Kerry loves to write about gardening, nutrition, sustainability, and entertainment.
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.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Micheal Breen Hudson Ontario on March 03, 2018:
Do Chickadees Nuthatches Wood peckers etc etc eat Ticks or their eggs.?
Lorna on December 25, 2017:
I'm pretty sure that eucalyptus doesn't repel ticks. Australia is full of gum trees - and paralysis ticks.
Desia on April 26, 2017:
I throw white vinegar on the toads and it kills them dead! I actually ran out of white vinegar and guess what the apple cider vinegar worked too!
Jon Raddatz on August 20, 2016:
I am sure I didn't glean an understanding of the range of tick-eating birds that are effective in removing the pest, e.g those in particular that carry lyme disease, the deer tick. We have had a flock of sparrows (about 20 or more) for the first time this summer who have taken over our yard. Not sure why they showed up and stayed, but they do do a lot of ground-feeding. Wondered if they considered deer ticks as a gourmet treat. I do not want to get Guinea hens to eradicate the ticks, as, if I did, my neighbors might eradicate me. So, do sparrows have them on their fast-food menu? I have had lyme disease, so have a first-hand reason for the questions. Thanks! Jon at GIBRAD@aol.com
lenny on April 25, 2015:
You're 100 percent incorrect about ticks not liking sagebrush. It is one plant they swarm on. Walk around sage when you can.
kerryg (author) from USA on June 20, 2013:
Donna MTK, filter grade diatomaceous earth is dangerous to inhale and can cause a disease called silicosis, but food grade diatomaceous earth contains insignificant qualities of the dangerous form of crystalline silica. Like any other dusty material, inhalation should be minimized, especially if you or the dog has any respiratory problems, but I haven't seen any evidence that accidentally inhaling a small amount of food grade DE is any more dangerous than, for example, inhaling a comparable amount of dust from a dirt road. However, I've rewritten the section to clarify what type of DE I'm referring to and remind people that inhalation should be minimized as much as possible.
The suggestion to eat onions and garlic was referring to humans, not dogs.
ErinS on June 14, 2013:
We have used agricultural lime in our yard spring and fall and rarely have ticks. It was first suggested by TruGreen Lawncare to improve the pH of our soil and lawn (many pine trees and quite acidic) and I've read about the tick benefits of using lime. I'm a fan! It is very inexpensive, helpful to the soil and lawn, and definitely seems to help with the ticks! We have woods all around us and have two dogs (they get a topical treatment also) and two small children-while we are diligent to check everyone, it is nice that the ticks don't take over our time in the yard :)
Donna Campbell Smith from Central North Carolina on May 26, 2013:
Marie on May 11, 2013:
Onions and garlic are bad for the dog to ingest. I have read many different articles that give you lots of diferent plants that you can use to keep ticks away.
Donna MTK on April 30, 2013:
NEVER encourage dogs or humans to "dust-bathe" in Diatomaceous Earth! DE should never be inhaled and will cause illnesses. Here's JUST ONE website confirming this: http://www.ehow.com/info_8215850_dangers-grade-dia...
Onions and garlic are poisonous to dogs when ingested.
These two things alone make me a little worried about believing the rest of the story & advice.
Leanne on August 27, 2012:
Thanks for this article, it is so informative! I featured your post on my Pinterest Monday section of my blog @ planprepareandprovide.com. Thanks!
JH on April 30, 2012:
I've heard that garlic & onions are bad for dogs.
mikkila on April 19, 2012:
What works great for bedding is find some arborvitaes and cut off the tips and throw it in there doghouse. make sure they are small and not big sharp branches to hurt the dog. My friend put it in a blender with and type of oil and use that on your dog. garlic and Onion in the food too.
shell on April 09, 2012:
@sue you have to be careful how you get them to back out, they will spit there stuff because they are scared.
