It's time to control pests

May 10, 2008|By Bob Kessler

Yes, you might have termites.

This is not good news for a home-owner. Anyone can get termites in their yard if there are wood products and moisture. There are things you can do that will help you reduce your risk of getting termites in your home.

Termites are like any creature - they want food, water and shelter. Once we recognize what this means to a termite, we can alter our landscape so one of these three things is missing and termites will not establish in your home.

Termites normally live in the soil where they construct their underground home with a nest and tubes to take them to their food. By staying underground they stay protected. Their tubes will take them to some type of cellulose, mainly wood, which is their main food source. This can be an old stump or tree root, or it could be a 2-by-10 piece of lumber that holds up your house.


Once they get into your house framing, they can travel from one structural member to another. This process takes a very long time to happen so don't panic and think your house will fall down immediately if you don't do something.

To reduce the odds of them getting into your house, you have to remove one of the three things necessary for them to exist.

· Keep dry. The first element to consider is moisture. You want to look for ways to reduce the moisture next to the foundation. Be sure that the ground slopes away from the foundation wall. Extend your downspouts so the water soaks into the ground away from the house. If your property is flat, you can use tile under the ground to lead the water to an area where it can soak in. Keep mulch to no more than two inches deep; too much mulch can keep the soil under it too wet. Keep plants and especially ground covers at least three to four feet from the foundation.

· Cut off food. To reduce termites' ability to make a meal of your house, make sure that any wooden part of the house does not rest on soil. All foundation parts of the house should be six inches or more off the ground. This includes keeping mulch so it is six inches below the foundation. Don't pile it up against the foundation and create a way for termites to get established. Never store firewood or lumber close to the foundation or crawl space. Do not build wooden flower boxes at the basement wall.

· Disrupt their cover. Walk around your house each spring and inspect the foundation for signs of mud tubes, which termites will construct to connect to your house from the ground. Be sure that your foundation is exposed around the entire house.

Finally, if you do all this, you might still get termites in your home. If you see winged insects emerge from the inside of your house, don't ignore them. Look closely at them to see if the body has a very narrow waist, which would be an ant. If it has the same width from head to tail - that could be a termite.

Control dandelions

Right now is one of the best times of the year to control dandelions. They are starting to produce the white puff balls, which is how they spread seed. This is when the plant is the weakest and is able to be controlled. Apply a liquid weed killer at a time when it can be dry on the leaves for at least 24 hours.

You should not mow for at least three to four days after you spray, and you should mow at least a day or two before you spray.

To control dandelions, spray with a product that contains 2,4-D or 2,4-D plus dicamba plus MCPP. Spray only the dandelions or any other broadleaf weeds you have.

If you use a granular material, be sure the grass is moist with dew early in the morning so the granular will stick and be absorbed into the plant. If it is dry the material will not be effective.

The other best time to control dandelions is late in the fall around the time we get frost. Now is actually a better time to try to control dandelions. Any that survive now you can get in the fall.

Mowing height

Remember to check your mower and be sure it is mowing your lawn around two and one-half inches high. This height is best for any of our cool-season grasses. You also want to remove no more than one third of the grass blades at any one time. In spring when the grass grows quickly and we have wet spells, it can get ahead of you, so try to keep up as best you can with your mowing.

Another reminder is to get your blade sharpened often to get a clean cut and not torn ends on your grass.

Bob Kessler specializes in consumer horticulture and energy for Penn State University. He can be reached weekdays at 717-263-9226 or by e-mail at

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