Termites in Live Oaks? Yikes, YES!
- story by Ana Balka
Each year in late spring, Formosan termites swarm the Gulf Coast, and this year was no exception. It is important to keep an eye on your trees and be aware that an infestation in trees can lead to an infestation in your home. “The good news is that we can treat infestations and do preventative treatments on trees,” said David Mayley of Mayley’s Pest Control. “The bad news is, Formosan termites have become the number one termite problem in south Hancock County, and they’re not going away.”
Mayley has seen the most damage to live oaks, water oaks, and magnolias, but many types of trees are affected. Sap-producing trees like pines are less vulnerable to infestations because the sap protects against insects.
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Keep areas around trees free of weeds, debris, and large decorative objects, says Mayley. Allow the tree breathing room where its trunk meets the ground.
Stephenson also emphasizes that in terms of general live oak care, the most important thing people can do is take care of the soil around the trees. “The biggest issue I see impacting live oaks and other trees is people putting too much stuff around them,” he says. Not just mulch, but also concrete – driveways, for example. Trees have expansive root systems, so “give them their space,” he says.
Signs of Formosan termites in a tree are similar to the signs you would see in a home: entry holes, possible signs of sawdust, and visible damage. “Often tunneling outside the bark of the tree is the first sign you will see of a tree infestation,” Mayley says. Termites will protect themselves from elements and predators by creating a working highway on the tree (or home) that they are invading.
Mayley says that chemical preventative measures can be taken for trees, while trees that are already infested can be injected with a chemical, the most common being Fipronil – found in Termidor or Taurus brand products.
Stephenson says if you see areas of a tree not leafing, if the tree has stopped growing, or if the tree is behaving differently from how it normally does at a certain time of year or differently from surrounding trees, it is a sign of need for further investigation.
If you live in Hancock County and have a tree that is behaving abnormally, you may contact Stephenson at the Hancock County extension office, firstname.lastname@example.org. A home visit by Stephenson – who holds degrees in Entomology and plant pathology as well as being a certified arborist – to inspect a tree or trees on property in Hancock County is free of charge.
On the topic of general tree health and maintenance, Stephenson adds that beyond the removal of dead wood, there is rarely any need to prune live oaks. “They do very well defining their own shape,” he says.
Stephenson adds one more issue he often encounters with people and their live oak trees: “Trees often develop a cavity in their trunk. I have seen people fill this hole with tires, concrete, sand,” He pauses and sighs. “Uh, don’t,” he says. “The tree will compartmentalize the area and it will take care of itself.”
But again, if a hole is collecting water and appears vulnerable or is showing damage or symptoms of infestation, contact Stephenson or a specialist like Mayley. Tree health and maintenance is your best weapon against termites, other insects, and disease in your trees.