Making Gardens Safer from Ticks: No More Wildlife Gardening

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I recently wrote about how gardeners freaked out about Lyme Disease are supposed to dress for gardening. It’s NOT a pretty picture and to prove that I’ll be posing for a shot of me in near-hazmat attire, ready to tackle a few gardening chores in my garden.

Today we explore the tick-prevention changes we’re told to make to our gardens, a subject that’s even more depressing.

How Ticks get on Gardeners

About 70 percent of people that contract Lyme disease catch it from ticks in their own yards. So how does it happen?

“Ticks do not jump, fly or drop from trees, but grasp passing hosts from the leaf litter, tips of grass, etc. Most ticks are probably picked up on the lower legs and then crawl up the body seeking a place to feed. Adult ticks will, however, seek a host (i.e., deer) in the shrub layer several feet above the ground.”

Of ticks that are in our lawns, most (82%) are located within 3 yards of the lawn perimeter, particularly along woodlands, stonewalls, or ornamental plantings. Tick abundance in manicured lawns is also influenced by the amount of canopy vegetation and shade. Groundcover vegetation can harbor ticks. Woodland paths also may have a high number of ticks, especially adults, along the adjacent grass and bushes. Source – Tick Encounter.”

Here’s what we’re told to do to make our gardens safer:

  • Reduce ticks on your property by pruning trees, clearing brush, removing litter, mowing grass short, and letting it dry thoroughly between waterings.
  • Create a three-foot wide barrier, three inches deep, between lawns and wooded areas using gravel, mulch, or wood chips.
  • Trim back vegetation along paths, trails, and yard edges
  • Avoid overwatering.
  • Use cedar mulch or gravel.
  • Use plants that are undesirable to deer. Apply deer repellents and/or deer fence.
  • Avoid fruit trees/clean up fallen fruits.
  • Move shrubs and overgrowth farther away from areas frequented by people.
  • To make your yard unattractive to host animals, eliminate bird feeders, bird baths and salt licks; erect fencing around the property; clear away woodpiles, garbage and leaf piles; remove stonewalls that provide homes to wildlife.
  • Have your property chemically treated.
  • Altering the landscape to increase sunlight and lower humidity may render an area less hospitable to ticks.
  • Prune plants so provide open space between the ground and base of the plant.
  • Restrict the use of groundcovers to less frequently used areas of the yard. Primary source.

Yet this illustration and a comment about it demonstrate that “ticksafe” zones are far from foolproof.

That may just be one anecdote but neighbors have tell me they get ticks just from walking on mowed grass, so I’m assuming there’s no safe height for turfgrass.

Can we Still Have a Wildlife-Friendly Yards?

I found one source addresses this obvious dilemma:

“Little information is available on how to integrate these two different objectives. Open lawns harbor fewer ticks and wildlife that carry potentially infected ticks. Fencing against deer will allow greater landscape flexibility. While data is limited, meadows appear to harbor few blacklegged ticks except along the edge with woodlands, dense vegetation and stonewall.”

Meadows are safer than what – shrubs? – but not as safe as open lawn, except around the edge. So if we could transport ourselves into the interior of a meadow somehow, we’d be safer than…. oh to hell with it! The take-away here is obviously that “Little information is available,” to which I’d add “but it’s obvious that wildlife gardening is the opposite of tick-safe gardening.”

About the suggestion that people spray “to protect your yard,” another source says:

“To treat your yard or other outdoor areas, a product called SEVIN can be applied. Sevin seems to have the least offensive chemical odor and is recommended for killing ticks. It can be applied to your dogs bedding area to help kill ticks that may gather there. Carefully follow the directions on the label. Sevin is usually less expensive than some of the other products on the market.”

Wait! Readers are concerned about the smell and the cost but not about what else Sevin kills besides ticks? What about those 500 “pests”?

More on spraying: “Consider removing shrubbery and flowers from the base of your house or treat those areas with Sevin to prevent ticks from being in close contact with your home. Removing shrubs will also discourage animals from nesting or bedding there.”

Sure, while I’m removing most of the damn plants in my yard, why not all the foundation plants, too?

And oh, this makes me crazy: “Consider making your pets either inside pets only, or outside pets only.” Coz it’s easy enough to do that, right?

What’s it Safe to do in the Garden?

I still haven’t found an answer to this question about everyday gardening: What, if anything, can I do in the garden without gearing up in protective clothing? Having found no answer to that question, here’s my plan: Just water. Touch no plants.

Which makes this gardener just so sad.

Sources:  State of CT,   LymeDisease.org  and TickEncounter.org.

22 COMMENTS

  1. Crazy isn’t it. I have been wearing treated pants, shirts and socks and have had no ticks on me since starting that practice. It’s a pita for sure, but, I am not going to give up naturalistic gardening or start poisoning my yard.

  2. Lots of things eat ticks…but they won’t like that “tick-free” environment any more than the ticks do! We live in crazy times. Next they will suggest we vacuum our gardens to keep them “safe”.

