Take Back Your Yard From Ticks: A Homeowner’s Guide to Management and Prevention

Gemma Johnstone
Written by Gemma Johnstone
Updated April 15, 2022
A mother and son blow bubbles in a backyard
Photo: wavebreak3 / Adobe Stock

Highlights

  • Gardens can be havens for disease-carrying ticks.

  • Applying pesticides and adopting tick-resistant yard maintenance and landscaping techniques are helpful lines of defense.

  • Inspect yourself, your kids, and your pets after spending time in the garden, and remove any ticks promptly and properly.

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According to the Cary Institute, there are over 400,000 Lyme disease diagnoses in the U.S. annually (primarily in the Northeast). With climate change and expanding tick populations, this number is ever-increasing. Blacklegged ticks (often known as ‘deer ticks’) are the primary transmitters of this difficult-to-treat disease, and they can also pass on infectious bacteria such as babesiosis and anaplasmosis.

Most people tuck their pants into their socks and smother themselves in DEET before heading out hiking, all to avoid ticks latching onto their ankles. It’s rare for anyone to go to those lengths in their own garden, but studies suggest this is the most common place these pesky pests attach themselves to us.

Luckily, there are lots of management steps you can take to help prevent ticks from following you and your pets in from your backyard. Be aware that none of these methods is a magic solution on its own, but a combination of techniques significantly limits the risk. It's especially important when deer ticks are most active, from April to October. 

1. Apply Pesticides

Treating your yard with tick-targeting pesticides called acaricides can effectively reduce populations. Stick with EPA-approved products containing bifenthrin, permethrin, and Met52 to maximize effectiveness and safety, and always check your state regulations. Improper use of these garden pesticides has side effects for us and the environment.

Hiring a local, certified pest control company means they can advise on the best time to apply the pesticides in your region to get rid of ticks in your yard and/or garden. They have powerful spraying equipment, and they know how to handle the chemicals safely. The pros also target the spray in tick-heavy areas like yard edges and shady, leaf-covered areas. Blanket spraying means there’s more chance of also killing off beneficial insects and pollinators, like honeybees.

While organic controls are possible, they aren’t as effective as the targeted chemical pesticides and require more frequent applications.

2. Build a Barrier

Ticks love shady, moist areas. Try creating a less tick-heavy recreational zone in your garden by adding a barrier between wooded areas and your lawn. A 3-foot border of dry mulch or gravel restricts tick migration—even if it doesn’t stop it completely—and children and pets are less likely to cross over into the areas where the critters spend more time. Positioning swing sets and outdoor furniture away from these woody havens is also good practice.

3. Be Meticulous With Maintenance

Closeup of hands pruning shrubs
Photo: triocean / Adobe Stock

Keeping your yard tidy is an excellent line of defense against a tick infestation. Consider the following to reduce the humid, shady habitats deer ticks love:

  • Prune overhanging branches and shrubbery growing over your lawn—ticks aren’t fans of dry, sunny conditions

  • Regularly rake your lawn and borders and get rid of piles of leaf litter and brush

  • Keep woodpiles away from the house and lawn

  • The CDC recommends mowing the lawn regularly, but a small-scale study suggests this won’t necessarily decrease tick populations

4. Adopt Tick-Inhospitable Landscaping

Adopt landscapes that minimize humid, shady tick sanctuaries. Avoid thick, fast-spreading ground covers and invasive species ticks love, such as the Japanese barberry and glossy buckthorn. 

5. Discourage Deer and Rodents

Select deer-resistant plant species and consider deer fencing—the more Bambis you have visiting your yard, the more ticks you'll have. 

Birds, small animals, and rodents also bring more ticks to your yard. Where possible, keep these critters away from your home. Consider removing bird feeders or positioning them away from the house or lawn areas, and the same applies to woodpiles, which are perfect nesting grounds for mice.

It may also be worth using bait boxes or tick tubes filled with cotton balls treated with permethrin in mice-heavy areas. Ticks die when they contact mice or other rodents that nest or rub up against these areas. The sealed and child-proof rodent bait boxes are often only available through licensed pest control pros.

How Do I Protect Myself From Ticks Attaching in the Yard?

No matter how many steps you take, you’ll never remove all the ticks in your yard. So, when working in your garden, wear gloves, long, light-colored pants tucked into socks, and shirts tucked into your pants. Avoid open-toed footwear and consider using EPA-approved tick repellent sprays containing active ingredients like Picaridin or DEET (while being aware of the potential side effects of bug sprays).

Always inspect for ticks before coming back into the house, and, if you’re concerned, shower immediately and put your clothes through a cycle in the drier for at least ten minutes to kill off any hangers-on.

Don’t forget to protect and inspect your pet too. If you find any ticks on you or them, remove them quickly and carefully—you don’t want to leave any part of the biting head under the skin.

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