Do Termites Like To Eat Cypress Mulch?

Homeowners want a yard the beauty of which leaves people speechless. Planting flowers, shrubs, grasses, as well as trees, however, requires mulch to ensure the plants get enough nutrients from the soil in addition to water. Mulched plants look pretty and well maintained.

Mulch, in addition to conserving water in the soil, breaks down or decomposes back into the earth. It keeps weeds from the gardens, so the roots don’t duel with your plants’ roots. Mulch makes sure extremes in winter plus summer weather don’t damage plants.

The soil temperature will remain cool in summer as well as being warm in winter. Mulch is necessary for a healthy yard.

Most anything can be used as mulch from stones to shredded newspaper. Some people use animal waste from farms which adds nutrients to the soil.

Some homeowners compost their own foods and other materials to use in their gardens. What we’re talking about, though, is mulch from trees.

Cypress Mulch on a garden


Cypress Mulch. CC Image courtesy of Christopher Sessums on  Flickr

Mulch is one part rotting wood and one part dirt. Many tree services mulch dead and dying trees in the course of their work.

What goes into mulch is wood chips, bark, leaves and branches, which is often given away free of charge. Any and all types of dead and dying trees are fair game for mulching.

The type of wood comprising mulch varies depending upon which trees are being mulched. Not all trees are dead. Some are blown over by terrible storms.

Others are cut for logging, leaving pitiful stumps or perhaps three feet tall remains. Tree services mulch whatever is available from birch, oak, pine, eucalyptus, ash, cedar, cypress, redwood, and other trees.

Generally, the heartwood deep inside the tree is not used for mulch. The heartwood isn’t alive, thus it doesn’t attract pests. It’s more valued as timber for building or for hardwood floors and house trim, both inside and outside. The sapwood is usually mulched. Termites find sapwood a tasty treat.


Termites look like white ants. They live in underground colonies. When the colony becomes too crowded, the reproducers lift into the air in swarms each spring to search for new living quarters. When they find a good source of food, they settle about 250 to 300 feet away from it.

The workers tunnel under the dirt in pencil-like lines to get to their feeding grounds. They eat, then bring the food back to the colony for the members.

Mulched plants are covered in rotting wood, it’s moist due to retained water in the soil, and it’s warm. These are things termites need to live.

Will Termites Eat Any Kind Of Wood?

Termites eat the cellulose from wood and other plants. They’ll even eat it out of cardboard boxes or cotton materials if no trees are around. Termites look to the sapwood, or the next layer from the heartwood of the tree, for their cellulose.

Keeping this in mind, any kind of wood will do. Knowing this, builders use treated wood in their buildings. However, there are certain types of wood termites will not eat. Some are even toxic. This is true even if the trees are still alive.

Do Termites Like Cypress Mulch?

There are certain trees with longer life spans than others. Some California redwoods, for example, are hundreds of years old. It’s easy to find cedar trees in addition to cypress, white oak and chestnut oak trees that are old but not dying. Termites won’t touch live trees with intact heartwood.

Some trees, though, simply are naturally repellent to termites. To be repellent, the live tree must:

  • Have natural oils making the wood repellent to insects
  • Not retain moisture so the wood becomes soft
  • Not have fungus causing decay

It makes sense that these types of wood are used in building, boats, deck or lawn furnishings, decks and other things facing atmospheres with high levels of moisture. You can see why termites wouldn’t be thrilled with these types of wood.

Before we go further, you should know that cypress trees grow to the height of Douglas firs and Colorado blue spruce. They’re in the same family, with the same shape, soft medium green fronds on the branches and smell pretty.

The tree produces cypressene, an essential oil useful to humans in skin preparations, deodorant, antiseptic and more. Also found in anti-termite essential oils is the compound d-limonene, a neurotoxin. It helps the essential oils to kill the pests during their feeding and grooming activities. Termites won’t go near something treated with these essential oils.

To recap, you have a pest that needs warmth, moisture, and wood to stay alive. It needs dead or decaying wood for a food source. It will only eat the parts of the wood or tree that isn’t heartwood. It won’t go near any part of the wood that smells like a neurotoxin.

Termites will, however, snack their way through a live tree. The tree will have roots, branches, bark, and a trunk. Although naturally decay-proof, the cypress tree will still have moisture in those parts. Although termites aren’t happy with the tree, they’ll eat it.

Of course, when the cypress tree dies, it’s fair game. This is when mulch companies grab the trees to mulch. All parts of the tree are used, even the parts containing the essential oil. When the mulch is placed around your yard, it’s like a flashing neon sign to termites. There’s warmth, moisture, and, oh, yeah, food!

The trouble with cypress mulch is that it takes a long time to break down or decompose. Add this fact to the essential oil, and you have one unhappy termite. Not that the little buggers will stay away. No, they’ll just burrow deeper to find something they like, much like small children do at the dinner table.

Termites do catastrophic damage to buildings and other expensive structures made of wood. The expense makes people do whatever it takes to get rid of termites. We can’t help giving the winner’s prize to cypress mulch.

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