Saturday, 18 October 2008

Dealing with White Ants, or How To Control The Universe

Our gardens tell us a lot about ourselves - they often are a reflection of our personality - they reveal our tastes, needs, likes, passions, etc. - but they also sometimes show what we obsess about, what irritates us, and our crazy need to control everything around us.

My guess is that the state of our gardens are probably a good measure of our fragile grip on reality!

Lawns are a perfect example of this - if our lawn is perfect, we console ourselves with the fantasy that we at least have control over some small corner of the universe. And maybe in the uneasy state that is the world's economy, we need to believe we have some control over the universe - as deluded as that may be.



So now that white ant season has hit Durban again, I have a lot more sympathy for the "perfect lawn obsession" that results in the flurry of calls from panicking garden owners asking what can be done to save their lawns from these little "evil" creatures.

There are several ways to deal with termites eating your grass or plants - some more effective than others, but the first step (as in the financial world) is not to panic.
But to deal with them properly its best to understand why they are there...

Most often, they are looking for food. If your lawn has just been laid or recently composted, you may notice an increase in the occurrence of termites. They are present because they have found a new source of food.

They generally also become more noticeable around this time of year, because they are preparing for reproduction and swarming.

I am not a big fan of chemicals, unless the situation is incredibly serious. In most cases applying insecticides is an all-round bad idea - it kills most of the beneficial creatures that live in your soil, and the effects are extremely short-term. They may also make the situation worse in the long term.

The presence of termites is usually easily seen by the fact that the grass starts to look sparse, and small sandy tunnels form above the surface of the soil, or on plants or trees. Make sure that you don't leave anything lying flat on the grass over-night, as the next morning you will usually find the area underneath completely eaten.

I've found that the best way to deal with them, is to disturb these tunnels whenever they are visible, by using the back of a rake, or better yet, give the areas a good spray with water. They usually don't like too much disturbance, and often will move on.

Gardening - as in life, is all about cycles. Sometimes the only control that we can exert is by being patient, doing the basics, and waiting these negative cycles out. Every now and then though, if we look carefully enough, we can find something positive that can be taken out of these crises. Termites are an essential part of the ecosystem - they create habitats, provide food, and make certain nutrients available. The nests also often help the soils absorption of water.
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