  3. I usually pull an attached deer tick off me every day. I’m fine.

    1. Lyme disease is highly treatable if caught early.
    2. The tick needs to be attached for 36-48 hours in most cases.
    3. So, do a tick check every day. I do. Every day. It takes less than a minute.
    4. Garden.
    5. Put the bird feeders up. Put away the spray. Plant a meadow.
    6. Calm down.

  4. 1) Find a gardening friend and mutually tick-check every inch of skin, immediately after coming in.
    2) Shower immediately, preferably with friend, to repeat tick-check under running water.
    3) Continue to tick-check as needed, right up until such activities interfere with the next gardening session.

  5. Or how about we all get together and lobby hard for the perfectly effective vaccine that was invented but then got trashed by the idiot anti-vax movement, so demand for it fell such that the manufacturers stopped producing it? But your dog can get the vaccine! No chance of this common sense health protector coming back anytime under the current government either. It’s such a tragedy that we now have to live in fear of nature. We already live in a very fear-driven society.

  6. I have a mini-meadow, shrubs everywhere, groundcovers, and deer in my yard every day! I also hike with my dogs every day in the woods and fields of local nature preserves. I refuse to turn my garden into a toxic wasteland, or to stay out of the woods to avoid a small risk of tick borne disease. I use the Repel 20% oil of eucalyptus insect repellent that was tested and recommended by Consumer Reports (good as deet, lasts 7 hours), and spray my shoes with a permethrin spray that lasts 2 weeks. I shower after coming in for the day, and wash down my dogs as well, which will remove any ticks crawling around on you). This simple regimen actually keeps me tick-free and allows me time to garden in a beautiful, lush, naturalistic environment.

  7. I thought my chickens would earn their keep by eating as many ticks as possible. Sadly, I don’t have enough girls to do the job.

    If your readers are curious of what may be lurking out there, take a white bath towel (white so the ticks show up better), and lightly drag it across the grass, shrubs, or lawn. You’ll get a good idea of how many are out there.

    One approach I’m trying this year is to use an organic tick granular around the perimeter of my property, about 1 foot wide, and hope my girls get the rest.

    I’ll let you know how this works out. Even though I’m garden for the wildlife, and am opposed to using any sprays, even organic, human life comes first in my family of 5. But I hope with a direct barrier and with a minimum width, I can meet the wildlife and family life halfway.

  8. I recall reading about a study finding Japanese Barberry in New York to support exceptionally high tick numbers, likely due to the fact that they are invasive in forests and attract no beneficial insects. I don’t think supporting healthy food webs by planting native plants is the answer, but perhaps it might be helpful? Whenever I see a Japanese Barberry now, I think ‘tick nursery’ …

    Ticks are only starting to become a problem where I live, but looking to be worse every year (thanks climate change). I read this article and comments with a lot of interest. Thanks for the info!

  9. I’m exhausted just reading the “safer gardens list” above. Why not just live in a bubble? I think Mother Nature is winning. I’ll continue checking the pups and myself for ticks but I want to enjoy my garden and make it a relaxing, beautiful refuge, not a toxic zone. A nice Moscow mule helps, too.

  10. From historyofvaccines.org

    The first and only licensed vaccine against Lyme disease was developed by SmithKline Beecham (now GlaxoSmithKline). Given in a three-dose series, the vaccine had an unusual method of action: it stimulated antibodies that attacked the Lyme bacteria in the tick’s gut as it fed on the human host, before the bacteria were able to enter the body. This was about 78% effective in protecting against Lyme infection after all three doses of the vaccine had been given.

    The vaccine, called LYMERix, was licensed in 1998. By 2002 SmithKline Beecham had withdrawn it from the market, and Pasteur Mérieux Connaught decided not to apply for a license for its own Lyme vaccine candidate, despite having already demonstrated its efficacy in a Phase III clinical trial. Today there are no vaccines available to prevent Lyme disease, and it is unlikely that any will be licensed in the near future. The debut and subsequent withdrawal of the Lyme disease vaccine has lasting implications for future vaccine development and use.

  11. Get guinea hens and opossums for your yard. Mice are probably more dangerous than deer and they come closer to the house, but by all means fence off the perimeter. Have a deck with reading and eating areas, a deck sandbox for children and use rubber mats under swing sets. Plant marigolds, rosemary, and strongly medicinal herbs. Install an automatic sprinkler system where you need to water. Then do tick checks and don’t stress out.

  12. Don’t know where all of these gardeners live that have such an infestation of ticks. I gardened in southern california before I came to the south of france. I had a native plant garden in San Diego, never saw a tick. I was living inside a regional park here and once found a couple of ticks on my dog, but never saw one or had one try to attach to me. Many years ago I had a tick give it a try, but I felt it before it had made any progress. I would think a careful check once a day would find them in time. Sevin is a terrible product, it will kill every insect in your garden and possibly your neighbors’. Not so sure it will not kill you, it may be more dangerous than the ticks. We have tick borne diseases here, including a bit of Lyme, but there doesn’t seem to be too much concern except for dogs, as there is a very serious dog disease spread by ticks.

  13. Get some free range chickens! They love to eat ticks and stink bugs Along with other pesky pests! We have not had tick issues for years since we got the chickens. We only let ours out under supervision due to the hawks

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