@doyle...are you taking about spraying the yard or the dog? I have a Sibe and she's already brought 6 or more home this past week. She likes to chase the squirrels & frogs so keeping her out of the bush is hard. She's on revolution but is useless when it comes to ticks.
sue on April 05, 2012:
To remove a tick that has set in skin, apply a q tip with thyme oil, they back right out. Works for animals and people. I think this article has some great advice, I'll be trying the suggestions.
hate ticks on April 03, 2012:
if u have avon lotion with lavender scent use it, i never get ticks when i use that, and spray tee tree oil all over pets it works!
Alexis on March 31, 2012:
I got Lymes last spring and dont even know how. I bought a garlic spray for the lawn and made a body spray with garlic oil cinniman oil, & lavender oil. Start now with your per cations because this year bugs are going to be bad. Pluse if u have unexplained fatigue or pain that gets worse over a few months go to a Lyme specialist regular drs don't know how to treat Lymes.
happy dennis on March 31, 2012:
this must be written by a city slicker . my parents have property in the state i live in that they are so bad in that area you can sit in the car window down and get one . so they are even carried by the wind
EMNC Naturalist on March 30, 2012:
First ticks ARE found in lawns and other mowed areas. There may be fewer, but one study showed 70% of Lyme cases were contracted from ticks in a yard. This was believed to be because people thought ticks weren't in yards. A 2' wide strip of wood chip between the edge of the mowed area and the more natural area also helps to reduce the number of ticks in the lawn. The EPA and CT Department of Parks and Recreation have a pdf on reducing ticks in public areas including playgrounds.
Ticks aren't insects they are arachnids--8 legs & 2 body parts.
Do at least one tick check everyday--365 days per year.
Shawn on March 15, 2012:
Apply grub and insect killer to your lawn
burning tires rids ticks from yard on January 09, 2012:
make sure there is wind and make fire where it is blown across your lawn. Close your windows and doors.
Captain Redbeard from Ohio on September 18, 2011:
This is the most informitive article I have ever read on the subject lol Thank you! I will try some of these on my five children and myself. I grew up on a farm in the country and the only trick I grew up with was to paint nail polish on them when you found them and that would draw them out.
bj on September 09, 2011:
ticks love blue jeans. I used to go hiking alone in the woods behind our farm by the lake. I found when I wore blue jeans, I got ticks. When I wore anything else, I didn't get any. Then one day I went hiking with 4 friends. One was wearing blue jeans. She had millions of ticks and the rest of us had none.
sithlover03 on May 24, 2011:
we live close to downtown in a rural city of 13,000 and my husband keeps our lawn very short, but it doesn't seem to matter. I can go outside and just stand there and will get a tick in a matter of minutes!! im definatly going to try a few things mentioned here thanks!
Rrubywilms on May 08, 2011:
great imformation, my daughter told me about the mulch,but i had to check it out for myself and i will add some of the flowers you suggested THANK YOU
L.L. Woodard from Oklahoma City on May 01, 2011:
Ticks are a terrible problem in the rural area where I live. I'm going to try some of the tick repellent plants you've suggested.
sweetKitten from England on June 30, 2010:
oh I hate ticks!
My mother had one. she found out when she was in the bath. the unusual thing is, the tick bit her and went inside her leg. we don't know if it's out or still living in there...
kotoh from Chicago on November 21, 2009:
Good info. Now I know what to do when I get ticks. It really annoying. Thanks for sharing though.
Staci-Barbo7 from North Carolina on July 08, 2009:
Recently, my daughter, friends, and I went hiking into the woods on a short trail and came out with unwanted guests - baby ticks were crawling all over our shirts, socks and into our shoes. After a search that kept turning them up in the folds and seams of the shoes, we wound up having to keep the shoes and socks off entirely on the way home and soak them overnight. I had not been so aggravated with an outdoor experience in a LONG time - it was definitely more than we bargained for.
yamanote from UK/Spain on July 07, 2009:
yep, it's nasty when a dog gets a tick, and can cause serious illness so you should regularly check them
advisor4qb from On New Footing on July 07, 2009:
I used to play in the woods as a kid, and I cannot tell you the number of ticks I yanked out of my head. I hate those things. I was lucky I never got lyme disease!
Alicia Crowder from Everywhere on July 07, 2009:
Thank you for writing this informative article!