Arborist wood chips & termites

We don’t have much left in lawn.

I often think about digging up what exists and replacing it with arborist wood chips. I just can’t get termites out of my brain yet. There is much literature on both sides of that argument. There are also people on both sides that swear by their stance and leave no room for the other. I left a bag of soil on the ground for three months. When I moved it, there were several termites in a gallery directly underneath the soil bags. I’ve been told by a number of people they have seen termites under their arborist wood chip areas. I’ve never seen them but any time you put wood and moisture together, the possibility is there. So…for folks who have been doing it a while…what have you seen in your wood chip beds? My house is 130+ years old and I have enough to worry about keeping it all running.

If I can get the termites out of my brain, I’d be taking several inches off the top of lawn areas and replacing with several inches of arborist wood chips.


If you’re having the house regularly inspected and treated to prevent termite damage, don’t worry about it. That’s the conclusion I came to about 5 years ago when I looked into this topic. My termite guy agreed.

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I’m the regular inspector. :smiley:

That said, I don’t want to go through all the work it would take just to have to tear it all out. Prevention is far less hassle and far less expensive than cure. I also don’t use lawn, garden. or pest chemicals on property so prevention keeps me on the path.

Thats why I use a termite sevice. :grin:

What’s your plan if your non-chemical methods of prevention fail?

I dont like to use pesticides either, but termites are one of the few pests I’m willing to use them on. The prior owners of my house let termites cause some damage, so I’m not taking any chances with non-chemical prevention alone.

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If termites are found I would have little choice but to go with treatment. But until that happens, I don’t want to either foster termites nor use chemicals.

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I have probably 30 tons of woodchips on my berry rows, gardens and flowerbeds.

From a naturist perspective termites are literally prey to a host of predators… so if you just let nature do its thing and dont spray poisons…good things will happen.

Woodchips also host bacterias and fungis that feed living soil.

If you plan on removing your lawn…and replacing with woodchips… disturbing your soil will uncover weed seeds that have laid in wait for likely decades. Its not a good idea.

What is a good idea? placing cardboard or kraft paper over your yard then adding chips. Even better is a long term plan of covering your yard with leaves entirely then adding chips on top of that.

Final thought is that once you go down this path… prepare to add chips yearly or even more often… as it becomes a living breathing organism. There will be gazillions of things turning these chips into soil…they dont stay as wood chips for long.

Everything that makes contact with the area will thrive…every weed seed, every seed pod…every nut that falls from a tree… nature will want to turn it into a meadow.

If you are just tired of an ugly lawn- white clover is a good fix. Most people cant not mow so its tough to let white clover do its thing and smother out every thing and nitrogen fix the soil and feed pollinators.

If you want a fertile planting area instead of a yard… woodchips are great…but its not for looks. It becomes a forest floor. Termites are welcome in my chips… prey for just about everything in my orchards and rows.

I suggest taking a shovel to a section of your yard and seeing for yourself what removing the topsoil then adding woodchips do… its a very good make work project…and you will see what the challenges will be then go from there.


I appreciate the input. But also from a naturalists perspective, the myriad predators that make use of termites really don’t put a dent in their ability to form colonies and do what they do best…processing wood. If I had acreage and could separate the chip area from structures, I might consider the risk a little more favorably. Additionally, I live in an urban setting with houses close together. There is the greater system I have to consider.

The woodchip processing into soil is really what I’d like to get rolling. The digging out the first several inches is mainly due to the soils being toxic. They burned coal in this neighborhood (and this house) for decades. I already can confirm the toxicity. That’s why the majority of beds were dug to six inches past clay and rebuilt the soil up to ground level (so far!). That makes the majority of the beds 2.5-3 feet deep. The soil organisms have responded with an explosion in population and diversity.

I like clover…for a couple of months. There is nothing it won’t grow on. The problem is at the first sign of frost it dies. Winters here are frequently wet. Within a month of the clover death those areas turn to mud and it’s a mess until late spring. It’s also a pain to work in the mud. I’m in the garden year-round.

I have two test pits I dug down to clay and filled with wood scraps and poplar shavings in order to try to get king stropharia to both process the wood as well as get mushrooms in return. It’s been 3-4 years and the resulting harvest has been poor, as has the processing of the larger wood pieces. I’m close to digging it all out and planting rhubarb in them.

I don’t use cardboard due to the variety of toxic chemicals used in laminated paper products. There are a great many. I know why people use it and it works very well. But if I work this hard to remediate this site, I don’t want to replace one chemical issue with others. I’d rather dig it all out, get rid of it under someone’s concrete project (the soil is already spoken for and intended for just that purpose), and rebuild the soil from bottom up. It’s a LOT of work but the results are hard to question and the payoffs are long-term.

We already use hundreds of bags of leaves each year but I had not considered them under wood chips. I will now… but first consideration goes to compost, leaf mould, and mulch generation.

If you have a layer of coal refuse, find someone with a skid loader or excavator and remove that layer. I concur with Kris, cardboard was a wonderful idea for our beds underneath the compost and woodchips.

