaged.
Place mulch around the base of the plant but not on it, and water thoroughly to fight back any potential toxicity. Try out Gardenera Premium Eucalyptus Mulch to repel termites.
8. Licorice Root Mulch Sends Termites Packing
Mulch made from licorice root can also repel termites and is created from the steamed and shredded roots of the licorice plant, native to central Asia. It is a byproduct of the commercial processing of licorice plants and is newer to the commercial market than some other forms of mulch.
This mulch has other benefits as well and is often used in situations where the base soil it is covering needs improvement. If you are using this mulch to repel termites, I would recommend mixing it with a termite-repelling mulch additive, such as Harris Diatomaceous Earth.
9. Sand Keeps Termites From Coming Back
Sand as a mulch can work wonders for both your home’s soil and any work to deter termites. Since sand lacks cellulose, termites will not be interested in poking around your mulch beds.
Sand is very porous and allows water to pass through it with relative ease, which also means moisture can evaporate quickly from the soil – Something termites hate. Sand has longevity within landscapes and does not need to be replaced often, which will make your job easier in the long run.
When using sand in the landscape to repel termites, mix with a mulch additive to ensure you get the results you are looking for. I would recommend using a landscape cloth underneath your choice of sand, which will also help with both weed management and work as a termite barrier.
The Best Way to Lay Mulch Around Your Home to Avoid Termites
Most pest control experts will advise you against piling enormous amounts of mulch against the side of your home. The reason? Termites will use your mulch as a bridge to enter your home.
Here are some quick tips on how to apply mulch around your home to ensure you won’t have any issues down the line.
Have A Buffer Zone
No matter what kind of mulch you are laying around your home, leave a bare dirt strip between 6-12″ wide between your home’s foundation and your mulch bed. This also goes for all termite-repelling mulches.
Doing this will help deter tunneling termites.
Don’t Water The Buffer Zone
Avoid watering the buffer zone around your home as much as possible. The goal should be to keep the soil dry and unattractive to termite colonies. They love moisture and will seek it out when the swarming season begins, between spring and summer.
Keep Your Mulch Beds Dry
if you live in an area where it rains a lot or your yard stays pretty wet, lay your mulch layer less than 2 inches thick. You can also periodically rake your mulch so it can dry out as much as possible.
Some Mulches Attract Termites!
There are some mulches termites will flock to, but not in the way you think.
Termites Swarm Moist, Warm Mulch
The main issue with mulches that do not repel termites is they instead create a moist, warm environment for them to build their colony. This is what attracts them to specific mulch piles.
As long as a type of mulch creates a moist environment for termites and does not have any repelling properties, termites will thrive in those environments.
Humidity is a big factor in attracting termites, which is why they usually come out at night when we’re resting peacefully in our beds. You can read more about the reasons why termites come out at night here.
Termites Prefer Hardwood Mulches
Termites can infest mulch beds made from many types of materials. These pests will eat several kinds of softwood mulches in a state of starvation, but they require solid wood for their colony to survive.
There is a misconception that softwood mulch, like pine or white birch mulch, attracts termites. These mulches have high levels of cellulose, which termites find very appealing. This means if you find termites in your softwood mulch bed, they are looking for a permanent food source.
They could be eying your firewood pile, nearby tree stumps, or your home. Firewood piles are the perfect opportunity for termites to sneak into your home or your neighbor’s home. Check out our article on the different ways termites spread from house to house for more information!
Using Mulch Additives to Repel Termites
If you find termites within your mulch beds and want to mitigate the danger yourself, there is still time to deal with the colony. If there are no signs that termites have entered your home, it is good news.
There are treatments you can use on your existing mulch pile to help repel termites. For example, these BioLogic Scanmask Steinernema Feltiae (Sf) Beneficial Nematodes will help eliminate existing termites. Just sprinkle the packet and water the area, or add the packet to the water and spray the affected area.
I still encourage you to contact a pest control specialist as the colony may be located somewhere else on your property and not directly beneath your mulch pile or home.
Coffee Bean Chaff Drives Termites Off
Coffee chaff is the thin outer layer of the coffee bean prevalent on lightly roasted coffee beans. When coffee beans are lightly roasted, the skin will flake off. So, if you roast your own coffee beans at home, this additive is for you!
Take the leftover coffee chaff from your roasting process and mix it into a mulch of your choice to deter termites. Standard mulch bags will not usually contain coffee bean chaff, but you can use it as an additive to your mulch.
Coffee bean chaff is just one scent that will help repel termites. For a complete list, check out our article on the scents that termites hate.
