How to Repel Ticks Naturally
Ticks are an annoying and potentially dangerous pest throughout most of the United States and the world. Not only do they suck your blood (and not in some sexy, sparkly vampire way either), they can carry diseases such as lyme disease, tick paralysis, Rock Mountain spotted fever, and more.
Protecting yourself, your children, and your animals against tick bites is therefore very important. Although there are chemicals that can help repel and kill ticks on yourself, your children, and your animals, some work better than others. In fact, a significant minority of people claim that DEET, one of the most popular, not only doesn't repel ticks, it actually attracts them!
Some tick-repelling chemicals also have serious health concerns, especially for young children and pets. Some dogs have very serious reactions to certain chemicals, including seizures and even death, and unfortunately there's no real way to know in advance if your dog will be one of them.
Here are some tips for controlling ticks around your home without the use of dangerous chemicals:
Destroy Tick Habitat
Ticks like to live in tall grasses, brush, and other overgrown areas where they are protected from temperature extremes. Although my hatred for lawns is well established, this is one area where even I will admit that they have their advantages. If ticks are a serious problem in your area, keeping a swath of lawn 2-4 inches high around your home, children's play areas, and dog yards or livestock pastures will significantly reduce tick populations in the mowed areas.
If your mowed areas border wilder woodland or meadow habitats, another trick you can do is to border the mowed area with a wide strip (4-6 feet minimum) of mulch. Cedar wood chips are an especially good choice because they repel many insect pests. Ticks will not cross the mulch, though they can still be carried over by animals or people. Be careful to keep brush from overgrowing the mulch barrier.
If, like me, you like naturalistic woodland and meadow landscapes, you can still enjoy them by mowing and/or mulching wide paths through the area to make it less likely that you will brush up against plants harboring ticks. If possible, plant low growing plants next to the paths to provide even more protection.
Plants That Repel Ticks
Tick repellent plants have not been as well studied as plants that repel mosquitoes but among the plants believed to repel ticks are:
- pyrethrum (type of crysanthemum)
- American beautyberry
Uninvite Deer and Mice
In the United States, most ticks are carried by deer and mice, and the mice are the ones responsible for spreading lyme disease among ticks.
Discouraging deer and mice from coming into your yard will reduce the number of ticks brought into the area.
One way to discourage deer is to plant deer resistant plants. Though deer will eat almost anything if they're desperate enough, deer-resistant plants are the last choices on their menu, and the more you have in your garden, the less likely deer will bother to stop by. Contact your local extension office to learn which deer resistant plants grow well in your area.
Brush piles provide important shelter for birds and many other beneficial animals, but they can also provide homes for mice. Be careful to locate brush piles well away from play areas and other tick-free zones.
Bird feeders are another garden feature particularly prone to attracting mice. Again, locate bird feeders well away from your tick-free zones and be sure to store the food securely in a metal garbage can or other mouse-proof container.
Call in the Cavalry
If you live in an area where they are allowed, domestic poultry such as chickens and ducks can take a major bite out of your tick population, while also providing healthful, free range meat and eggs for your family. Guinea fowl, though noisier than chickens and ducks and more apt to annoy the neighbors if kept in a typical suburban backyard, are also well known for their voracious appetite for ticks. Though they do produce eggs, guinea fowl are best known as a source of gourmet meat that closely resembles pheasant, and for their qualities as "the farmer's watchdog" due to the piercing call they emit when danger is spotted.
Wild birds are also enthusiastic tick eaters. You can attract insect-eating birds by planting "insectary" plants. Insectaries are plants such as dill, dutch white clover, and New England aster that attract large numbers of beneficial insects such as butterflies and bees. Insect-eating birds will take note of this tasty smorgasbord and stick around to make a dent in populations of less desirable insect visitors as well.
More Tick Repelling Tricks
- Eat a diet high in onions and garlic.
- Some hikers swear by fabric softener sheets tucked into their belts.
- Others swear by Vitamin B1 tablets, also known as thiamin. In addition to supplements, Vitamin B1 is found in a number of delicious foods, including tuna, asparagus, eggplants, tomatoes, green peas, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, and leafy green vegetables such as Romaine lettuce and spinach.
- Rub food-grade diatomaceous earth into your dog's coat after traveling through tall grasses or other tick habitat. Harmless to large animals, diatomaceous earth kills many insect pests. Note: avoid inhaling the dust as much as possible and do not do this if you or your dog has respiratory problems.
When travelling through tick habitat, take precautions by wearing light-colored, long pants and tucking your pants into your socks. This will make it easier to spot ticks. Perform thorough tick checks after finishing your hike, and again a few hours later, paying particular attention to areas with folds of skin such as underarms and between the toes and hair. Ticks also like to snuggle up under elastic waistbands and similar constricting spots under clothing.