Reduce Tick Exposure Naturally: 8 Steps.
There is nothing quite like time spent enjoying the outdoors. Exhilarating. But many of us in the northeast have one nagging fear about time in nature and that is, “how do we reduce our tick exposure? Preferably to zero?” After almost 2 decades of organic landscaping, this is something we’ve had to struggle with a whole lot. So, here’s a list of our eight top suggestions to naturally avoid ticks this year- and every year. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it includes the strategies we personally use. We would love to hear what everybody else does in the comments.
#1. Break up the Lawn Monoculture.
We are a part of the problem in the spike in tick populations, for various types of short-sighted irresponsibility. Maybe the most notable is our odd fascination with non-native lawn monocultures. Traditional American lawns have been compared to “deserts” in the amount of wildlife they are able to support. Unfortunately, it’s created an unnatural ecosystem where the only critters who feel welcome to move around openly are white-tailed deer and the white-footed mouse. What do these two animals have in common? (If you guessed they are both rodents, no one blames you but that’s not it.)
Mice and deer are both serious tick transporters. They bring the tick population IN from the woods. Properties that have other animals visit (opossum, fox, skunk especially) benefit from everything being on the move AWAY from the home and the family’s tick exposure is reduced by the animals carrying the ticks back into the woods. But as in everything related to the ecosystem there’s many layers of mystery and interrelationship. For example, did you know skunks hunt mice part of the year?
#2 Keep Chickens.
Free range chickens eat ticks and tick eggs like it’s their job. If you like animals and the community you live in is a decent fit for it, consider keeping some chickens or guinea hens. Even acquiring a small number and keeping them as pets is enough to make a huge difference. In 17 years of organic landscaping in the Albany/Schenectady/Saratoga region, we have never once been bitten by a tick on a property that has free range chickens. The homeowners of these properties agree that their chickens successfully reduce the tick exposure for their family and pets.
#3 Get Rid of Barberry and Other Invasive Plants
By now everybody knows that Barberry functions as the “Lyme Tick Nurseries,” right? Landscaping in the past 100 years has been littered with short-sighted decisions, and the introduction of exotic plants that become invasive is a repetitive story with predictable consequences- and some surprises too. Our poor plant and shrub choices have resulted in habitat loss and a reduction in biodiversity, and more recently there’s been noticeable consequences to public health with increased tick exposure and Lyme disease.
#4 Cedar Magic.
Natural (uncolored) cedar is a good choice for paths between garden paths and beds. Using it can reduce tick exposure because the aroma of cedar repels ticks. Tree companies sometimes have cedar woodchips to share. Applications of organic cedar oil are another option. There are some local companies that offer this service.
#5 Plant a Bird Garden.
Two-thirds of our country’s bird species populations are struggling. The decline in bird numbers has resulted in a tsunami of unchecked tick population explosion. It’s a tick baby boom. Gardens that encourage bird visitation are composed of native species plants, especially shrubs. Birds need shrubs to hide in. Birds love to eat ticks. Hummingbirds eat half their body weight just in insects every single day!
#6 Plant a Pollinator Garden.
At fast-food restaurants, often the management will give free coffee and cheeseburgers to the cops. The refreshments are offered to make the police feel welcome, and in turn promote security. This is the same concept. If we plant pollinator gardens and landscaping designed to welcome pollinators, birds will naturally spend more time on our properties because there’s big, noticeable food attracting them. But once the birds are onsite, they will start hunting ticks and tick eggs.
#7 Protect Yourself!
Wear insect repellent. We make one with essential oils of cedar, lemongrass, geranium and eucalyptus.
#8 Don’t Walk in Tall Grass Areas.
Ticks are found with the greatest abundance in areas of tall grass. Meadows are beautiful and necessary ecosystems. Keeping areas like this on your acreage is a wonderful concept. Just don’t walk through there or mow clear walking paths throughout. Keep your pets (except the chickens) out of your meadow edges.