Tips for Reducing Ticks in Your Landscape
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!
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?
Create a tick-free zone in your yard.
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 two 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 & white-footed mice.
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.
Deer-resistant plants make yards less appealing to deer.
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.
Clear leaf clutter, seal buildings & 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.
Creating a tick-free zone is an ongoing process!
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!
Pyrethrin is a natural insecticide derived from chrysanthemums.
Applying an acaricide can also reduce the tick population.
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 to 100 percent 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.
More Ways to Reduce the Risk of Tick Bites
Once you've established a tick-free zone in your yard, the following measures can decrease your risk of tick bites--and reduce your risk of infection.
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 percent of ticks were found in thickly forested areas. Twenty-two percent were located at the unmaintained edges of forests. Flower beds and other ornamental vegetation harbored only nine percent, while manicured lawns had the least number, only two percent--and most of those were found within three 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 ticks 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.
Be sure to follow the directions carefuly when you apply this tick repellent to your clothing.
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.
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