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Waging War in the Garden

January 14, 2010

With snow covering the garden, the seed catalogs have been loads of fun to look through. This year, garden planning must be more than choosing which varieties of flowers and vegetables to grow. The garden is under attack and must be defended.

We bought our house in February, 2008. The south end of the house had a lovely shrub, possibly white cedar, and a ton of gravel. There was also an old wooden barrel planter. I emptied the planter of dead plants, removed half the dirt, and attempted to move it. It began to fall apart, so moving it was not an option.

July 2008

Instead, I left it and replanted it with a rose. That first season, I was a bit worn out after digging the main vegetable garden. As much as I want all the gravel gone and replaced with plants, I contented myself with moving enough of the gravel to grow a few plants along the driveway. I planted a dahlia tuber in the left corner, near the base of the stairs. The first sign of trouble came when I dug up the tuber that fall. It was full of creepy little white insects. At the time, I thought they were some sort of root maggot.

August 2009

In 2009, I removed the shrub and the remaining gravel. I know, it was a lovely shrub and provided green in winter. However, this small patch of dirt is the sunniest garden site on the property. That shrub was occupying prime garden real estate. It had to go. As a trial, I tried to grow corn. I thought that would be tall enough provide some cover for the foundation and fixtures. At the end of the growing season, I planned to use the cornstalks as decoration to continue to hide the fixtures, but it didn’t grow well. During the fall cleanup, I finally removed the barrel planter. That was when I discovered the attack.


What I had thought was root maggots, was really termites. The base of the barrel was full of them. I researched them and planned our counter attack. Everything I read suggests that there are no quick and easy solutions for getting rid of termites. Even hiring an exterminator is not quick or easy. Dealing with the little monsters on our own may be risky, but an exterminator is an ongoing major expense. The exterminator could spray a lot of chemicals that may or may not work or could set out bait stations to monitor and poison the termites. Both of these options take time and regular, expensive professional services. Neither of them is appealing with a toddler playing in the yard and vegetable gardens. I realize we have to protect our house, but I don’t want to poison my family or give up my garden.

The good news is that when we bought the house, the home inspector hadn’t seen any sign of them in the house. There continues to be no evidence of them getting into the house. Termite damage doesn’t happen quickly. It’s the result of a long-term infestation, which we don’t have. What we do have is a yard full of ants. Ants are natural predators of termites. Throughout the summer, we witnessed many ant platoons carrying larvae away from this barrel planter. We thought that they were raiding another ant colony, but it must have been the termites. Perhaps we’ve been lucky and the ants were controlling the termite population? I don’t know, but it’s a hopeful thought.

Fortunately, there is a natural solution that may eliminate the termites, beneficial nematodes. I will have to read up on them again because they don’t all target termites, but there is a species of nematodes that attacks termites. Controlling many other garden soil pests is an added bonus. There are two types of nematodes. One stays where you put them and ambushes their prey as it passes by. The other moves about in search of prey. I plan to use both. They can be applied in spring and fall. I don’t remember how long they last, but they can reproduce.  It wouldn’t hurt to apply them in both spring and fall, this year, and perhaps annually thereafter.

So, here’s my battle plan:

  • Apply beneficial nematodes following the spring thaw.
  • Reapply in fall and annually in spring.
  • Monitor for continued threat level and any evidence of the enemy breaching the house.
  • Be prepared to call an exterminator, if necessary.
  • Possibly, have another home inspection in a couple of years, in case we miss something.

If any of you have experience with beneficial nematodes or termites, I’d love to hear about it.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 15, 2010 12:45 am

    Well, I never thought there would be a reason to be happy about having ants in the garden, but I guess there is. I am so glad the termites have not invaded your home and hope the nematodes are successful.

  2. January 16, 2010 12:18 pm

    I’ve heard about those termites – I really hope that the nematodes work for you once the temperature increases.

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