Kick ticks to the curb with our top six tips for preventing ticks from crashing on your couch. These bloodthirsty parasites are more than just an annoyance — they can be a real threat to you and your pet’s health.
- What are ticks anyway?
- What attracts ticks to your yard?
- Ways to prevent ticks in your yard
- Signs you have a tick infestation
What are ticks anyway?
Ticks are cousins of spiders, mites, and scorpions. The parasitic insects move through four stages: egg, larva, nymph, and adult. Nymphs are adolescent ticks, and just like human teenagers, they can be a real headache. They account for 98% of bites.
Larvae and nymphs feed on smaller animals and birds while nymphs and adults feed on bigger targets like humans and pets. The three most common types of ticks in the U.S. are the deer tick, American dog tick, and lone star tick.
Tick bites can cause irritation, but the threat of tick-transmitted diseases is the real cause for concern. Ticks can carry:
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever
- Lyme disease and coinfections
You might think you only get tick bites from hiking in the woods, but 75% of bites happen during regular activities at home like gardening and entertaining people outdoors.
What attracts ticks to your yard?
Ticks are attracted to warm, moist environments. They like shade and places to hide. Tall grass, ground cover, and shrubs are a few of their favorite places to take up residence.
Because ticks are often found in people’s hair, it’s easy to think they like to hang out in trees. In actuality, ticks keep close to the ground and find their way to your head once they’ve latched onto you as a host.
Tick activity increases as the months get warmer, usually between April and September, but they’re active year-round. If you want to focus on prevention, get to work before temperatures start to rise.
Ways to prevent ticks in your yard
You might not be able to keep all ticks out of your landscape, but taking the right measures reduces your chances of having an infestation.
1. Clear debris
One man’s trash is another tick’s treasure. Ticks love to hide among fallen leaves, brush, and outdoor furniture. Additionally, rodents and other pests carrying ticks often make their homes in debris or forgotten lawn equipment.
✓ Rake thoroughly, especially as the weather starts to cool off.
✓ Dethatch once a year (more frequently if you have a thatch-prone grass like Kentucky bluegrass).
✓ Store lawn equipment in a dry place, preferably indoors.
✓ Keep shrubs pruned to cut down on brush.
✓ Make sure trash and food are stored in a tightly closed container. If your pet eats outside, clean the area around the bowls frequently.
When you’re going through the checklist, pay special attention to the outer edges of your lawn and the areas right around your house. These are where ticks are most likely to cross into your yard or home.
2. Keep your lawn trim
A well-trimmed lawn is one of the best ways to prevent ticks. Turfgrass cut to the proper height is too exposed for ticks. What’s the proper height? Almost all grass types will do well at 2.5 inches. Warm-season grasses like to be mowed a little lower (1 to 3 inches) while cool-season grasses prefer to be mowed a little higher 2.5 and 4 inches.
Taking out a ruler every Sunday to measure your grass isn’t realistic. It’s good to have a general idea of how often to cut your grass. Expect to mow every five to seven days during your grass’s active growing season. That’s late spring and summer for warm-season grasses and early spring and fall for cool-season varieties. Mowing will taper off to every two weeks as grass goes dormant, if at all. A properly maintained lawn also discourages weeds that can hide ticks.
3. Build a tick-free barrier
Did you know more than 80% of ticks stay in the outer 9 feet of a lawn? Discourage ticks from entering your property by creating a tick-free barrier.
You may think hedges are a great way to delineate your landscape, but if you want to prevent ticks, it’s best to clear all shrubs, tall grasses, and trees around your yard’s edge. Line your lawn with gravel, mulch, or well-trimmed grass section 3 feet wide instead.
Consider the layout of your backyard. Because ticks stay close to the perimeter, you want to move all of their potential hideouts closer to the center. Dog runs, outdoor furniture and playground equipment are safer in the center of your lawn, preferably in the sun.
4. Replace ground cover
What’s ground cover? It’s any low-lying plant with a creeping, spreading habit. They may look good, but ticks love their shady, moist environment.
Luckily, there are other options for defining your space. When you’re choosing what to substitute, consider a few things:
- Does this area receive high traffic?
- Do you have kids that may be running around?
- Are you looking to grow something else green there instead?
Hardscaping is just what it sounds like: “Hard” materials used for landscaping. Think stone, concrete, and wood. Hardscaping is a fantastic, low-maintenance option for adding visual interest and defined areas to your yard.
If you entertain outside, hardscaping is the way to go. It can withstand lots of traffic and furniture. It might not be the safest choice, though, if you have little ones playing outside.
Examples of hardscaping:
- Stone or brick pavers
- Aquatic features (as long as they’re lined with inorganic material like rocks)
DIY or call a pro: Depending on your experience, all of these options can be installed yourself, but some are harder. Installing gravel and rocks is easier than installing pavers, for example. Connecting a water system below ground is probably a job for a pro. Be sure to check on your city’s regulations first.
Cost: Hardscaping costs depend greatly on the project. A bag of pea gravel can cost as little as $5. Professional paver installation ranges from $8-$25 per square foot, coming in as much as $3,000 or more.