I am currently working on remediating the worst coal mine drainage in Pennsylvania, I know what legacy challenges do to the environment. There is a layer of red dog and coal spoil in some areas of my yard. I have happy pear and pawpaws growing in the mulch I placed above said spoil using the process above (cardboard >compost >mulch). Keeping the grass in place under the cardboard will increase organics and provide some nitrogen to the soil. You should do what you think will work best based on your experience though.


I’d love to be able to mechanize the removal but I couldn’t even get a bobcat back there without removing fencing and even doing so would create a lot of damage to the better portions of the yard . I’m afraid it’s all hand digging, wheelbarrow, etc.

It’s a LOT of effort. But in my opinion GIGO is real. So I’m putting in the efforts now in order to get to a far better soil later. Slow and steady wins the race.

Cardboard seems perfect…easily found and trash used in a variety of handy ways. Cardboard works VERY well at killing off turf and creating a moist environment to kickstart the process. However, the issues with paper/cardboard items and chemicals are real and complicated. This link should be enough of a starting point to go down the rabbit hole:

So it isn’t simply glues and absolutely not just wood pulp. The FDA in the US addressed just 3 chemicals in wide use for things like pizza boxes. That only scratches the surface. Look on the bottom of a LOT of produce boxes. Many contain warnings prohibiting reuse.

We all make our own decisions of acceptability but I’m expending far too much effort and time to build long-term resources here to not consider the precautionary principle. I’m a huge fan of reusing materials. Almost anything could be used for something else or in new ways. I guess I’m trying to say I try not to let “can be doing” override “should be doing”. I’m already dealing with decades of coal burning and don’t feel like I need to be trading current legacy issues for future potential ones.

Also, I forgot to mention that over time the lawn surrounding the sidewalk through the backyard has increased in height a few inches. When we get heavy rains, excess water runs to the sidewalk and then to the back of the lot impacting the building at that end of the lot. It’s one additional reason that I’d be best taking off some height as well as trying to sequester more water in the areas it can percolate down into the soil.

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Ok i get what you are going for now that you have posted more…

I like your reference to GIGO. I have dump trucked thousands of tons of soil to housing developments. Basically alot of yards whether people know it or not is just moving soil from a place that is clearing…to a place that has little or no soil or poor soil…with the only intention of growing grass.

Removing topsoil then making your own out of woodchips…is a complex feat for sure. I think u are going to need a super thriving biome that works 24/7 to compost for you. Its also going to take a fair bit of nitrogen to break it all down as well.

Personally i would look into the lasagna method.

Woodchips, grass clippings, hay, leaves…compost… also an on site worm bin that leaves them free to escape into the yard as they multiply.

Im constantly bringing organics in by trailer and dump truck and i wheelbarrow it all myself. I like the exercise and i like turning the free stuff that nobody wants into better soil. Rotten Hay, Leaf Compost, Woodchips and manure is all free and unwanted in my area…

As for the termite thing… cant predict that… in my area none. In yours…maybe. I have a thriving population of insect predators so im not sure they get a chance to get a foothold. Maybe other people have had varying results. I know that i would rather have termites than jumping worms… they have no predators.

Some documentaries that may help- Inhabit: A Permaculture Perspective, Back to Eden, Kiss the Ground, Sustainable, The Biggest Little Farm, Symphony of the Soil, To Which We Belong, Fantastic Fungi, Living Soil, Growing Cities Urban farming in America…etc etc.

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For the last 6 years I’ve been grabbing large amounts (hundreds of bags) of leaves each year. In addition I currently get:

all of the eggshells from a local bakery…roughly averaging 3 cases of 15 dozen eggshells (weekly)

all the spent tea makings and SCOBY from a local Kombucha manufacturer (weekly)

all the kitchen waste and plant parts from on site

about 5 gallons of spent coffee grounds a day (picked up about twice a week)

a LOT of spent grain from a local brew works (mainly in fall but some through the year when I have regular coffee inputs like I do now)

First the piles get hot and cook. Then the fungi set in along with soldier flies, black soldier flies, and finally nightcrawlers and redworms. what is left at the end of all of this gets distributed onsite in the fall right before leaf drop when it all starts to happen again.

I did layer a few of the beds when I first started filling them. The new area being dug (that will later be the high tunnel site) will start with heavy layering as well. THAT one will be a LOT of work.


When I had a truckload of wood chips dumped in my yard it sat there for a couple days and started steaming from the green decaying. I doubt any bugs that migrated over would’ve survived that heat, let alone the chipper. Of course they could’ve immediately scurried away into my yard, but of the 6 mini dump truck loads in my yard, all a distance away from my house, I noticed no issues and the excess I had I moved to some landscaping along my home, but I was monitoring for any existing termites in the process and have had no problems.

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I think you could have a termite colony in a BAG of wood chips…because it’s a large amount that’s tightly contained. However, I don’t think you would ever really find a colony in just a loose mulch topping on the open ground. It’s just too spread out and not dense enough.

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