Fruit trees are the gift that keeps on giving. From apples to oranges, cherries to plums, our leafy wonders offer us a cornucopia of sweetness straight from our backyards (or orchards). But what happens when uninvited guests decide to crash the party? No, we ain’t talking ’bout your neighbor Bob, who can’t resist sneaking a Granny Smith or two from your tree. We’re talking about termites—the tiny, often hidden, wood-chomping insects that can turn your fruitful paradise into a barren wasteland.
If you’ve ever wondered, “Do I have termites in my fruit trees?” or “What do termite holes in fruit trees even look like?” or “How can I eradicate this termite colony but save my fruit tree?” then you’re in the right place. Treating termites in fruit trees isn’t much different than treating termites in other types of trees, except we want to ensure we don’t end up with toxic fruits. This comprehensive guide will walk you through the nitty-gritty of identifying and understanding the signs of termite infestations specifically in your fruit trees, preventing termites from attacking your fruit trees in the first place, and how to treat your fruit trees if you, unfortunately, find termites gnawing on them. So grab your magnifying glass and put on your detective hat; it’s time to play Sherlock Holmes with your fruit trees!
Why Do They Attack Fruit Trees?
Termites are social insects organized in hierarchical colonies that consume cellulose material—primarily wood in any form (including trees) but sometimes leaves, cardboard, paper, or other plant-based material too. It’s helpful to be aware of different types of termites’ behaviors:
- Subterranean termites live underground and make protective mud tunnels up fruit trees to wherever they’re feeding. Require consistent moisture.
- Drywood termites live directly inside trees and have lower moisture needs than subterranean termites. Common in warm climates.
- Dampwood termites occupy very moist, decaying wood. Less likely to infest living fruit trees.
- Conehead termites nest above ground in obvious “carton” material made of feces, saliva, and wood. They also tend to eat already-decayed portions of fruit trees.
Most termites attack diseased parts of living fruit trees because these sections provide an abundant food source in the form of moist, nutrient-rich wood, though some will even eat live wood.
Already stressed fruit trees are most vulnerable to termite infestations, which, in the case of subterranean termites, begin underground, making detection difficult until significant damage is done internally. Knowing the signs of termites can help identify issues early—before irreparable harm occurs.
What Are the Signs of Termites in Fruit Trees?
Termites are sneaky invaders, but they leave behind several telltale clues indicating their presence in fruit trees:
Carefully inspect the trunk, branches, and soil around the base of trees for active termites. Subterranean termites are about 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 inches long and have a creamy white to brownish coloring. They look close enough to ants that people sometimes mistake them for “white ants.”
Drywood termites appear similar to subterranean termites, just slightly smaller. You might also spot winged reproductive termites emerging during the spring months (people sometimes confuse these for flying ants). Seeing live termites is a definitive sign of activity.
Subterranean termites construct mud tubes from soil, feces, and wood debris to provide protected passages into trees from their underground colonies. Tubes typically begin at the soil surface and extend up the lower trunk of fruit trees, ranging from thin, shallow traces to larger tubes over 1 inch wide. You can knock a termite mud tube open and check for termites inside. If you break open an active termite mud tube, soldier or worker termites typically arrive to repair the mud tube and defend the colony.
Termites excavate the inner heartwood as they feed, leaving behind areas of hollowed wood. Tapping on tree trunks and branches with a hammer will produce a dull, hollow sound when damage is present rather than a solid “thud” from healthy wood. Hollow pockets may be visible when peeling back the bark. Probing suspect areas with a thin screwdriver can also help detect damage.
As termites burrow, they eject tiny, granular pellets of digested wood known as frass. Frass piles look a lot like sawdust but are actually piles of termite fecal matter. Watch for accumulations of frass at your fruit tree’s base, where branches meet the trunk, or in branch forks, which can indicate active termites.
Termites can chew directly through fruit trees’ bark to access their moist, nutritious (to termites) inner wood, creating meandering scars and openings on the surface of the bark. Stripped areas, peeling flaps, and jagged grooves point to termites tunneling their way in. This type of termite damage is often more noticeable at the base of fruit trees.
Dieback of certain branches can signal underlying termite damage. As termites disrupt the vascular tissues that transport nutrients, localized dieback occurs. Leaves may wilt, yellow, brown, or fall off branches starved of nutrients and water. Can indicate infestation years before external signs manifest.
Catching infestations in the early stages before extensive structural damage arises gives the best chance to remedy issues and save trees. A quick follow up on even subtle early signs is advised. Termites are capable of destroying a fruit tree from the inside out over time.
What Types of Damage and Harm Can Termites Cause to Fruit Trees?