Termite-treated mulch Additive Is Toxic To The Pests
You can purchase treated mulches from most big-box garden centers. These mulches are sold through big-box garden centers and usually contain many types of hardwood. Mix termite-treated mulches with your overall mulch choice. This mulch additive is usually treated with a specially formulated substance toxic to termites.
These substances depend on termites chewing on the mulch and returning the pieces to the colony. The treated mulch pieces will work to weaken the termite population but should not be used to control an existing infestation.
Like all termite-repelling mulches on this list, it is a maintenance mulch focused on deterrence and prevention.
Diatomaceous Earth Eliminates Termites
Diatomaceous earth is a non-toxic, chemical-free pest control power made from the fossilized remains of prehistoric algae. You can use it to repel any pest with an exoskeleton.
This product is very affordable and chemical-free, and you can use it yourself. I recommend the HARRIS Diatomaceous Earth because it includes a power duster and contains no fillers or additives.
When a pest, like a termite, walks through the powder application of diatomaceous earth, the powder will shred the outer exoskeleton. This will cause rapid dehydration and eventually eliminate the insect.
Apply diatomaceous earth anywhere you please as long as you keep it dry. The key to diatomaceous earth’s effectiveness is how it’s applied. You must disperse the powder with no clumps–termites will simply walk around the chunks. The duster included in the product listed above is the key to a clump-free application!
Botanical Oils Have Pest repelling Properties
Neem oil and orange oil are the most common natural termite control methods you will find. These are popular mulch treatments because they are non-toxic and you can use them without the help of a professional.
Neem oil is a natural and non-toxic pesticide found in the seeds of neem trees. Apply this oil to the wood around your home and mulch beds. The termites have to ingest it for it to work, so spray your mulch beds regularly. Greenskeeper’s Neem Oil Spray is safe for indoor and outdoor use and works great to repel termites.
Orange oil, on the other hand, eliminates termites on contact. Apply this to areas with visible termite activity but where an infestation has not yet occurred. This option is a bit more expensive but has many other practical uses outside of pest control.
The Green Gobbler All Natural ORANGE OIL Concentrate comes with a spray bottle and enough concentrate to make 20 bottles of spray. This product is both non-toxic and safe to use around your family and pets. You can use this orange oil to clean a plethora of materials safely!
Landscape Cloth Can Block Termites
Using a sturdy landscape cloth, in combination with a termite-resistant mulch, will set you up for success by doubling up on protection. Termite-repelling mulches can lose their effectiveness over time, so it’s good to have a backup protection plan.
This GDNaid 3ft x 100ft Weed Barrier Landscape Fabric can be used beneath your mulch beds to create a protective barrier for up to 4 years. The fabric allows water and air to pass through while keeping weeds at bay.
Of course, I still recommend you change your mulch regularly to ensure proper prevention, but having a plan B is always a good idea when dealing with pests as catastrophic as termites.
That’s a Wrap!
Well, that’s all we’ve got. So, let’s review what we learned.
Remember, termites love moisture and are attracted to consistently moist soils. Therefore, termite colonies will build their colonies in these types of environments and will locate food sources that are nearby.
It might be frustrating to deal with termites around your home, but try these types of mulch to repel them from the area.
- Redwood Mulch
- Cedar Mulch
- Cocoa Bean Shell Mulch
- Cypress Heartwood Mulch
- Melaleuca Mulch
- Inorganic Mulches
- Eucalyptus Mulch
- Licorice Root Mulch
You might also find success in repelling termites using additives to your existing mulch to increase the success rate of repelling termites. These additives include:
- Coffee Bean Chaff
- Termite Treated Mulches
- Diatomaceous Earth
- Neem Oil & Orange Oil
- Sturdy Landscape Fabric
As always, if you are currently dealing with a termite infestation, please contact a professional pest team to help you deal with your specific situation.
Long, Catherine E. Effect of Organic and Inorganic Landscape Mulches on Subterranean Termite Foraging Activity. Environmental Entomology, Volume 30, Issue 5, 1 October 2001, Pages 832–836,
Mondo, A. (November 1996). Effects of termites on infiltration into curated soil. Geoderma, volume 74, Issues 1-2. Pages 107 – 113.
Su, N. Y. (2002). Novel technologies for subterranean termite control. Sociobiology, 40(1), 95-102.
Verma, M., Sharma, S., & Prasad, R. (2009). Biological alternatives for termite control: A review. International Biodeterioration & Biodegradation, 63(8), 959-972.
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