By Richard Gillespie
In spring and through much of the year, you may find yourself exercising your green thumbs in your garden. The last thing you want is to have a thumb, ankle, or some other body part bitten by a tick — especially one carrying Lyme disease.
While blacklegged ticks — sometimes called “deer ticks” — migrate most easily through forests and along rivers, they can also find their way into your garden and pose a threat to you and your pets.
While the world focuses on COVID-19, it’s important not to forget other health threats lurking in our communities. One of the most worrisome is Lyme disease. The only thing you need to distance yourself from, to avoid this deadly disease is blacklegged ticks.
Here are four ways you can reduce your risk of encountering ticks in your garden and around your yard as spring approaches and you head outdoors.
1. REMOVE TICK HIDING PLACES
Rake the leaves and other debris that accumulated over the winter. Clear brush and dead grass from along fences and beneath shrubs and hedges. Weed the garden and mow the lawn often, because ticks thrive in long grass and shaded areas.
Stack wood neatly and away from the garden to discourage both ticks and the rodents that carry them. Get rid of old, worn furniture or clutter, so ticks have fewer places to hide.
2. FENCE OUT TICKS
If your garden or yard is inviting to deer, stray dogs, rabbits, and raccoons, fence it off. All of these animals are carriers of ticks, so a fence will help to keep these pests out of your garden too.
Fences make good neighbors. Fences also can protect your garden and you from ticks catching a ride on creatures that would otherwise feast on your lettuce and other tempting greenery.
3. BUILD BARRIERS TO GARDENS AND PATIOS
Place 3-foot barriers of gravel or wood chips between your yard and any adjacent wooded area to prevent ticks from crawling onto your property. It’s also a good idea to put up a barrier between your deck or patio and the garden.
You can protect your kids by building their playgrounds away from the trees and garden edges. (You’ll also protect the garden from the roughhousing.) Keep in mind: More than half of Lyme Disease victims are children.
4. REPELLENTS (CHEMICAL AND NATURAL) FOR THE GARDEN
Apply pesticide at the start of spring to prevent ticks and other pests, but it’s crucial you follow label instructions to avoid killing beneficial insects. Chiggers, wolf spiders, and several varieties of beetles prey on ticks.
It’s worth noting, too, that a CDC study found that while pesticides kill ticks in yards, they do not reduce the rate of Lyme disease infection in humans.
Natural tick repellants include garlic, sage, mint, lavender, beautyberry, rosemary, and marigolds. These plants also help keep the mosquito and flea population in your garden in check. Plant these in the garden and around your deck and walkways to discourage ticks.
TICKS ARE SMALL BUT FIERCE
Ten varieties of ticks are common in the U.S. Unfortunately, the blacklegged tick is hard to spot because it’s tiny – only about the size of a sesame seed. They have orange bodies with a black shield and black legs.
Like other ticks, blacklegged ticks wait on leaves or blades of grass with front legs outstretched. When a person or animal brushes by, they quickly grab hold and find a place on the body to dig in.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates as many as 476,000 people contract Lyme Disease each year. The infection causes rashes, fever, headache, and fatigue. If left untreated, it can lead to neurological disorders, paralysis, and even death.
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM TICKS CARRYING DISEASE
Blacklegged deer ticks and western blacklegged ticks are the only ticks known to transmit Lyme disease to humans. They can also transmit at least five other diseases that are harmful to people and animals. In fact, all ticks common in the U.S. can pass along pathogens that make people and animals sick – or kill them.
That’s plenty of reason to follow these four steps to ensure your garden and yard don’t become hazardous to your health.
For more on Lyme disease prevention, click here.
Richard Gillespie is an exterminator whose interest in household and landscape pests began as a child, when he would crank up the radio to hear “I Don’t Like Spiders and Snakes.” He prides himself on practicing humane and eco-friendly pest control, unless he finds a rat. Then, all bets are off.