Reducing the risk of ticks: Gardeners’ bane

Nigel and Harvey in the Fall of 2014.

Nigel and Harvey in the Fall of 2014.

Each spring our local newscasters announce its going to be a bad year for ticks. Seriously, is there a good year for ticks in Wisconsin?! Last year Dave had to take one off my temple after we finished golfing (super huge yuck!).

Over the years our dogs’ veterinarians have recommended Frontline, Advantix and Preventic depending on where we lived, the dog we owned at the time, and I’m guessing that vet’s personal preference. None of these medications are fool proof. I don’t think there is a single year that we didn’t pull ticks from the dogs and/or have to kill one that’s dropped off and is waddling across my floor.

This spring, Nigel, the younger of our two American cocker spaniels tested positive for Lyme’s Disease, a disease spread by deer ticks. We were using Frontline on both dogs and keeping them out of the dog parks, where we had heard tick infestations were rampant. We put Nigel on a regime of antibiotics and are now in the prayer mode that he won’t have any long term or severe outcomes from Lyme’s.

So what else can we do to reduce the number of ticks and reduce the risk of Lyme’s Disease? Here’s a great article about ticks from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Our vet suggested that we may be getting ticks in our gardens via rabbits, chipmunks, ground squirrels and mice. Ticks prefer different “hosts” at different stages of their life cycle and early stage includes urban rodents. So we need to remember we’re not safe just because there weren’t deer in our yard.

Ticks sit on vegetation that is 8-12 inches from the ground (no they don’t drop out of trees) so if you can reduce or eliminate tall grass or rough vegetation below trees in wooded areas it will help. We have a heck of a time keeping our dogs out of the vacant lot next door with its tall grass. And yes, I had one on my head, but that’s because ticks climb up (super-duper huge yuck!).

Ticks, particularly deer ticks, are susceptible to drying out, which kills them. So when it’s hot and sunny, they shelter in leaf litter, shady edges of trails, or other on-the-ground areas that stay moist. Coming out later to sit in a “quest mode”; front legs outstretched to grab whatever brushes by the plant they are sitting on.

There are perimeter sprays, granules, and other chemicals that can reduce the presence of ticks. However, these chemicals may also kill our already endangered pollinators and thus should be used sparingly if at all. It would be better to minimize the chances of getting a tick by reducing the habitat they prefer and staying out of areas they favor. Here’s an interactive map with guidance on how to create a “Ticksmart Backyard”.

There are natural deterrents like essential oils, vinegar baths, black walnut sprays and a whole host of other options, but like the chemical options these just deter not eliminate. If you are interested in trying these here’s a great DIY article.


About Kary Beck

Mother and wife, gardener, wine enthusiast, avid online bargain hunter, and owner of two black-and-tan cocker spaniels.
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