The last few years have produced bumper crops of ticks around the country, and with them has come a rise in cases of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. Taking steps to get rid of ticks in your yard gives you a safer, more comfortable place to relax outdoors, and you don’t have to drown your lawn in pesticides to do it.
Landscaping for a Tick-Repellent Yard
Ticks love cool, damp, shaded environments. Tall grass shades the ground and creates ideal conditions for ticks. To make your lawn less inviting for them, keep the grass cut to the lowest height healthy for its species. Mow when the grass is 1/3 longer than the height you want. If you want your lawn at 2 1/2 inches, mow when it reaches 3 1/4 inches.
Most lawns need mowing every seven to 10 days. Try not to leave more than 14 days between mowings or let the grass grow past 5 or 6 inches. If you need to mow overgrown grass, use a bagging attachment or rake up the clippings. Dense grass clippings are the perfect breeding grounds for ticks.
Trim down tall brush around your house and the edge of your yard, and cut back low-hanging branches that sweep the ground. Overhead branches aren’t a concern because, contrary to the old wive’s tale, ticks rarely climb and fall from trees.
If you grow a dense ground cover such as English ivy, pachysandra or periwinkle, keep it well contained or replace it. Pachysandra in particular is a magnet for ticks. Also, consider replacing any barberry or honeysuckle bushes. Both are known to attract ticks.
Good alternatives include airy plants, such as violas or pansies, or ground covers with reputed insect-repellent properties, such as sweet woodruff (Galium) or pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium). Chrysanthemums, which contain natural insecticides known as pyrethrins, are another good choice. For a bed of specimen plants, mulch with gravel, pebbles, or lava rock.
In early spring, clean up your yard thoroughly to make it less appealing to ticks looking for a breeding ground. Then every two weeks throughout the warm season, go through and remove any debris that could attract ticks. Pick up fallen tree limbs and rake up leaf litter, then dispose of them according to your area’s yard waste disposal regulations.
Collect fallen fruits, seeds, and nuts, which attract tick-carrying wildlife. Remove old soft patio furniture, toys, and other debris that could harbor ticks. Stack firewood neatly in an open-sided shed or lean-to. Remove stone piles, which form cool, damp places ticks love.
You might enjoy spotting wildlife on your lawn, but many of those cute critters bring ticks along with them. Building a fence to keep out deer, rabbits, raccoons, and other tick-bearing animals helps reduce your yard’s tick population. It doesn’t have to be wood or chain link. A natural fence of boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) or American holly (Ilex opaca) discourages deer and rabbits.
Where deer are a problem, choose plants they dislike, such as foxgloves (Digitalis), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), poppies (Papaver orientale), and fragrant culinary herbs. Secure trash in a closed container to avoid attracting raccoons and mice. Place your squirrel feeder away from your lawn.
While some ground-feeding birds carry ticks, birds eat more ticks than they bring. Scattering bird seed on the lawn to draw wild birds is one possible method of tick control. Bird seed can attract mice, though, so this method is best avoided where mice are common. To sterilize the seed so it doesn’t sprout weeds, spread it on a baking sheet and bake it at 300 degrees for 10 minutes.
Some poultry birds are even more effective at tick control. Chickens can do the job, but guinea fowl and Muscovy ducks are ideal. These birds have a seemingly endless appetite for ticks and are commonly used for natural tick control.
Lawns bordering woodland areas and dense flower gardens are more prone to ticks, but you can discourage the bugs from migrating by building a 3-foot-wide barrier of wood chips or gravel around the perimeter of your yard. If you opt for wood chips, use the undyed variety. Dyed wood chips hold more moisture, which can attract ticks.
As much as possible, move your garden furniture and kid’s play equipment away from any wooded or overgrown areas that border your lawn. Place these in open, sunny spaces on beds of wood chips, gravel, or rubber tiles.
Because ticks love moisture, avoid overwatering your lawn. Water as much as needed for healthy grass and plants, but keep an eye out for puddling, erosion, and other signs of poor drainage that can attract ticks.
Choosing a Safe Insecticide
If you’re dealing with severe or persistent tick infestations, insecticides can help. Neem oil, a natural plant oil, can control ticks without harming beneficial insects. To use, mix 2 to 4 tablespoons neem oil in 1 gallon water and use a sprayer to apply it at the rate of 1 gallon per 400 sq. ft.
For smaller lawns, commercial premixed insecticide solutions formulated for tick control are even easier to use. These often come in a sprayer or a container that attaches to a garden hose, so there’s no mixing, pouring, or other handling needed.
For large lawns, it’s often more economical to buy an insecticidal chemical and mix it yourself. Spraying with permethrin is one of the most popular and effective ways to get rid of ticks, and it’s generally safe for people and wildlife. It’s harmful to saltwater fish, however, so check your local regulations before you use it. Cats are also sensitive to this pesticide, so use extra caution if cats visit your yard.
Bifenthrin (Talstar) is another common choice, and while it’s less toxic to cats, it’s somewhat toxic to dogs and birds, and highly toxic to aquatic animals. Overall, both are considered safe for residential use if applied properly. That includes not letting people or pets walk on the lawn until the pesticide is dry. If you’re unsure, consider having a pest control professional spray your property.
Late spring, when ticks are in the early nymphal stage, is the best time to spray. Once in May or early June is usually enough, but more stubborn infestations might require another spray in late summer. Spraying the yard’s perimeter can take care of minor infestations, but for more serious issues, spray the entire yard. Ticks tend to congregate around sheds, fences, and walls, so treat these areas, too.
Throughout the season, use a pet-safe tick repellent to treat your pet’s favorite hangouts in the yard. Besides dog runs or kennels, popular spots include spaces under steps, porches, and low-hanging branches, as well as along fences and walls.
Tick tubes are another way to control the tick population and reduce the spread of Lyme disease. These small cardboard tubes are stuffed with permethrin-soaked cotton. Place them around your yard anywhere mice might pass by, such as under the deck or near the house’s foundation. Mice will take the cotton back to their nests where the permethrin kills or at least repels ticks without harming the mice. Ticks commonly pick up Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that cause Lyme disease, from white-footed mice, so preventing the ticks’ contact with mice protects your family’s health.
Sometimes all you need to get rid of the ticks in your yard is a little extra maintenance and landscaping. Cut overgrown grass and brush, tidy up debris and woodpiles, build a fence or mulch barrier around your lawn, and consider replacing any tick-magnet plants. If ticks have been a serious problem, treat your lawn with the insecticide that’s safest for your family and pets, and you could have a nearly tick-free lawn in days.