Summer brings out warm weather, barbecues, camping, evenings spent outside, and ticks. Not only are ticks a nuisance, but they can also be dangerous — spreading many diseases, like Lyme Disease, to both humans and pets. Just because you’re not out in the wild doesn’t mean you’re safe. Fortunately, the most effective ways to reduce tick populations in your backyard are easy and all-natural.
Why Do We Get Ticks in Our Yard?
You get ticks in your yard when you have ideal tick habitat, like moist and shaded environments, especially those bordering woodland edges. They prefer the edges between shrubs/forest and meadow, or your backyard hedge and lawn. They also like long grass (over 4 inches), and tick populations may be especially high if you pile dried leaves next to your woodland edge.
How to Get Rid of Ticks in Your Yard Naturally?
1. Keep Grass Mowed Below Four Inches
One of the top tick habitats is long grass, especially near woodland edges, where the grass provides shade and moisture and provides a handy ladder for climbing up to reach potential hosts. Long grass can also attract mice, rodents, rabbits and deer, who use the long grass as camouflage while also feeding the current ticks or bringing in new ticks.
Short grass exposes ticks to more heat and dry air, while not providing such a nice habitat for other woodland creatures.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t keep your cool-season lawn longer to deepen the roots and improve the resiliency of your lawn. Just keep it to 3 inches, which is enough to provide all the benefits.
If you let the grass on out-of-the-way places on your property grow long to avoid unnecessary labour, keep out children and pets, always wear long clothes and tick-repellent when walking through the area, and check for ticks.
2. Add a 3-foot mulch barrier around prime tick habitat.
Just because your hedge is prime tick habitat doesn’t mean you have to chop it down. If your property borders natural areas or woodland edges, that is definitely not an option. But don’t despair! Use a three-foot wide mulch barrier (wood chips or bark) between high foot traffic areas of your yard and the woodland edges.
A mulch barrier provides four benefits:
- Keeps ticks from crossing it as they’re exposed to heat and dryness.
- Reminds you and family members that crossing it means they’re exposing themselves to ticks.
- Keeps you from having to mow right up against the woodland edge, exposing yourself to ticks.
- Reminds you not to pile fallen leaves in between the woodland edge and your lawn.
One of the best backyard precautions is simply being visually aware when you’re entering tick territory.
3. Remove Leaf Debris Around Woodland Edges
Raking leaves to the edge of your woodland-adjacent property is a common practice, but [one study found that this practice can TRIPLE the number of deer ticks come spring. This is because woodland edges, where shrubs and lawn meet, is prime tick habitat — and leaf litter helps deer ticks survive the winter.
But don’t throw away your fallen leaves just yet. You can still benefit from this carbon source by:
- Adding leaf debris to your compost pile.
- Raking the leaves fully under the shrubs and trees, where they’ll do the trees more good but won’t increase the number of deer ticks.
4. Move Structures Away from Woodland Edges and Into the Sun
It may seem convenient if your kids’ play structure or the picnic table is pressed up against the shrubs as you don’t have to mow around them, but this practice makes them tick central. As tick populations prefer woodland edges, ticks then climb up onto the structure when they want a meal.
It’s better to put these structures close to your house or in the middle of the yard, where you keep the lawn short and the sun will bake any ticks that try to climb the structure. (Under the long-spreading limbs of a shade tree is also AOK, so long as the structure is away from brush and long grass.)
5. Use Permethrin to Curb Ticks on Field Mice
Spraying your yard indiscriminately with pesticides is not effective in controlling tick populations. It creates a false sense of security and can play havoc on the local wildlife and on your health. Instead, target the ticks that attach themselves to mice or deer using targeted products like the mouse-friendly “tick tubes”.
Tick tubes are cardboard tubes stuffed with permethrin-treated cotton. Mice collect the cotton to line their nests. The permethrin binds to the mouse’s fur, killing any ticks that attempt to attach themselves to the mice without harming the mice. (Higher doses of permethrin can be deadly to cats, so be cautious if you have outdoor cats.)
