It is already a terrible start to the year for ticks, and for new cases of Lyme and other tick-transmitted infections. That’s the bad news. The good news is it is not too late to do something about it for your yard. This article highlights landscaping strategies proven to repel ticks and the vectors that carry them in, and offers some alternatives to insecticide soil treatments to control infestations – which can be a danger to groundwater as well as potential risks from topical exposures to kids and pets. In the end, you need to do what is best for you and your family members – furry and non-furry – but this resource is a great way to start planning your strategy with effective, non-pesticide measures.
(For information about what you need on hand to reduce disease transmission if you do get a tick bite, please read my recently updated article: 2017 Updated Tick Removal, Testing, and Prevention.
Most ticks, including deer ticks, like cool, shady, humid places to live and they don’t venture too far from where they are dropped from their hosts. Landscaping that encourages more sunshine and warm, dry conditions will limit their range. Beautiful and repellent strategies can include native plant gardens, butterfly gardens, and old cottage-style gardens. Tasks:
- Prune back trees and shrubs to allow in more light.
- Keeping grass clipped allows in more light and limits moisture. Ticks like tall grasses but do not cross into trimmed, clear lawns.
- Beware of mulch. Many veterinarians report tick problems in households following mulch applications. This is because ticks relish the moisture and hiding places that it provides. If you do mulch, the type matters. Choose cedar with a preference for the nuggets/chips over the shredded. Not only is cedar a natural repellant for ticks and fleas, the nuggets retain less moisture and are therefore a stronger repellant of ticks.
- Use a 3 foot swath of either mowed lawn, cedar mulch, or gravel as a border between your yard and neighboring woodlands. Use it as a border around play areas, walkways and porches.
- Avoid ground cover plants as much as possible. The hiding places they provide attract mice, chipmunks and ground squirrels that spread infected ticks. Use gravel, cedar mulch or mowed grassy lawn to also border off stone walls and stacks of wood- which are also usually infected with mice.
- Keep it neat. Pick up and neatly stack empty gardening containers to reduce hiding and nesting spots for mice.
- Try not to be inviting to deer, which are basically HOV’s (high occupancy vehicles) for ticks. Child-safe plants that might repel deer include strong-smelling herbs such as mint family plants and lavender. An extensive list of botanicals that generally won’t attract deer can be found at this website.
- Chickens and guinea hens? Yes, they do eat bugs like crazy. They also poop like crazy. They do seem to reduce the tick population significantly if they can roam.
For those who prefer to avoid the widespread use of insecticides in their property, there might be more targeted ways to kill ticks by working directly with vectors. Tick tubes by Damminix on Amazon use permethrin-treated cotton balls stowed in tubes, placed strategically around your property (you can also get them direct from the manufacturer in various quantities here). Mice take the cotton to line their nests, thus eradicating ticks from all occupants. Another newer and fascinating strategy uses bait boxes to attract rodents which are then brush past an insecticide- treated applicator as they approach the bait food. This has been shown to significantly reduce tick populations, and the CDC is currently funding a study in Connecticut suburbs to see if it reduces the incidence of Lyme disease. But, frankly, they already had me at, “significantly reduces tick populations.” Here is where you can locate an installer, state by state.
For further reading on this topic, check out this article which discusses the work and research by Kirby Stafford III PhD, Vice Director, Chief and State Entomologist, Department of Entomology, The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station (CAES), New Haven. He ” ..has been involved in tick research on many fronts for 23 years. His 84-page handbook Tick Management Handbook (TMH), is the definitive informational word on tick ecology, diseases, removal, repellants, and a complete and varied integrated approach to tick management for the property owner.”
About the author: Cora Rivard is a practicing licensed naturopathic doctor (N.D.), a loving but occasionally embarrassing mom (according to my child), occasional writer and health activist, and owner of Seasons Natural Healthcare, LLC, in Derry, NH.