Once termites have successfully infiltrated a fruit tree and established an internal colony, the consequences for tree health and productivity can be devastating if left unaddressed:
Impaired Nutrient Transport
One of the primary ways that termites inflict damage on fruit trees is by disrupting the vascular tissues responsible for transporting water and nutrients from the roots, out to the branches and leaves, and back down again. Termites preferentially feed on the nutritious inner bark and vascular cambium layers, just below the outer bark. As these tissues are eaten away, areas of the tree become starved of nutrients and water, leading to dieback.
Tunneling and excavation of the sapwood and heartwood of tree trunks and branches significantly compromises wood strength over time. The interior skeletal structure keeping the tree upright becomes severely undermined and weakened by hollowed-out galleries and voids, leaving infested trees prone to failure from winds, heavy fruit loads, and winter snow and ice. Termite-damaged fruit trees can slowly collapse or have large limbs shear off unexpectedly.
Reduced Fruit Yield
Since trees reallocate resources to deal with stressors, when a tree is under attack and is diverting resources to address damage, less energy goes toward fruit production. Termites can indirectly reduce yields by forcing the tree to direct more nutrients and sugars toward repairing wood and growing wound tissue rather than developing quality fruit. Premature fruit drops and stunted growth are common symptoms.
Spread to Adjacent Trees
A single tree with a severe termite infestation can place nearby trees at risk. Subterranean termites may move through interconnected root systems from an infested tree to neighboring ones, allowing an entire block of orchard trees to become compromised over time through soil networks. Careful monitoring of surrounding trees is prudent.
In advanced stages of infestation spanning multiple years, termites can ultimately kill a fruit tree outright. The combined structural weakening and impaired nutrient transport essentially starve and undermine the tree until it can no longer support itself. The tree either topples over due to inadequate strength or dies from the inside out. Even aggressive treatment efforts may fail to save a severely damaged tree.
No Recovery Possible
Though disease pathogens can sometimes be cured, termite-induced physical damage is permanent. Hollowed trunks, severed vascular tissues, and scarred, stripped bark cannot regenerate or be restored. The injuries weaken the tree indefinitely. Even if termites are eliminated, the lasting defects lower the tree’s productivity and life span.
Acting swiftly at the first signs of possible termites provides the best chance to avoid the most devastating impacts. A multi-year infestation allowed to persist untreated often results in major fruit tree losses. Catching issues early makes successful remediation more likely.
Are Certain Fruit Trees More Susceptible to Termites?
While any fruit tree can be attacked given the right circumstances, some types of trees appear more vulnerable to infestation based on their wood properties and growth habits:
- Stone Fruits – Trees in the Prunus genus like cherries, peaches, plums and apricots have relatively soft, moist wood that termites readily consume. Their tendency to exude gums and ooze sap also attracts insects.
- Pome Fruits – Apples, pears, and quince trees also provide favorable habitat for termites. Fast growth results in sizable trees with proportionally large amounts of food.
- Citrus – Although not immune from termites, species like oranges, lemons, and limes have harder wood and contain antibacterial oils providing more natural pest protection. Healthy citrus trees are less attractive.
- Nut Trees: Almonds, walnuts, and other nut producers fall somewhere in the middle, with termites generally favoring softer, moister varieties like pecans over tougher nuts like hickory.
Even trees considered more resistant can become targets when stressed, damaged or otherwise compromised, providing termites an opportunity to establish themselves. No fruit tree can ever be fully ruled out as susceptible under the right circumstances.
Can Termites Kill Entire Fruit Trees?
In severe cases of long-term infestation, termites absolutely have the capacity to kill mature fruit trees through the extensive structural and vascular damage they inflict. There are two primary mechanisms by which termites may directly cause tree mortality:
Induced Tree Collapse
As the cumulative tunnels and galleries hollowed out within the trunk and major branches accumulate over time, the overall wood strength declines precipitously. The tree essentially becomes rotten on the inside. Previously solid heartwood and sapwood are replaced by a fragile lattice of remaining wood filled with voids where tissue has been consumed.
Much like a wooden building can eventually collapse if the support beams are sufficiently eaten through, a fruit tree with a severely compromised inner structure will eventually be unable to bear its own weight and topple over. The hollowed trunk snaps off, or major branches shear away ripping large open wounds in the canopy. Toppling can be sudden if exacerbated by high winds or heavy fruit load.
Vascular Tissue Failure
By preferentially attacking the nutritious inner bark and vascular cambium, which transport water and nutrients throughout the tree, termites cause the plumbing system responsible for providing food and hydration to living cells to fail. Leaves and branches starve, stresses accumulate, and dieback advances up the tree.
