Q: I had my house treated for termites six months ago. They dug a trench around the base of my house and poured in a chemical. They warned me not to plant anything I plan to eat within fifteen feet of the house as the chemical used attracts plant roots and is poisonous. Since this time, wild strawberries have sprouted and are growing along the base of the house. I know not to eat this fruit, however what happens to the animals that may eat these strawberries?
A: According to Dr. Dan Suiter, an expert on structural pests at the University of Georgia, the insecticides used for termites are not very “systemic” (absorbed by plants). By their very nature, termiticides are designed to stay in one spot and to degrade very slowly. If they were systemic, nearby shrubbery would absorb them and render your termite barrier useless. I think the termite company was just trying to protect themselves by warning you not to plant nearby. The animals that eat the strawberries are safe.
This is a good time, though, to point out that your real job regarding your chemical termite barrier is to prevent damage to it over the years. Nothing should be planted within eighteen inches of the house foundation. If a shrub must be removed, sever its roots at the eighteen inch line and do not disturb the soil lying closer to the house. No mulch, of course, should be closer to the foundation than eighteen inches. One day, if you do decide to grow edible plants near your house, Dr. Suiter says planting them five feet or more away from the house should be a safe distance.