It will take several years to see the full effect, but the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station has found that this approach results in a statistically meaningful drop in tick level. If you have a lot of ticks in your yard, take this approach and combine it with the other approaches for maximum effectiveness.
Are There Any Tick Repellents to Avoid if You Have Pets?
If you have cats, think twice about using permethrin. Permethrin is used as a spray to protect dogs and people from tick bites, but high doses are very harmful to cats. Cats are especially sensitive to permethrin, as they seem to be unable to metabolize permethrin like other mammals can. Sprays for dogs have too much permethrin for cats, and some cats are so sensitive that even brushing up against a dog that’s been treated can cause tremors, seizures, or even death.
Dogs too can be sensitive to high doses of permethrin, so it’s best to skip the DIY and get a product specially labelled for dog use.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t use permethrin at all, as the benefits of avoiding tick-borne disease in you and your pets may outweigh the risks, but you should be cautious.
If you decide to use permethrin spray:
- Never use permethrin dog product on your cat.
- Check the concentration to make sure it doesn’t exceed 5% concentration. (1% is the norm for household sprays.)
- Spray your clothes outside or well away from your cat. If you soak your clothes to apply, keep your cat away from the tub and clean the tub afterward to keep your cat from accidentally drinking the water.
- Allow the spray to dry before being around your cat, or better yet, change your clothing.
- Don’t leave permethrin-sprayed clothing where your cat has access to them.
- If your cat’s skin is irritated, red or itching, or your cat scratches, digs and rolls because they’re uncomfortable, then gently wash the affected area with a mild, liquid dishwashing detergent.
- If your cat drools or paws at the mouth, gently rinse out their mouth or give them water to drink.
- If your cat experiences tremors, twitching, or shaking, take your cat to the vet right away. With vet treatment, and so long as there are no further complications, your cat is likely to fully recover.
I Found a Tick on My Skin or My Pets Skin, Now What!?
A lot of myths are circulating about the best way to remove a tick, but the best way is still with a pair of tweezers. Avoid using “folk remedies” like burning the tick or applying vaseline or nail polish.
To remove a tick (on a human or a pet):
- Use a pair of fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as you can get.
- Pull straight up with a steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick, as this can break off the mouthparts. Hold down the skin around the tick so it doesn’t pull with the tick.
- Dispose of the tick by flushing it down a toilet, placing it in a sealed bag, or putting it in alcohol.
- If the mouthparts break off and remain in the skin, don’t worry. They can’t transmit bacteria or diseases. Remove the mouthparts from your skin like a splinter, or if not possible, allow the skin to heal. Your skin will push the mouthparts out like it would any wood splinter.
- Thoroughly clean the bite area with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
Do not use nail polish or vaseline over the tick — the most important thing is to get the tick off as soon as possible. Squeezing the tick does not actually cause the tick to produce more saliva or increase your risk of disease.
Ticks that have been attached to the skin for less than 24 hours are unlikely to have passed any tick-borne illness. The CDC does not recommend sending a tick in for testing by a private company, unless requested for a doctor, as the results can be misleading.
Keep an eye out for tick-borne illness symptoms, such as for humans fever or rash and for dogs arthritis, reluctance to move, swollen joints, fever, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, loss of appetite, and neurological problems.
Redness and swelling in the few hours after a tick bite is usually just your immune system reacting to the tick saliva, just like with a mosquito bite.
The most effective methods for getting rid of ticks in your backyard are by either removing tick-friendly habitats from your yard or by putting visual reminders like a mulch barrier to remind people not to get too close. With a little bit of rearranging, you can reduce the number of ticks in your yard.
Jamie is the founder of The Backyard Pros. When he was 15 years old he started working at a garden centre helping people buy plants, gardening products, and lawn care products. He has real estate experience and he is a home owner. Jamie loves backyard projects, refinishing furniture, and enjoys sharing his knowledge online.