Termites are a nightmare when they get inside your home. The wood frames holding up most houses are the perfect food source for them, especially in older homes without pressure-treated timbers.
But termites will also feed on trees, both dead and alive. So what happens when they hollow out a tree?
Once a termite colony has eaten the core of a tree, the tree begins to shed its leave and branches, eventually dying. On an upright tree, it can cause the tree to eventually become unable to support itself and make it fall over.
Termites And The Trees They Eat
Termites are at their most terrifying when they get inside your home and begin eating away at the wood framing of the house.
While scary for us, termites are a valuable and important part of the natural world. They feed on trees, both dead and alive. Generally, they prefer dead and fallen trees because they’re softer and easier to get into.
This helps break down the dead trees and spread nutrients to the soil.
Unfortunately, termites will also go after trees that are still alive, including trees near homes that we would rather them not eat.
Softwood trees like firs and especially pines are their favorites, but they will also infest and eat hardwoods like oak and maple.
If you find termites in one tree, they will usually quickly spread to surrounding trees as their colony expands.
Termites make their nest inside the tree they are feeding on, eating it from the inside out. This means they slowly gnaw through the core wood of the tree that transports water and gives the tree support.
Eventually, termites can completely hollow out a tree. The process can take as little as a couple of months, leaving only a stump if the tree can hold out long enough.
Usually, the hollow tree becomes unstable and falls over.
This is a huge hazard in a residential setting. A tree falling over unexpectedly can cause huge amounts of damage to whatever it falls on, whether that be you or your home.
The termites don’t stop eating just because a tree falls over either. Once on the ground, it still provides a nest for the colony.
Nearby trees will also likely become infested as the colony grows, increasing the risk of more trees falling.
How To Tell If A Tree Has Termites
While termites are small and hard to detect early in a home, they leave behind some easy-to-spot signs when they infest trees. The extensive damage they cause to the tree is hard to miss if you know what to look for.
Check around the base of the tree. Termites usually build their nests around the roots, base, or stump of a tree.
This is the spot where the largest number of termites will be congregated and will make them easier to see. If you see termites in this area, the tree is infested.
Look at the outside of the tree trunk all the way around and see if you can spot any tube-shaped objects clinging to it.
These mud tubes will be around the thickness of a pencil and help termites move up and down the tree without exposing themselves to the sun too much.
You can also spot shelter tubes along the branches that are made of mud and bits of wood where the termites hide and rest.
Tiny boreholes in the bark are another indicator of a termite nest. It can be hard to distinguish these from woodpecker holes, but if there are mud tunnels or other signs near them, the tree has termites.
Discarded termite wings and bodies will appear on and around the tree as well. Small white bodies and wings that look like fish scales are a sign of a large infestation.
What To Do If You Discover An Infested Tree
If you discover that a tree in your yard has termites, you need to act quickly. Allowing the colony to stay in the tree gives it time to grow and spread to other trees or your home.
The fastest option is to spray termite-specific insecticide around the area. These poisons will kill any termites that come into contact with the poison and help keep the termite colony isolated to the affected area.
Bait stations are another great option for more long-term termite control. These traps can be placed near infested areas and they will lure in termites with poison bait.
Typically, the poison used in these traps is slow-acting. It gives the termites time to ingest the poisoned bait and return to the colony to drop off the food.
This method is great at killing off entire colonies instead of just the termites that venture out, but it can take a few weeks to see results.
Another option is to remove the tree and then spray an insecticide. Removing the tree that hosts the termite colony will remove many of the termites from the area.
It also forces the termites to spread out to find a new home, making them come into contact with whatever insecticide you chose to use.
How To Prevent Termite Infestations In Trees
Most of the time, termites prefer dead or dying trees and tree stumps to live trees. You can minimize the risk of an infestation by limiting the amount of these in your area.
Clean up any wood debris piles in your yard. It doesn’t matter how big they are, any form of wood and cellulose is enough to attract termites to the area.
Get rid of fallen trees and remove dead tree stumps from your yard.
If you have stacks of firewood around, keep them inside your home and away from the reach of termites. You can also stack your firewood behind a barrier of termite traps or liquid treatments to keep them away.
Bait stations around your property are a good part of a termite maintenance plan. They will usually kill off colonies before they become established, helping keep your trees healthy and the termites out of your home.
If a termite infestation is given enough time inside of a tree, it will eventually hollow it out completely. This can cause the tree to become unstable and fall, posing a serious threat to you, your home, and other trees on your property.
Always check your trees for signs of an infestation and act quickly. Termites are hard to get rid of if they become established, but early detection minimizes the damage they can do and makes them easier to get rid of.