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The tick population is out of control. Global warming, ecological imbalance, and the ever-increasing penetration of suburbia into natural environs have led to the unfortunate situation we are in today: Parents fear for their children’s safety when playing in their own back yards, New England moose are literally being eaten alive by ravenous Acari, and landscapes that once felt safe and inviting can only be enjoyed with the addition of repellants and protective clothing.
As depressing as this is, there are ways that you can reduce the tick population and create a safe haven in your backyard. Here are six to consider:
1. Keep Your Lawn Short.
Ticks thrive in a damp environment, so it’s important to keep your soil dry. Keep your grass as short as possible and don’t water any more than necessary.
2. Go Downton Abbey with Your Landscaping.
If you’ve ever watched Downton Abbey, you probably noticed that the filming location, Highclere Castle, has what might be described as minimalist landscaping: a tidy lawn kept very short and dotted with only a handful of trees. It’s an ideal model for keeping ticks at bay. Make sure you clear your yard of debris, underbrush, and other paraphernalia so the little buggers don’t have a nice moist place to hide.
3. Plant Deer-Deterring Vegetation.
Deer play an important role in the reproductive cycle of ticks, so keeping them out of your yard will help reduce the tick population. If you’re going to landscape, do so with plants that don’t attract deer. The University of Arizona has compiled a very handy list of trees, flowers, and shrubs that are unpalatable to deer and rabbits.
4. Buy (or Make Your Own) Tick Tubes.
Deer play an important role in the life cycle of ticks, but it’s mice that infect them with the Lyme bacteria. Commercial or homemade tick tubes are an effective method for targeting ticks feeding on mice, though they do come with a few caveats.
A tick tube is filled with permethrin-soaked cotton. You can purchase tick tubes by Damminix or make them yourself by spraying cotton balls with permethrin and stuffing them into an empty toilet paper roll.6 Ways to Banish #Ticks from Your Yard This #Spring: Click To Tweet
Permethrin is not safe for Lyme patients or chemically sensitive individuals to handle when wet (which is why I recommend buying premade tubes if you’re sick), but once it dries it poses no risk to humans. Permethrin is generally considered to be safe for mice and most other mammals, but it’s highly toxic to cats, bees, and aquatic life. It is not known if ingestion of a mouse treated with permethrin would seriously harm a cat. Use extreme caution if cats frequent your yard or if you live near a body of water.
5. Leave the Birdfeeder in the Garage
Sadly, birds have been identified as major carriers of Lyme disease. As much as you may love watching them from the window, it’s best to put your birdfeeder and birdbath in storage. Generally speaking, attracting birds to your yard means attracting ticks.
6. Make Some New Feathered Friends
Luckily there are exceptions to the bird rule. Guinea fowl have been touted for their ability to reduce tick populations by eating them. Unfortunately the results are not as miraculous as they have been purported to be. A 2006 study revealed that the helmeted guinea fowl reduce the adult tick population of any given lawn by approximately 30%. They typically do not consume larvae or nymphs (the primary vector of Lyme disease) and their effectiveness is confined to the lawn, which is not a high-risk landscape to begin with. (The border between lawn and woodland is far more dangerous.)
There was one flaw in the aforementioned study: It was conducted over a period of a little over four months or one tick season. Theoretically, interrupting the tick’s life cycle at the adult stage would reduce the reproduction rate, which would impact the population of the next generation. I would like to see a long-term (3+ year) study on guinea fowl before jumping to conclusions about their effectiveness.
Despite their limitations, guinea hens can get you one step closer to achieving a tick-free lawn. If you have a fondness for fowl and the space to keep them happy, they might just be worth the investment.
Additional Tips for Safe Outdoors Time
It is not known if mosquitos and other biting insects spread Lyme disease, so it’s best to be on the safe side. (Besides, we do know that they spread a lot of other nasty diseases.) Control your mosquito population with a natural mosquito-repellant candle like Bite-Lite.
I also recommend applying a natural tick repellant to yourself if you’re going to be running around in your bare feet, rolling in the grass, etc. Rose geranium essential oil has been lauded for its effectiveness against ticks. I have never used it myself, as I rarely venture to places where I would need tick protection, but my neurologist recommended it to me and I have seen some compelling testimonials by various bloggers. I do not recommend using any insect repellant containing Deet. It’s neurotoxic.
Lastly, remember to check yourself for ticks when you return indoors. Put your clothes (All of them–remember how I said that ticks like damp places? They are total perverts.) in the dryer on the hottest setting for one hour. Anything less and they might survive.
Have a fun, safe spring!