Mulch is your best friend in the fight against ticks. It doesn’t just look nice; ticks won’t cross a mulch border. They can still be carried into your yard by animals or people, but a strip of mulch 4 to 6 feet wide will definitely lower the chances of ticks making their way into your living area.
Other benefits of mulch:
- Keeps moisture in to prevent plants from drying out
- When placed around trees it protects exposed roots
- Cedar wood chips in particular repel other insects like fleas
DIY or call a pro: A free afternoon is all you need to do this one yourself.
Cost: Mulch costs $3-$7 per bag ($15-$75 per cubic yard). Professional labor services are around $40-$70 per hour and $40-$145 for delivery.
Faking it to make it works for grass, too. If you’re looking for a no-maintenance, pet- and kid-friendly, evergreen lawn, look no further than artificial turf.
Different varieties of artificial turf:
- Pet friendly turf: This option has a permeable backing for drainage.
- Putting turf: This is for any golfing enthusiasts.
- High pile height: Creates a lush look.
- High density: Will stand up to high traffic.
- UV tested: Great for hot, sunny locations.
DIY or call a pro: You can install this yourself, but be warned it can be pretty labor intensive.
Cost: The average cost for a standard 500-square-foot artificial lawn installation is $5,860. If you install it yourself, the materials will cost between $1,000 and $2,000.
Start an herb garden
Ticks are picky about perfumes. Although herbaceous perennials have the same physical environment as tall grasses, some of them have strong-smelling essential oils that deter ticks. Others contain chemicals that are natural pesticides.
Most importantly, deer and rodents don’t like these plants’ fragrances either — fewer pests means fewer chances for ticks to travel to you. Sounds great, right? It doesn’t hurt that they add a beautiful border to any landscape, too.
Plants that deter ticks:
- Beautyberry (this plant is as effective as DEET!)
- Rose geranium
If you have curious pets, avoid chrysanthemums and geraniums. They can be toxic to cats and dogs (though our furry friends are usually deterred by the scent).
DIY or call a pro: You can definitely do this yourself, but a professional can help with the design and installation. They’ll also know which of these plants will do well in your particular climate.
Cost: Seeds cost as little as $1. Mature plants can cost $10-$30. Professional planting services range from $4-$10 per square foot.
5. Ward off wild animals
The number one way ticks take up residence on your property is being carried in by wild animals. This includes deer, raccoons, possums, and rodents. Pest-proofing your home takes some work, but it’s well worth it.
The first thing you want to do is seal up any holes where unwelcome guests might be making their entrance.
Where to look for holes:
- Around roof rafters and eaves
- Around attic and crawl space vents
- Near your house’s foundation
- By doors and windows
For small holes, use steel wool to plug the open space. Seal it with caulk. For bigger holes, you can use lath screen, lath metal, cements, hardware cloth, or metal sheeting to cover the area.
- Chew marks on food packaging
- Holes chewed through wall and floors
- Stale smell coming from hidden areas
- Rodent droppings (check drawers, cupboards, and under the sink)
If you suspect you already have rodents, you can set up traps. If you choose a humane trap, contact your local wildlife services to get information on what to do next. While you’re dealing with an infestation, avoid feeding birds outside, too.
6. Protect yourself and your pets
If you have a solid barrier around your property and have defended your yard against pests, the only remaining concern is ticks being carried by you or your pets over the threshold into your home. How do you prevent this?
Preventing ticks on yourself
One thing you can do is wear light-colored long-sleeves, socks, and long pants if you know you’ll be working outside or going into a wooded area. Ticks are less likely to attach to you, and you’ll be able to see them more easily against the fabric and simply brush them off.
The next thing you can do is use bug repellent for you and your pets. Look for an insecticide that contains permethrin to use on yourself. Deet, IR3535, and oil of lemon eucalyptus are also effective. Be sure to reapply, especially if you’re using something with only natural ingredients.
Pet care to prevent ticks
The last thing you want is for your precious puppy to carry a tick into your home. Make it a habit to check your animal for ticks while you’re giving them their daily belly rub.
There are many products available for pets that kill ticks. These come in topical treatments, food additives, or tablets and pills. It’s best to chat with your veterinarian before choosing. Cats in particular can be sensitive to chemicals and a professional opinion will help you make the best decision.
Signs you have a tick infestation
The two major signs you have a tick problem are seeing the ticks themselves or recognizing the symptoms of a tick-transmitted disease. These symptoms vary and it’s best to leave the actual diagnosis to a doctor. The most common disease associated with ticks, Lyme disease, is often spotted due to its characteristic bulls-eye skin rash. Unfortunately, you can not always see the rash even though you have been bitten by an infected tick.
Comb through your pet’s coat regularly to check for ticks. If you do find one, carefully remove it by grasping its head with tweezers and pulling it slowly off the skin. It’s important not to crush the tick or dangerous fluids can be released, or leave a portion of the tick inside the skin. After removal, wash the area thoroughly, and use antibacterial soap.
If you suspect you have an infestation, follow our guide here for treating ticks.
Do you suspect you have a tick problem in your yard? It might be time to hire a pest control professional with more expertise on ticks and how to get rid of them.
If you need help with regular lawn maintenance, there is also someone in your area who can take that off your hands and get it done right. Find a local lawn care pro who can help.
Main Photo Credit: Catkin | Pixabay