Our backyards can be our refuge and a source of fun and relaxation, but they can also be home to ticks. Different tick species can carry serious diseases such as Lyme, bartonella and anaplasmosis. Not every tick carries disease, but there’s no way to know which ones do and which don’t, so you want to minimize your exposure any way you can.
Don’t give up and hide in the house, though. You may not be able to completely eliminate ticks in your landscape, however there are things you can do to keep their numbers down, stay safe, and enjoy your outdoor spaces.
The non-profit Tick-Borne Disease Alliance states that more than 75% of Lyme disease cases came from ticks in people’s yards. Ticks need a blood meal to reproduce, and while deer and mice are their primary hosts, any vertebrate will do, including people.
Ticks like areas that are cool, humid, and shaded. They don’t like open, sunny places. They live in wooded areas, in grassy fields, in underbrush, and around stonewalls and woodpiles where rodents hide. Ticks can be active in temperatures as low as the mid-30s, and do not die in winter.
The edges between your yard and fields or woodland are where ticks are most likely to be found. Maintained lawns and ornamental plants are less attractive habitat, which means your garden may have fewer ticks than the surrounding area.
In Your Yard:
To deter ticks, it helps to deter their primary hosts. Keep deer away from your property as best as possible with fences and repellents. Don’t feed them.
Check with your local Cooperative Extension office, garden center, or native plant society for a list of deer-resistant plantings specific to your zone or climate.
Keep your lawn mowed, and clean up leaf litter. Remove dense groundcovers such as ivy.
Prune shrubs and trees near walkways. Ticks don’t live in tree canopies, but cutting trees back allows more sunlight in, which creates a drier environment.
Keep brush and weeds cleared away from areas near where you garden, relax, cook or play. Don’t forget around the mailbox.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends building a border of rocks or woodchips about three feet deep between your garden and tick habitat. It creates a “moat” that ticks won’t cross.
A wide stretch of lawn, ten feet or so, between your garden, patio, pool, or grill area serves the same purpose.
Mulch kids’ playsets with woodchips, and site them in the sun at least ten feet from woodlands or fields.
Site storage sheds, woodpiles and compost bins away from your most-traveled outdoor areas, and keep any vegetation around them cut back.
Tips for the Gardener:
Check your entire body daily for ticks. Remember that the nymphs are so small they can be mistaken for a fleck of dirt or a seed.
Wear light-colored clothing so you can see any crawling on you.
Wear closed-toed shoes in the garden. In open footwear, ticks can attach between your toes.
Spray yourself with a DEET-based tick repellent or buy permethrin-infused garden clothing.
Take a shower right after gardening.
Even if you treat pets with flea/tick products, always check them after they’ve been outdoors. Ticks can hitch a ride and fall off in your house.
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