I hate ticks. My son had Lyme disease and it was nearly missed except I was That Parent Who Demands A Test. My recommendation to anyone living in a high Lyme area: get tested if you are worried about Lyme. Due in part to climate change cases of Lyme, and other tick-borne diseases, are on the rise in many states. Sadly, the threat of this disease is real. And the ways to manage them, and the decision to spray in particular, can be complicated.
Ticks need very high humidity to survive – at least 90% or higher. Hence leaf litter is a great home. They also have a multi-year life cycle (image at the bottom) so tick control can take more than one season. Ticks will often be found in shrubs, tall grass and brambles, waiting for a host to walk by. Controlling mice can make a big difference in tick control.
Before you spray, consider making any and all landscape changes you can. Clear any low, scrubby sort of brush that edges your yard. Put a 3 foot wide barrier of bark mulch around the entire perimeter of your yard. Keep wood piles away from your home. Move bird feeders away from the home because bird seed attracts mice. The image below is from University of Wisconsin.
Is there such a thing as a “safe” spray? Most companies spray with a pyrethroid. This is an insecticide derived from Chrysanthemums. Very broadly speaking, these insecticides are unsafe for bees and toxic for aquatic life (among other risks). So if you decide to spray, use a company that targets very specific areas of your where ticks are most likely to be. Also make sure they are willing to explain the pros and cons of different types of spray and provide you with labels from their products. Some companies will spray a product that is made of Rosemary Oil (Essentria IC3). For a tick to die from spray, the spray must come into contact with it. If a bee or moth lands on a plant that has been sprayed with a traditional pyrethroid they may die. Pyrethroid are “safer” because they degrade very quickly. But this also means they stop killing ticks as they dry. But, Lyme disease hence the need to weigh pros and cons.
One more product to consider: tick tubes. These have been proven to reduce tick populations by reducing the spread of ticks by mice. You can make them yourself or purchase them.
One of the best ways to protect yourself from Lyme is to shower after possible exposure. One of our next projects with this in mind is an outdoor shower.
For great detailed information, check out the University of Rhode Island Tick Encounter Resource Center. You will learn more than you could possibly want to know about these evil creatures.
One final image to complete your Tick 101 education – the tick life cycle. Also from University of Wisconsin.