Ticks can spread Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and several other ailments, though most bites don't result in illness. But it's still important to consider ways to minimize their presence in your yard. There are multiple ways to approach this. You can keep ticks from coming into your yard by restricting animals that carry ticks, such as deer, and by making your landscape less tick-friendly. You also can deter or kill ticks by applying pesticides along the yard perimeter, though these products often come with their own health and environmental risks.
Be careful when applying pesticides, as both the chemical and organic products can have toxic properties. Read the product's instructions and safety label closely. Wear protective clothing, including a breathing mask. And keep pets and children out of the area.
Equipment / Tools
- Garden sprayer with hose attachment
- Protective clothing (long pants and shirt, breathing protection)
- Organic or chemical pesticide
Choose a Pesticide
You have two options when spraying for ticks: organic controls or synthetic chemical acaricides.
Organic controls: Some experts recommend natural tick repellents that contain Metarhizium brunneum or Metarhizium anisopliae fungi as the active ingredient. These fungi already exist naturally in the soil, and studies have shown them to be effective in controlling tick populations while not being harmful to other bugs. However, it's important to note that many organic controls aren't as effective as potent synthetic chemicals. And they might require more applications to get the job done.
Synthetic chemical acaricides: Chemical treatments are often categorized as acaricides, a class of pesticides that targets ticks, mites, and other related invertebrates. The chemicals tend to be similar in these products, so the choice will depend on your preference. They typically come in one of three forms: a ready-to-use product that attaches to a garden hose, a ready-to-spray product that comes in a pump bottle, and a spray that you mix yourself and apply with your own garden sprayer.
Plan Your Attack
The correct place to apply pesticide is any border between a potential tick habitat (woods, brush, etc.) and your lawn. Spray several feet onto both sides of such a border. This practice is termed "perimeter spraying."
Apply the Spray
Put on your protective clothing and breathing mask. Then, attach the hose sprayer, or mix your pesticide in a garden sprayer. Apply the spray all over the potential tick habitat, focusing on the border areas. Especially if you're using synthetic chemicals, avoid widespread application across your entire lawn. Keep children and pets out of the location until the spray dries or for however long the safety label recommends.
Before deciding to do it yourself, consider calling in a pro. Professionals have more powerful spraying equipment, allowing for better penetration of the pesticide, and they know how to safely handle the chemicals.
When to Spray for Ticks
The best time of year to spray is when the ticks are in their early nymphal stage. For deer ticks, this means spraying in May or early June. It's generally sufficient to spray once in late spring, as the feeding and reproduction season for ticks is relatively short. By mid-summer, the ticks are unlikely to be much of a problem.
Any pesticide comes with one enormous liability: It will kill other creatures in addition to the targeted pest. If you're applying a broad-spectrum pesticide, you might be killing many beneficial insects, such as honeybees, ladybugs, and mantises. Responsible gardeners need to think long and hard about using such chemicals. If you are environmentally conscious, first try organic products combined with prevention methods.
If you're specifically trying to control deer ticks, one of your objectives should be to keep deer and similar animals away from your landscape. There are three common ways to achieve this goal:
More generally speaking, experts recommend creating an environment in which ticks are less likely to survive. Ticks need two things: humidity and a host upon which to feed. In addition to deer, common hosts are pets, rodents, and birds.
Certain landscaping changes can help. For instance, you can modify your yard, so you won't brush up against shrubs when walking along pathways. Dense ground covers can also harbor ticks, so consider removing them. A neat, tidy yard with dry conditions and minimal wildlife holds no appeal for ticks.
Tips for Preventing Ticks
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers this list of preventive measures to discourage ticks from your yard:
- Remove leaf litter, tall grasses, and brush.
- Add a 3-foot barrier of wood chips or gravel between your lawn and a wooded area to restrict tick migration.
- Keep your grass as short as possible by regularly mowing.
- Neatly stack any wood pile, and keep the wood dry. This helps to deter rodents.
- Don't place playground equipment on a border near trees. Likewise, don't build a deck or patio close to a wooded area if possible. Try to pick a sunny location that ticks won't like.
- Discourage unwelcome animals (such as deer, raccoons, and stray pets) from entering your yard by building a fence.
- Don't leave old furniture or trash in your yard, as it can provide shelter for ticks.
Ticks and Lyme Disease. Johns Hopkins Medicine
Fischhoff, Ilya R., et al. The Tick Biocontrol Agent Metarhizium Brunneum (= M. Anisopliae) (Strain F52) Does Not Reduce Non-Target Arthropods. Plos One, vol. 12, no. 11, 2017, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0187675
Preventing Ticks in the Yard. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 22 Feb. 2019