You know what to look for: an insect (technically an arachnid) about the size of an apple seed latched onto the skin or a rash shaped like a bullseye. As a homeowner, you’ll want to take care of a tick problem before these pests actually latch on to you, your children, or your pets. Luckily, tick infestations are uncommon in a well-maintained yard, but they do happen, so here are some steps to help you kill ticks in your yard.
How Dangerous Are Ticks?
Ticks feed on human and animal blood, and they can transfer bacteria and other pathogens into their hosts when they feed, causing disease. The most common of these tick-transmitted illnesses is Lyme disease, associated with the deer tick, or blacklegged tick, in the East and northern Midwest. Ricketts, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and tularemia can also be spread by ticks. There’s also been evidence that the bite of a lone star tick can cause a person to develop an allergy to red meat.
Of course, these are largely worst-case scenarios, and most tick bites don’t bring illness. Still, you’ll want to keep your family and pets free from ticks, which latch on and feed off a host for up to 10 days at a time. During this period, the mouthparts of the tick will hook into the skin with barbs, making it very difficult to remove completely.
If you notice a tick on your skin, you should remove it immediately, ideally within the first 36 hours after being bitten. Better yet, wear long pants, high socks, and bug repellent when walking through areas where ticks live.
Where Do Ticks Live?
The CDC has found ticks living in all 48 contiguous U.S. states. The good news for homeowners is that ticks prefer to live in overgrown foliage rather than well-maintained yards, so some simple preventative measures will greatly reduce the likelihood of an infestation.
Generally, ticks prefer to feed on animals, so they live where the likelihood of latching onto an animal is greatest. This usually means the border zones between forests and more open areas. If your yard borders a wooded area, you should take active steps to prevent ticks from invading. Luckily, the steps for getting rid of ticks and preventing them from coming back are reasonably simple.
How Do I Get Rid of Ticks in My Yard?
Tick control involves a combination of prevention practices and insecticides. Here are a few ways to get rid of ticks in your yard.
Check for Ticks
If you think you might have ticks in your yard, you can perform a simple test called a tick drag. Cut a swatch of fabric about 5” by 5” and attach it to a long pole. While wearing long pants and tall socks to protect your legs, drag the fabric over tall grass and overgrown plants in your yard, particularly on the border of wooded areas. If there’s a tick infestation, a few ticks will likely latch onto the fabric in search of a meal.
If you have outdoor pets that have been in these areas, make sure you check them for ticks. Ticks will often travel to moist areas on the body before latching on, so examine your pet’s armpits, knees, and groin, in addition to its neck, ears, and feet.
The most important step you can take to rid your yard of ticks is destroying their preferred habitats. This can be as simple as mowing your lawn regularly and trimming weeds or overgrown brush. Shaggy foliage creates shadowed, cooler areas for ticks to hide in. Depending on your lawn’s species of grass, you can let it grow to a height of 4–4.5 inches before cutting it back down to about three inches, but don’t let it grow taller than about six inches.
If you get a little behind on your mowing and find yourself cutting down your grass significantly, use the bag attachment on your mower, as leaving lawn clippings behind can create a favorable environment for ticks. You should also bag up any leaf litter or other lawn debris for disposal.
Put Down Mulch
If your lawn is near an unkempt wooded area, consider putting down a border of mulch or gravel. If you use mulch, make sure it’s made of dry wood chips rather than damp, shredded material. Your goal is to create a hot, dry barrier that’s three feet wide that ticks won’t want to cross.
The mulch or gravel will also serve as a visual reminder to you and your family that you need to take extra precautions when going beyond the barrier.
Use Tick Tubes
These products will only be useful in areas with both mice and ticks because they’re designed to kill ticks that live on mice. The cardboard tubes contain cotton treated with the active ingredient, permethrin, which mice will take back to their nests to use as bedding. When they do, the permethrin on the cotton will kill any ticks living on the mice. A quarter-acre yard will need about six of these tubes twice a year.
While many DIY websites explain how to make your own tick tubes using toilet paper tubes and cotton balls, the experts at the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program advise against making your own. Homemade tick tubes are unlikely to work because they use the wrong kind of permethrin and they may inadvertently poison other wildlife in the process.
Call an Exterminator
If you have a serious tick infestation or if the above measures don’t work, consider calling a professional pest control service. Not only will a professional pest control company have the proper pesticides needed to kill ticks, but the company’s experts will also have specific recommendations for your yard and home. Read our full review of Orkin to learn why we recommend this company over other nationwide pest control services.
How To Prevent Ticks
In addition to taking steps to get rid of ticks from your yard, make sure you take common-sense measures to keep ticks off your body and away from your home.
- Always wear tick repellent when going into wooded areas.
- Whenever possible, keep children and pets from playing in the overgrown brush on the borders of your lawn.
- Treat all pets regularly with appropriate collars, medication, sprays, and shampoos.
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