Rainy Season Brings Out Desert Termites

Desert Termites Build Mud Sheets

Credit: Desert Termites Build Mud Sheets,
Sarah Wood, El Paso Master Gardener

If you found this muddy, stucco-like material on a post in your backyard, what would you think it was? And how was it created? The homeowner investigated by scraping off a sample and he found larva, tiny red ants and the trail seen in the second photo. If these were wooden poles one might guess the insects responsible were termites, but the gray poles are made of TREX, a man-made substance resistant to termites.

To answer this question, Dr. Carol SutherlandExtension Entomologist at NMSU and State Entomologist for the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, was contacted. She replied: 

“This suggests rain fell at their house. Desert termites (e.g. Gnathamitermes sp.) went into foraging mode. There’s probably landscape cloth around this post, but the termites found a little fold or tear that allowed them to reach the surface and check out what this big gray thing was. They made that brown ‘stucco’ out of the brown soil they were in, using their saliva to secure it periodically to the surface of something (TREX) that was of no use to them.

If you found whitish ‘larvae’ when the stucco was removed or fell off, those likely were worker termites. They avoid bright light, so they might have scurried back into the dark as the stucco was falling.  

The little red ants are likely Forelius—what I call ‘little sugar ants.’ They are the tiny creatures that treat your garden hose like I-25—3 lanes each going both directions with ants running full speed. Their usual food sources feature sweet-tasting things—like aphid honeydew. To find one of these food sources, they may explore their environment; in this case, it included the ‘termite stucco’ shelter vacated earlier by the termites. Subterranean termites usually have messy tunnels, which would account for some of the trails under the stucco being ‘highlighted.’ Any Forelius caught or squashed in those tunnels when the stucco was removed or fell would add to the reddish ‘dust’ that makes the old termite tunnels stand out.

Desert Termites Build Mud Tubes_S Wood

Credit: Desert Termites Create Mud Tunnels,
Sarah Wood, El Paso Master Gardener

The TREX formula makes cellulose unavailable to foraging or tunneling termites. In other words, TREX did what it was supposed to do.”

Desert termites are more likely to be seen from late spring to early fall and more so after rainy periods. They do not tunnel into wood but rather construct fragile mud sheets and tubes around the surfaces of plants, litter, fence posts and similar objects.

Learn more in this article from the Field Guide to Texas Insects.

Master Gardener Class Application Deadline Nears

If you like to learn about plants and would enjoy sharing your knowledge with people in our community in various ways, consider becoming an El Paso County Master Gardener volunteer. In our yearly fall classes which begin with an orientation in late August you will receive intensive horticultural training. The classes include xeriscaping principles, vegetable gardening, lawn and tree care, soils, identifying garden pests, and more. After training, you’ll apply your new knowledge by volunteering 62 hours within the next year at approved sites to become a certified Texas Master Gardener. Recertification yearly is encouraged through continued volunteering and by taking continuing education classes.

Master Gardeners are members of the local community who take an active interest in their lawns, trees, shrubs, flowers and gardens. They are enthusiastic, willing to learn and to help others, and are able to communicate with diverse groups of people.

You can learn more about the El Paso County Master Gardener program and our history by reading the Application letter and the About Us pages.

agrilife logo

Orientation Day: August 31, 2017
Dates of classes: September 7 to November 16, 2017
Class days: Thursdays (9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.)
Class location: Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Office Ascarate Annex,
oooooooooooo301 Manny Martinez Sr. Drive, 2nd Floor, El Paso, TX 79905

Fee to cover course materials, handbook and background check: $195

Read and complete the Application letter.

Last day to apply: August 24, 2017

Master Gardener Program Interview – Now Accepting Applications

dave turner

Credit: Still from KVIA Interview on YouTube

We are now accepting applications from the public to train to become El Paso County Master Gardener volunteers. You can watch this interview from the KVIA archives to learn more about what we do. Texas Master Gardener Vegetable Specialist Dave Turner speaks about the training programs that start in the fall, about our soils, and where to find us at the Farmers’ Market on Saturdays.

ABC-7 at Noon: Host Denise Olivas speaks with Dave Turner, El Paso Master Gardener

Our office location has moved since this video was filmed. Information seen on the last slide is updated below:

Upcoming Events: https://txmg.org/elpaso/events/

Extension Office phone number: (915) 771-2354

Read more about volunteer opportunities and how to become a certified El Paso County Master Gardener here. The last day to apply for the training class is Thursday, August 24, 2017.

