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Best mulch/ground cover for herb bed near house (termite-deterrent)  RSS feed

 
Rachel Meyers
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We are currently in the process of transforming our suburban side yard into our garden/play space - putting up fencing, deep mulching, designating a few veggie/herb beds to be outlined with brick stone and applying additional organic materials, etc. We are newbies to permaculture and have previously gardened in a tilled plot that ultimately turned into a massive weed jungle. We are covering most of the space with a thick layer of primarily pine wood chips and needles that we got for free from a local tree service. I've read horror stories of termite infestation stemming from wood mulches near the home, so I'm trying to plan carefully. I would like a 2'-3' deep perennial herb bed along the side of the house (south-facing) and I'm wondering what the best mulch/ground cover option would be for creating a barrier that might deter termites. Cedar (or is that going to be allelopathic to the herbs?), grass clippings, living mulch like a low-growing thyme or some other plant? I'm also considering releasing some beneficial nematodes and making a homemade termite repellent spray to use around the foundation (using neem oil and essential oils like cedarwood, clove, etc.). Secondary question - is a layer of cardboard/newspaper under the wood chips a must? Or would a thick enough layer suppress weeds on it's own? If so, how deep? Thank you for your help! I'm loving reading and learning here
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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Rachel Meyers wrote:We are currently in the process of transforming our suburban side yard into our garden/play space - putting up fencing, deep mulching, designating a few veggie/herb beds to be outlined with brick stone and applying additional organic materials, etc. We are newbies to permaculture and have previously gardened in a tilled plot that ultimately turned into a massive weed jungle. We are covering most of the space with a thick layer of primarily pine wood chips and needles that we got for free from a local tree service. I've read horror stories of termite infestation stemming from wood mulches near the home, so I'm trying to plan carefully. I would like a 2'-3' deep perennial herb bed along the side of the house (south-facing) and I'm wondering what the best mulch/ground cover option would be for creating a barrier that might deter termites. Cedar (or is that going to be allelopathic to the herbs?), grass clippings, living mulch like a low-growing thyme or some other plant? I'm also considering releasing some beneficial nematodes and making a homemade termite repellent spray to use around the foundation (using neem oil and essential oils like cedarwood, clove, etc.). Secondary question - is a layer of cardboard/newspaper under the wood chips a must? Or would a thick enough layer suppress weeds on it's own? If so, how deep? Thank you for your help! I'm loving reading and learning here


Welcome! great to have you here. First let me address the mulch options that are available in an overall picture.

The pine wood chips are fine for use as mulch, but the needles will lean the soil beneath them towards an acidic pH.

Termites will, contrary to most things you will read, eat just about any wood, cedar included.
For your close to the home plantings it is better to use low growing cover plants than to use wood chips.
Cardboard will also attract termites so close to the foundation it would be better to use something along the lines of landscape fabric for the underlayment instead of anything wood based.
If you really want to use the wood based items, then a soaking in a borax solution along with a good dusting of diatomaceous earth (food grade, which is available at feed stores as a wormer) will deter or even prevent termites from nesting there.
As a last resort, you can use boric acid powder but be aware, it is poisonous to animals, including humans so if you have pets, it could be a poor choice.
There is the chewed up old tire mulch sold as "rubber mulch" which is normally seen at playgrounds, but that could be a good option for around the foundation.
It will last forever, is recycled, doesn't attract termites, has a very slight possibility that it could leach some chemicals into your soil over a long period of time.

Termites live in the ground (just like ants) and light is a killer of termites, so, with this in mind, it is rare that sprays are effective in preventing colonies from establishing.
One of the best methods for termite control is to create sacrificial wood piles far from any structures you want to keep them away from.
These wood piles will attract the termites to them and thus they will be less likely to invade the structures.

While it is possible to not use an underlayment for mulched areas, the mulch would then need to be a minimum of 6 inches thick (compacted thickness) to prevent undesirable plants from coming through the mulch.
News paper and cardboard work just fine, unless you are wanting to prevent termites as I previously mentioned.
One other consideration is that slugs, grubs, wireworms and snails are all rather attracted to cardboard underlayment, in most cases DE will deter them.
 
Rachel Meyers
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Thank you for your thoughtful and informative reply, Bryant. I think we'll try to get some low-growing thyme varieties for near the foundation and we are hoping to keep a few ducks as well for pest control.
 
Dave Dahlsrud
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Location: North-Central Idaho, 4100 ft elev., 24 in precip
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Stone/gravel makes a pretty good mulch and is 100% termite proof! It will provide most of the functions of traditional mulches like weed suppression and moisture retention, but won't be adding organic matter over time. If you plant predominately perennials this could work out quite well, it just seems like a thick layer of gravel would be hard to plant annually.
 
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