Over time, the damage can become so extensive that the essential pipelines supplying resources to sustain life processes shut down. The tree essentially dies from vascular failure, just like an animal can die of circulatory failure and organ starvation. Even if the physical structure remains intact, death still results.
In both cases, by the time mortality occurs, the tree is often too far gone to be saved even with aggressive rehabilitation efforts. The wise approach is early intervention rather than waiting for signs of impending doom. An ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure when it comes to protecting beloved fruit trees.
Can Fruit Still be Harvested from a Termite-Infested Tree?
Depending on the severity of the infestation and the portion of the tree impacted, it may still be possible to harvest usable fruit from an affected tree:
- Mild or Moderate infestations: If damage is localized to certain branches or the lower trunk, the rest of the tree may continue functioning adequately to set and ripen fruit, although overall yields will likely decrease.
- Partial Canopy Impact: Unless termites have expanded into major scaffold branches, fruit growing in undamaged sections may ripen normally and be fit for harvest. Examine fruit carefully before consuming it.
- Interior Damage Only: Trees with damage confined mainly to hidden inner layers may continue fruiting until structural issues arise. Nutrient transport impairment eventually reduces quality.
- Severe Widespread Damage: If termites have tunneled extensively through the trunk or into major limbs, the tree will direct resources toward survival rather than fruiting. Most fruit will be misshapen or drop early.
- Avoid Termite-Adjacent Produce: Fruit located immediately adjacent to damaged areas or termite tubes may be directly contaminated and unsafe for consumption without processing.
Inevitably, nutrition delivery suffers on an infested tree, so the long-term prognosis for usable fruit production remains poor without remedial action. Seeking early treatment helps trees recover and thrive.
How Can Termite Spread from Ornamentals to Fruit Trees be Prevented?
Subterranean termites residing in the soil can move between the root systems of different trees and plants underground. While open ground provides some barrier, termites may “bridge” considerable distances by eating their way through mulch, wood debris, tree roots, and other semi-continuous food sources. Strategies to prevent termite spread include:
- Remove stumps and dead trees – Eliminate rotting wood debris that enables termites to traverse from ornamental trees and landscaping plants over to fruit trees. Deny them hidden access.
- Install root barriers: Vertical physical barriers can be placed in the soil between vegetation to block termites from moving on protected root networks. Made of plastic, metal, or crushed granite.
- Separate irrigation: Using different watering zones between landscaping plants and fruit trees prevents wet wood and moist soil “highways” for termite migration.
- Keep mulch away from trunks. Pull mulch 6–12 inches away from tree trunks so it does not contact bark. Do not pile deeply. Wood mulch is especially risky.
- Apply preventative insecticides. Strategically treat high-risk trees that neighbor infested areas to create protective barriers against foraging termites.
Proper horticultural practices like avoiding overwatering, rotating feeding areas, and removing diseased wood also help deny termites an easy path to your fruit trees. Robust prevention is paramount.
What Prevention Methods Help Protect Fruit Trees from Termites?
Being proactive provides the best defense against costly termite damage to fruit trees by minimizing infestation risks.
Remove Wood Debris
Eliminate old logs, stumps, fallen branches, and other woody debris around fruit trees that provide shelter and food for termites. Also avoid using wood chip mulch, which termites readily consume. Starve them of resources.
Allow Air Circulation
Give trees adequate spacing and prune lower branches to promote air movement and faster drying after watering. This creates a less hospitable environment for moisture-loving termites to establish themselves.
Avoid Mechanical Injury
Prevent wounds to bark and vascular tissues by protecting trunks from damage by equipment. Openings provide an entry point for termite invasions. Also, prune properly to allow wounds to heal.
Monitor Baits and Traps
Install termite bait stations and termite monitoring traps around the orchard perimeter to detect activity early. Look for signs of termites in traps during high-risk seasons.
Use Preventative Insecticides
Apply permitted systemic insecticides like imidacloprid around vulnerable fruit trees to provide residual protection against termite invasions to provide some defense against infestation.
Catching issues before termites become entrenched provides the best odds of avoiding major economic losses from damage. An ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure when it comes to protecting valuable fruit trees.
What Treatment Options Exist for Eliminating Termites in Fruit Trees?
If preventative measures fail and signs of active termites are confirmed, both chemical and non-chemical treatment methods can be employed to mitigate the problem:
Traditional broad-spectrum liquid termiticides (containing chemicals like bifenthrin or permethrin) provide residual activity against termites when applied as a drench around the root zone of affected trees. Some formulations allow foliar applications to control above-ground insects as long as fruit contamination is avoided.
