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Tips for Reducing Ticks in Your Landscape

Jill likes cooking, writing, painting, & stewardship, and studies gardening through MD Master Gardener & Master Naturalist programs.

Lone Star ticks transmit Ehrlichia chaffeensis and Ehrlichia ewingii, among other diseases.

Lone Star ticks transmit Ehrlichia chaffeensis and Ehrlichia ewingii, among other diseases.

Creating a Tick-Free Zone in Your Yard

One November not long ago, my husband and I cleared brush from a wooded area near our house. When we returned inside, we discovered more than the usual burrs and scratches. Ticks were crawling up our pant legs and our sleeves. One had attached itself to my upper leg!

I was appalled. Was this normal? We live in the suburbs! Japanese beetles, poison ivy, aphids. These were the problem pests we had come to expect. But ticks?

As we worked in the yard throughout the spring, similar scenarios occurred. Whether we were weeding, trimming or planting, we'd find ticks on our legs, hands, and arms. Sometimes they'd be "stuck in" on our thighs or backs.

Summer was even worse. That's when black-legged tick nymphs are most active. They're the tiny blood-sucking parasites responsible for most cases of Lyme disease.

"Why the sudden preponderance of ticks?" we wondered. And what could we do to keep ourselves safe from them and the diseases that they spread?

Clear Brush, Eliminate Tall-Grass Areas and Keep Turf Short

As it turns out, one of the reasons we had so many ticks was the same reason you may have them, even if you live in suburbia.

Like many residential areas today, ours is comprised of partially wooded lots. So in addition to the usual flower beds, mulched islands, raised vegetable beds, and turf grass, we had two additional elements ticks love—dense, moist woodlands edged in tall grass and brush.

The forest was thick with pine trees of every size, a few hardwoods, and lots and lots of native shrubs, vines, and grasses. And because we'd wanted to "shade out" weeds in the turf, we'd let the lawn grow longer than usual. The result? Our suburban landscape had become a tick paradise. And boy were they thriving!

Our first task was to mow the lawn down to 2 inches rather than leaving it at a shaggy four. Then we began the back-breaking process of removing brush from the edge of the woods. We also began digging up tall grasses, clearing leaves, and removing other yard debris. This eliminated much of the environment ticks prefer. It also removed potential nesting areas for white-footed mice, which are prime hosts for ticks.

Deter Tick-Bearing Animals Like White-Tailed Deer

The presence of white-tailed deer in our neighborhood is another reason for its high tick population. Detracting these critters is difficult but not impossible.

For us, a tall fence wasn't an option. So we opted for a form of passive deterrence: landscaping with deer-resistant plants. Of course, if they're hungry enough, deer will eat almost anything. But the concept works for the most part. Because our yard isn't filled with the plants deer prefer to munch, we rarely see them—unless it's across the street at the neighbor's.

Many of the deer-resistant plants we chose are also native to our area, so they have added blessings. Not only are they pest resistant, but they're disease resistant, too. And they require less watering.

Of course, we still grow some plants deer find tasty. Who wants to give up tulips, pansies, blueberries, and verdant patches of tender vegetables? To make them less inviting, we spray (and respray) deer repellent, an obnoxious smelling concoction of rotten eggs and garlic. So far, we haven't tried hanging up bags of Irish Spring soap, but many gardeners swear by them. We also interplant vegetables with herbs and marigolds. Again, for the most part, these methods have reduced the number of deer visitors to our yard—and lowered the tick population.

dealing-with-ticks-in-the-garden

Clear Leaf Clutter, Seal Buildings, and Clean Around Bird Feeders to Deter Mice

Next to white-tailed deer, white-footed mice are the most popular hosts for ticks. To keep them out of your yard, remove the shelter and food that attracts them.

As mentioned above, for us that meant first clearing leaves and other yard waste from around evergreens. It also meant trying to seal outbuildings to keep them rodent-free. And we routinely rake around birdfeeders to remove the fallen grain mice love.

Applying an Acaricide Can Also Reduce the Tick Population

As you can imagine, establishing a tick-free zone is an ongoing process. But it's working. The tick population is down. And although we'll always have some, particularly in areas next to the woods, our yard is a lot safer than it used to be!

If you can't establish a tick-free zone in your yard no matter what you do, then desperate measures may be called for: acaricides. According to the Center for Disease Control, these pesticides can reduce tick numbers by 68–100% if applied once at the end of May or at beginning of June.

Acaricides made from natural pyrethrins, which come from chrysanthemums, have little residual impact. Often manufacturers combine them with insecticidal soap or silicon dioxide.

Tempo and Powerforce are insecticides that contain the acaricide cyfluthrin. Both come in ready-to-spray form. Like Talstar, which contains the active ingredient bifenthrin, Tempo and Powerforce are safe for pets once they dry.

Products that contain the acaricide carbaryl, such as Sevin, are highly poisonous to bees, so you'll probably want to avoid them.

Placing recreational areas away from wooded areas on your property will reduce the likelihood of tick bites.

Placing recreational areas away from wooded areas on your property will reduce the likelihood of tick bites.

Position Picnic Tables, Play Sets, and Other Recreational Areas Away From Woodlands

Although arranging picnic tables, swing sets, and other recreational areas beside dense shrubbery or woodlands may seem like a charming idea, it's the last place they should be if you want to avoid tick bites.

In a study conducted by the Center for Disease Control, 67% of ticks were found in thickly forested areas, while 22% were located at the unmaintained edges of forests. Flower beds and other ornamental vegetation harbored only 9%, while manicured lawns had the least number, only 2%—and most of those were found within 3 yards of woodlands, stone barriers, and flower beds.

