Remembering to protect yourself from ticks when hiking or camping is common, but thinking of ticks when relaxing in your backyard or working around the house can be easily forgotten.
Ticks that thrive in gardens and tall grasses can be the carriers of more than 15 illnesses including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Babesiosis. More than 329,000 new cases of Lyme disease are reported each year in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and approximately 75% of these cases are believed to be acquired from ticks picked up during activities on and around people’s own properties.
Children, pets, and adults are at risk when playing, gardening, or exploring in the yard. But there are easy ways to reduce risk.
Manage Your Yard and Landscaping
Create an environment that discourages ticks in the area around your home. Most ticks are found within nine feet of your lawn’s edge – especially near woods, stone walls, or ornamental plantings. Keep woodpiles, bushes, shrubs, and tall grasses away from patios, and play areas. Small mammals are a key component to the life cycle of ticks. Clean up areas that provide shelter for – or attract – mice, squirrels, and chipmunks to reduce tick infestation.
Keep It Short
Ticks are commonly found in areas of high vegetation. Select plants that are low to the ground and prune trees and bushes around your home to increase sunlight – ticks like moist shady areas.
Tick Resistant Gardens
Animals that may frequent your yard – deer, birds, and small mammals – contribute to the spread of Lyme disease by acting as carriers for ticks. Surround deer “candy” plants with scented wildflowers, herbs, mint family plants, ferns and native deer-resistant plants. Surround gardens with fieldstone, gravel or lawn paths as barriers to ticks. Position the most deer-resistant plants along the edge of your property.
Chemical and Natural Control Methods
Many pesticides and insecticides are restricted to licensed commercial applicators and some could be hazardous to you, your pets, and the environment. If you choose to use pesticides use them safely and carefully. There are also many popular natural control methods that are gentler on the environment and humans, including fungal pathogens and plant extracts such as biopesticides. Natural fungi, diatomaceous earth (a natural sediment), insecticidal soaps and botanical insecticides are allowed under the organic standards without harm to the environment. Ammonia or hot sauce-based deer repellents are considered organic.
Cover-up when you go out to garden, and before you come inside do a thorough tick check, then take a shower and check your body again. Remember that ticks can vary in size – some are as small as a poppy seed, so using your fingertips to check for unusual bumps is best. Ticks love hair, necks, armpits, waistbands, the groin area and the backs of knees, so pay close attention to these areas.
If you find a tick crawling on you, simply remove it from your skin or clothing. If you’ve already been bitten, remove it properly by positioning tweezers between your skin and the tick’s mouth and tugging gently. (go to bayarealyme.org for information on our free tick-testing program). After washing the bite site, use an antibacterial ointment on the wound. You should always wash your hands after touching a tick. Don’t forget to check your gardening gear and pets for ticks, too.
These tips should help you better enjoy your gardening! For more great tips, visit the Bay Area Lyme Foundation.