Targeted Insecticide Injections
Specialized insecticides containing emamectin, benzoate, or abamectin can be directly injected into infested trees to kill termites feeding within the interior tissues. This provides internal treatment without pesticide exposure to fruit.
Beneficial entomopathogenic nematodes introduced into the soil prey specifically on many termite species. Some nematode species target only target certain types of termites (e.g., subterranean, drywood, etc.) so make sure you do your research on what netmatodes are affective against what termites. Nematodes are environmentally friendly and won’t harm your fruits.
Less toxic botanical treatments derived from neem, garlic, citrus oils, and other plant extracts can repel or even kill some termites but aren’t likely to eliminate the queen (and thus the colony). While less toxic, these termite treatments have limited efficacy compared to termiticides.
Physically digging out subterranean termites from the soil around trees provides immediate population reduction but does not provide lasting protection on its own. Can supplement other treatments. Remove the mud tubes.
Heating infested trees via steam injection or concentrated solar energy kills termites residing in the wood while preserving the integrity of the tree itself. Used for drywood termites, which live above ground.
Depending on the nature of the infestation, combining both preventative and curative methods often provides the best control results. Professional pest management assistance is recommended in many cases.
When Should I Seek Professional Help for Termite-Infested Fruit Trees?
While vigilantly monitoring trees personally and taking prompt action at the first signs of termites is prudent, there are circumstances where soliciting professional expertise is advisable:
Extensive Termite Infestations
If signs indicate an extensive termite colony with widespread tree damage, arborists and pest control specialists have specialized tools and testing methods to fully assess the scope of damage and recommend a tailored treatment plan specific to the situation.
Presence of the Formosan Termite
The invasive Formosan “super termite” poses major risks to fruit trees, and may require intensive efforts beyond simple DIY treatments if identified in an orchard. Getting professional help early is key.
Safety and Chemical Risk Concerns
Professionals are experienced in safely applying specialized termiticides and tree injections that homeowners may not be permitted to utilize. They also take safety precautions.
Large Operation Efficiency
For commercial orchards with hundreds of trees to monitor and protect, contracting termite control professionals allows you to offload routine termite inspection and control measures. Some professional pest controllers even use canines to inspect many fruit trees for termites rather quickly.
Insurance Claims and Documentation
If trees require removal or replacement due to termite damage, having a professional assessment report can support filing insurance claims. Documentation proves the loss.
Although affordable do-it-yourself treatment options exist, termite infestations can sometimes escalate beyond the scope of homeowner management. Seeking qualified experts can save time, money, and your fruit trees.
Frequently Asked Questions About Termites in Fruit Trees
Q: How can I tell if a hollow area inside my fruit tree was caused by termites?
A: Telltale signs pointing to termites as the cause include mud tubes on the bark, accumulations of frass pellets, or the presence of live termites. Carefully poking inside holes with a thin wire to feel for tunnels can help confirm termites. Other insects like beetles can also create hollows.
Q: What should I do if I find termites in a young fruit tree I just planted?
A: Treat younger termite-infested trees aggressively since they lack well-developed natural defenses and are highly vulnerable to permanent damage. Apply a systemic insecticide to the soil and use tree injections if internal damage is likely. The tree’s future viability is at stake.
Q: When is it necessary to completely remove a fruit tree due to severe termite damage?
A: If the main trunk has been hollowed out significantly compromising its integrity, or major limbs are lost due to internal damage, removal may be the only realistic option. Tree failure risk outweighs the limited possibility of recovery.
Q: Can old tree stumps left in the ground attract termites that might spread to living fruit trees?
A: Yes, old stumps provide the perfect hidden habitat for termites to multiply before migrating to adjacent trees. Stump removal through grinding or uprooting is ideal to eliminate this risk factor.
Q: What types of mulch can I use around fruit trees that deter termites?
A: Rubber mulch, crushed stone, pebbles, plastic sheeting, or landscape fabric help repress termites. Avoid wood chips or bark chunks that feed subterranean termites. Never pile mulch against the trunk.
A: Fruit tree termite infestations warrant checking for signs of termites around your home’s foundation and crawlspace. While finding termites in fruit trees near your home doesn’t necessarily mean that termites will necessarily spread to your home, vigilantly monitoring for signs of termite activity near your home is advised. Address issues promptly.
Don’t Fret If You Find Termites in Your Fruit Trees
Termites in fruit trees are more than just a nuisance; they are a threat to your hard work, your future fruit salads, and potentially even your home (if they wander toward it). From identifying the early signs of termite activity to understanding the impact and exploring treatment options, this guide aims to arm you with the knowledge you need to tackle termites head-on. So the next time you see a termite, you’ll be less “Oh no!” and more “Oh, I know what to do!”