Every time I hear the word “tick,” I cringe in fear of the little arachnids – and their bite and the diseases they carry. The recent exponential increase in the tick population has had a big impact on me, my family, and our way of life because we are all lovers of the outdoors. Stubborn gardener that I am, I decided to learn how to avoid them rather than attract them, and to figure out ways to garden, to hike, to just be outside and still remain safe.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ticks are most active between the months of April and September. The main types of ticks in our region are the American dog tick, the blacklegged tick, the brown dog tick, and the Lonestar tick. Each of them carries an array of pathogens. They live on the ground in areas with thick vegetation and high humidity, which of course includes forests and fields.
First the etymological science. Ticks go through four life stages: egg; six-legged larva; eight-legged nymph; and adult. After hatching from the eggs, ticks must eat blood at each stage in order to move on to the next one. It can take up to three years to complete a full life cycle, and, on an encouraging note, most ticks will die because they can’t find a host for their next feeding.
All my research sources recommended wearing light colored clothing. Not only is it easier to detect a tick, it also is less attractive to a tick. Long pants, long sleeved shirt, pants tucked into socks. Second was the use of Permethrin. Permethrin is an insecticide in the pyrethroid family. Pyrethroids are synthetic chemicals that act like natural extracts from the chrysanthemum flower. They should not be applied to skin but rather on clothes. More “natural” products can be made with ingredients such as chrysanthemum, 2‑undecanone (derived from the stem and leaf of wild tomato), garlic oil, rosemary, lemongrass, cedar, peppermint, thyme and geranium. Both options, synthetic chemicals and the more natural products, will repel ticks.
If you are a gardener, you might do several things to keep your property less hospitable to ticks’ survival. Let “neat and tidy” be your motto: keep the grass mown short, the beds weeded, and leaves and dead plant material promptly removed. Be wary of wood stacked outdoors – if possible, move it into full sun. Cedar mulch was mentioned as a natural tick deterrent and a 3 foot border can be created to act as a buffer between the lawn and wooded areas. Also mentioned were the addition of specific plants such as chamomile, lavender, mint, and rosemary to your garden. These plants will help to ward off ticks as well as mosquitos and fleas.
I also found wildlife and domesticated birds mentioned as another way to keep ticks away. The best tick predators are opossum, Guinea fowl, and chickens. Other birds, such as wild turkey and birds, are both predators and carriers of ticks.
If you feel ticks have already made a home in your garden and you need to decontaminate, I came across a few recipes that are plant, people, and pet safe. Please check out the ‘Rosemary and Cinnamon’, ‘Citrus Fruits Repellent’, and ‘Hot Chili and Garlic Repellent’ recipes at www.sproutabl.com/preventing-and-repelling-ticks-as-a-gardener/. Other great web resources cited in this article are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov, and NY State Department of Health at www.health.ny.gov.