Buzz Off! Prevent Mosquitoes to Reduce Disease

by Marlene Stalker, El Paso Master Gardener

standing water

Mosquito conducive conditions,
Credit: NYSIPM Gallery

Mosquito-transmitted diseases are on our radar now more than ever. The bite of an infected mosquito can spread West Nile virus, chikungunya, dengue, and Zika. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension’s “Mosquito Safari” is an interactive audio-visual website that takes you around a house and neighborhood to learn where mosquitoes will breed so they can be eliminated. The website also discusses mosquito-borne diseases and how to control them. Read more »




Learn About Home Food Production, Bees and More!

Canning jams is just one of the things you’ll learn at our upcoming Backyard Basics Workshop in September. This workshop focuses on small scale home food production and related topics like canning, beekeeping, raising chickens and growing vegetables.

Read more »




Tiny Pests in Our Gardens

How can so much damage to our plants be caused by such tiny pests? Spider mites, aphids and thrips are sucking pests that we start to see on our plants when the weather warms. Be on the alert for these in your garden so that you can take measures to remove them before the damage is too severe. In the following articles from New Mexico State University (NMSU) by Carol A. Sutherland, the “IPM Notes” section will give advice on controlling these pests. Fortunately, a first line of attack can be a strong stream of water to wash them off the plant and clean off the dust that is favored by the spider mites. You can also learn more about “good bugs” and “bad bugs” in the July Gardening 101 talk by Texas Master Gardener Entomology Specialist, Mary Ann McCravey.

          Spider Mites                       Aphids & Their Relatives                    Thrips

Related Articles:

Pests of Foliage and Flowering Plants
UC IPM Pest Notes Library

Image sources:

Mites on Kava Stem by Scot Nelson (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Aphids on Arugula by Scot Nelson (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Thrips on Bean Leaf by Gary Chang (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Take Two – Education and Edibles!

Saturdays - Farmers’ Market Info Booth Credit: El Paso Master Gardener Facebook

Saturdays – Farmers’ Market Info Booth
Credit: El Paso Master Gardener Facebook

This summer you can find our Information Tables with freshly grown produce in two locations. El Paso County Master Gardeners are serving up helpful bites of research-based gardening information with a variety of vegetables for you to purchase. We grow the vegetables locally at our Ascarate Teaching and Demonstration Garden and our Texas A&M AgriLife Vegetable Demonstration Garden.

Our Saturday events at Ardovino’s Farmers’ Market have weekly changing gardening topics in addition to our Information Booth materials to address your gardening questions. Produce is being sold as it becomes available. Visit our Events page to learn more and note the end-of-month Garden Talk.

Our Summer Vegetable Sales are being held twice a month on the grassy area outside the El Paso County Tax Office on Manny Martinez Sr. Drive.

2nd & 4th Tuesdays – Ascarate Summer Sale & Info Table Credit: El Paso Master Gardener Facebook

        2nd & 4th Tuesdays–Ascarate                          Summer Sale & InfoTable                                Credit: El Paso Master Gardener Facebook

Take advantage of our ability to answer your gardening questions and the free publications on topics ranging from composting to growing roses and tomatoes. Check our Events page for more information.



ask us picture Plant and Gardening Questions?
oooooooooooooAsk an Expert

Do you have a question about your plants, gardens or yards? The El Paso Master Gardener Help Desk is open Monday through Thursday from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and we’ll be happy to assist you. When you phone the Help Desk (915-771-2354) you will talk with a volunteer who will provide research-based horticultural information. If a Master Gardener is not available when you call, please leave a message and you will be contacted as soon as possible. Or, you may complete the Ask the Help Desk form which accepts photos and gives the option to receive an answer by phone or email.

Who We Are

The El Paso County Master Gardeners Association, as a member of the Texas Master Gardeners Association, is a non-profit educational and charitable organization supporting the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service in providing quality, relevant outreach and continuing education programs and services to the people of El Paso County. Our local volunteers receive extensive training and experience in a wide range of subjects before certification as Texas Master Gardeners. 

In collaboration with the County A&M AgriLife Horticultural Agent, Denise Rodriguez, we educate the community through various events, workshops, and demonstration gardens. Our Master Gardeners volunteer through our Outreach programs and community Projects to provide information and recommendations on horticultural topics to all residents of El Paso County.

Shopping for Summer Garden Supplies?

Flowers with a beePlease support the El Paso County Master Gardener Association by starting your shopping at AmazonSmile.

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