TICKS. Just the word makes my skin crawl. Living in the Northeast, we've always known to look out for them after spending time in the woods or tall, grassy fields but recently the amount of ticks has seemed to reach plague status. We're now finding ticks places where they should just NOT be - including short trimmed lawns, sandy areas, even in our asphalt driveway. There's more ticks than ever, with a majority of them likely carrying potentially debilitating diseases like Lyme. Because of the great risk, we're not taking chances any more and have taken precautions to protect our yard and ourselves against ticks. | This post contains affiliate links |
DISCLAIMER: I am not an expert or medical professional. These are tips and information I've learned over the years living in a tick-prone area. Always check with your own doctor, vet, and local experts for the best prevention and treatment plans for yourself and your family.
Safeguarding your Yard
Eliminate Tick Habitats
Ticks like to hide and breed in brushy areas, leaf litter, log piles, dampness, etc. It's important to eliminate these places. Keep your lawn cut short, trim back bushes and over hanging tree branches to maximize sun exposure to your lawn, get rid of compost piles or move them as far away from your usable yard as possible. Also make sure to thatch (rake and scrape) your entire lawn every spring - this will reduce the litter mat under your lawn.
Believe it or not mice, and not necessarily deer, are the biggest culprits at carrying ticks and transmitting diseases carried by ticks. A single mouse can easily carry and feed hundreds of baby ticks on it's body. If you have mice in your yard and around your house, they are dropping ticks. To deter them eliminate brush and log piles and spray peppermint oil around sheds, decks, and other places they might nest or hide. Mice hate peppermint oil (they are very sensitive to smells) and will generally avoid the areas where it's been sprayed. Also, make sure to get rid of bird feeders in your yard since dropped bird seed with attract mice and other small rodents.
Get Guinea Hens or Chickens
Okay, so this tip certainly isn't for everyone - but guinea hens and chickens can be very effective at reducing the tick population in your yard. As they free-range they forage for bugs, including ticks, and can eat a lot throughout the day. Guinea hens are particularly known for their tick-eating abilities but can be harder to keep than chickens. Make sure to do your homework and talk to your neighbors as a courtesy before getting guineas or chickens.
Ticks do not like certain plants - including lemongrass, lavender, sage, and mint. Planting these can help keep ticks away, at least in the immediate area of the plant. We make sure to include these in flowerbeds and planters around paths, our deck, and doorways to help deter ticks from hanging around these high-traffic areas.
By selectively placing Tick Tubes around your property, you can help kill off the ticks that are hitching a ride on mice and other small rodents that may not have been deterred by the peppermint oil. Tick Tubes contain permethrin-soaked cotton and are placed in areas where these rodents frequent (brush piles, under decks/sheds, in stone walls, etc). Rodents take the cotton and use them in their nests. Permethrin will not hurt the rodents, but will kill the baby ticks riding on them.
Have your Yard Sprayed
Last year was the first year we actually had our yard professionally sprayed - despite all our best efforts, the ticks in our area were just out of control. We chose to have our yard sprayed with an all-natural spray option because we had chickens, a toddler, and a veggie garden. We were very pleased with the results and only saw one or two ticks in our yard for the rest of the summer. There are many spray options available out there - from all-natural to chemical-based. There are pros and cons to every option, so it's important to discuss your concerns and situation to your pest-specialist when choosing a treatment plan.
Safeguarding your Family
Permethrin-Treated Shoes and Clothing
Permethrin is supposed to be one of the best tick deterrents around (it's also what's used in Tick Tubes). By pre-treating your shoes and outer clothing with it, it can be very effective at keeping ticks off of you. We treat all of our shoes, yard work clothes, and hiking gear with permethrin. Check the label for exact instructions, but many permethrin treatments are good for several washes or 40 days so it's great for lasting protection. We've personally had the best luck with Sawyer Permethrin Spray.
Scented Soaps, Laundry Detergent
Okay, so this is pure theory on my part - but if ticks do not like certain smells (lavender, sage, lemongrass, etc), you might as well make sure you're using body care products and laundry detergent with those scents in the hope that it might do a small part to help deter ticks and other insects - after all it certainly can't hurt.
Most Importantly: Check for Ticks - Twice
The most important safety measure against ticks is always checking for ticks - at least twice. Despite all your best efforts, yard treatments, and bug sprays, you can still pick up ticks. For us, we've come up with our own protocol to thoroughly check for ticks whenever we come in from spending time outdoors. We're lucky enough to have a bathroom/laundry room right by our back door, so as soon as we come in we stop in to put all the clothes we wore directly into the washing machine and shut the door (shoes are left in the garage and not brought into the house). Then we thoroughly check for ticks - paying close attention to check those hard-to-see areas and scalp; a full-length mirror can be very helpful with this. Then, if possible, take a shower or bath next before getting dressed in fresh clothes. Ticks won't drown but thoroughly washing right after you come in will likely rinse any missed un-attached ticks off of you. Then that night before going to bed, make sure to do a second tick check just to confirm that nothing was missed earlier in the day.
You might think this tick-checking protocol is a little overboard, but if you live in a tick-prone area (like the Northeast) it's unfortunately very necessary. After following this protocol for two years now, we have had instances where we found dead ticks in our dryer lint trap (it's actually the high heat of the dryer that kills them - not the washing machine) and a live one on the shower wall once... these were ticks that were on us but were stopped by our thorough system.
Safeguarding your Pets
Up-to-Date on Preventatives and Vaccines
Talk with your vet about the best tick preventative option (collars, topical, oral medication, etc) for your pets and make sure you keep on schedule with it, even during the winter months. You might not think that ticks are out in the winter since they go dormant, but even a brief warm streak can bring them out.
Check for Ticks
It's a very good idea to check your pets for ticks when bringing them in as well, since ticks can "ride in" on them. We have a black lab which is particularly tricky to check, so we make sure to keep a brush and a lint roller by the back door to check her before coming in. We stop her outside and brush out her coat, then use the lint roller to roll over her legs, underbelly, and snout to make sure no ticks are hitching a ride. We also vacuum carpets and her dog beds often to make sure none get dropped around the house in the event we miss one.
If you Find an Attached Tick
**Always call your doctor right away for the best advice for your situation**
If you find an attached tick, remove it carefully without squeezing it's body - you do not want it to potentially expel any more toxins into you. Tick Spoons can be particularly helpful in removing them. Then wash the area with antibacterial first aid wash and call your doctor immediately. The doctor will help determine wether you need to start medications right away or wait and see if symptoms develop. Don't count on seeing the hallmark "bulls-eye rash" though - many people who contract Lyme will never get it. Make sure to keep the removed tick as well (you can stick it in an empty jar), and see about getting it tested right away for Lyme and other diseases. This will give you the quickest and most definitive answer since even if you did contract Lyme yourself from the tick you would not test positive for it for some time.
Support Research and Education Efforts
Research efforts and education for Lyme and other tick-borne diseases are crucial right now. An easy way to support these efforts is to opt-in to AmazonSmile and choose a charity that supports these efforts like the "International Lyme and Associated Diseases Education Foundation." Once you opt-in and choose your charity (which you can change at any time), a small percentage of your qualifying purchases will be donated to the charity of your choice at no extra cost to you.
DISCLAIMER: I am NOT an expert or medical professional. These are tips and information I've learned over the years living in a tick-prone area. Always check with your own doctor, vet, and local experts for the best prevention and treatment plans for yourself and your family. Discuss with your doctor ahead of time what to do in the event of a tick bite (and I hope you never need to use that information). Stay vigilant and stay safe!