So where should you place your picnic table? In the lawn, definitely—far, far from the woods.

Wear Light Colors, Full Coverage, and Tuck in Your Pants

Wearing shoes and socks, long pants, and long sleeves will help to prevent ticks from latching onto your skin.

Light-colored clothing is also a good idea. Although it won't prevent ticks, it will make them easier to spot. That way, you can catch and destroy them before they bite. Even tiny seed ticks (larvae) and tick nymphs are easier to spot against light clothing like khaki pants and long-sleeved white shirts.

It's not the most attractive look, but tucking your pants into your socks or work boots will also prevent tick bites. Even if you wear long pants, ticks can gain access to your skin through the leg holes.

Check Your Body for Ticks and Remove Attached Ones Immediately

One of the best ways to prevent tick bites and tick-related diseases is to perform a body check immediately after working in your yard, particularly if you've spent time in the high-tick areas described above.

Ticks are attracted to moist and/or dark places, so be sure to check your underarms, waist, groin, ears, hair, and the back of your knees. And don't forget your belly button!

If you do find a tick, remove it immediately. For directions on tick removal, check out the above video from the University of Rhode Island's Tick Encounter Resource Center. For comparable written directions, follow the links to any of these reputable sources: CDC, WebMD and the journal of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Additional Tick-Control Methods

Here are a few more ideas for how to reduce tick infestations in your home and garden.

Use Tick Repellents

Tick repellents, both natural and synthetic, will also help you avoid tick bites when you're working in your yard.

Treat Your Work Clothes

Repellents that contain permethrin are sprayed onto clothing, not skin. When using this product, be sure that you follow the directions carefully, applying it to your clothing at least two hours before you dress. Once you've finished working in the garden, remove any clothing that's been treated with permethrin and wash it immediately.

Treat Your Skin

Because permethrin is toxic to cats, cat owners may opt to use DEET instead. DEET, which repels both ticks and mosquitoes, is applied directly to skin. Cutter, Off, Repel and BugX are among the many products on the market that contain DEET.

For full protection, spray your clothing with permethrin and apply DEET to exposed skin areas.

More Resources

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Comments

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on June 25, 2017:

Hi Jean. Thanks for commenting! I recently learned at a Master Naturalist class that possums are huge tick eaters, so you are way ahead of me on that. I did know that chickens ate them. I'd love to have a flock (not just for their tick-eating, of course!). Unfortunately, chickens aren't allowed where we are now, but . . . someday! Do you have them?

Jean on June 25, 2017:

A safe way to get ride of thousands of ticks is to buy some Ginny chickens.. their favorite food is ticks!!! Also I know possums love it KS and eat lots of them ..

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on April 18, 2014:

Thanks so much for pinning & sharing, Peggy W! Appreciate your comments. Take care! Jill

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 17, 2014:

Very informative hub. Lyme disease is terrible and if there are methods to lessen the chance of getting it, it should be followed. Pinning this to my Useful Tips and Ideas board and will also tweet.

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on April 17, 2014:

Hi Rod. Thanks for the removal tips! I'm going to try the cotton ball idea. Last year, both my husband and I had reactions after removing them--redness and itching. Ticks are awful! Take care--and thanks again for commenting. --Jill

RodneyBlaec Rainey from Louisville, KY on April 17, 2014:

I read recently that planting lavender also helps to repel ticks and mice. Haven't tried it yet though. Also read that compressing a soapy cotton ball over an embedded tick helps to remove them and google "tick key" a product that is said to remove them safely. Ticks seem to be getting worse all the time. Great hub, thanks for sharing!

Healing Herbalist from The Hamlet of Effingham on April 17, 2014:

There are many cities (places) that will allow a chicken or two, but not a rooster. The reader would have to check with their local zoning laws. Chickens don't make much noise, and as long as the person cleans up, they aren't really stinky. The manure is also great for the garden, if you let it sit for at least 6 months. Best of all, they also give you fresh eggs everyday.:)

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on April 17, 2014:

Yes, I'd love to have chicken for that reason and several others, but I've never lived anywhere that allows them & just assumed that was true for most home gardeners. Perhaps I should have included them anyway! Thanks for stopping by! --Jill

Healing Herbalist from The Hamlet of Effingham on April 17, 2014:

Chickens! Greatest tick reducing method I've ever used. Since having chickens, there are little to no ticks. Here's to a tick free summer.

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on April 17, 2014:

Hi Alphadogg16. Thanks for commenting! So far this year, I found a tick (with the white spot) on me, but the dog has been tick free. His yearly blood test, however, showed that he had been bitten by a tick carrying ehrlichia--and we use Biospot on him. Apparently, this year in our area of MD, there have been many cases of ehrlichia in dogs rather than the "usual" Lyme disease. Nice to hear from. Take care, Jill

Jill Spencer (author) from United States on April 17, 2014:

Hi purl3agony! I hope you never see a tick, but . . . if you do, or your dog does, beware of ehrlichia. The ticks around here seem to be infected with it. Take care, Jill

Kevin W from Texas on April 17, 2014:

This was a very interesting read Dirt Farmer. I'm not sure of a plague, but I did recently find a couple of ticks on my dogs. These tips will come in handy. Thumbs up on your hub.

Donna Herron from USA on April 17, 2014:

Another wonderful and informative hub, Jill! We also have a partially wooded lot and I hadn't thought that ticks might become a problem. In fact, I've never actually seen a tick in real life. But after reading this hub, I realize we're going to have a be more diligent and careful about cleaning up the area where our lawn meets the wooded area. Thanks, as always, for your great advice and information!