If you live in the Northeast, “tick season” seems to be a year-round problem now. According to the CDC, between 2016 and 2017, the reported cases of tickborne diseases increased by 22%.
To make matters worse, this problem is no longer isolated to the typical hotbeds. The number of US counties with blacklegged ticks responsible for most tickborne diseases has more than doubled over the last twenty years.
New species are being identified. New diseases are being discovered. And their range is expanding. If you live in an area habitable to ticks, crucial action should be taken to protect yourself, children, and pets – and it starts with your own backyard.
Before we dive into how to get rid of ticks, let’s first take a look at the different types of ticks and how to tell if you have an infestation.
Identifying Types of Ticks
There’s quite a few varying species of ticks throughout the United States, all of which have varying geographic spreads, life cycles, and diseases. If you recently found a tick, use the chart below to help identify (note: these are enlarged to show detail. Actual tick sizes will be smaller).
While any of these ticks can bite, the ones that most commonly bite humans are Blacklegged (Deer) Ticks, Lone Star Ticks, and Dog Ticks, however our treatment guide will work for any of the ticks shown above. If you’re looking for more information on each tick, the CDC has an excellent guide on the full geographical ranges/spreads.
Which Ticks Carry Lyme Disease?
The Blacklegged Tick, also known as the Deer Tick, is the primary culprit of lyme disease in the Eastern half of the United States (including Mid-Atlantic) while the Western Blacklegged Tick transmits the lyme bacteria on the west coast. Other common ticks like Lone Star and Dog Ticks do not transmit lyme disease, however they can still carry other diseases.
Other Tick Diseases
- Borrelia miyamotoi Disease
- Colorado Tick Fever
- Heartland and Bourbon Virus Diseases
- Powassan Virus Disease
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
- Rickettsia parkeri Rickettsiosis
- Tickborne Relapsing Fever
Signs of Infestation
If you seemingly keep finding ticks on yourself or pets after spending time in your yard, it’s safe to assume you have an outdoor problem that needs attention. It’s difficult to know if you have a tick infestation outdoors without knowing the proper locations to search. Since ticks prefer shaded and moist areas (more on this later), you can typically find them under shrubs and leaves, wood piles, stone walls, and tall grass. If you think you have ticks in your grass, a quick trick you can do is drag a white towel across the lawn – they will cling onto it as you move over them.
As much as you hate to hear it, tick infestations can also occur indoors. This happens when you or your pet brings a tick indoors and it then reproduces. Ticks can lay anywhere from 1500-2000 eggs at a time, and this will usually happen along the baseboards. Again, if you keep finding ticks on you inside, even if you haven’t been outdoors much, this is a red flag that you have a very big indoor problem and will have to treat it with targeted insecticides along all cracks, crevices, and dog cages.
Let’s take a closer look at how to deal with the most common problem: killing ticks in your yard.
5 Steps to Get Rid of Ticks
Prevention essentially relies on reducing encounters with infected ticks – primarily black-legged ticks (also known as deer ticks). This requires a multi-faceted approach focusing on reducing localized tick populations through both environmental changes (making your yard less desirable for ticks) and targeted insecticides. Follow this easy 5-step guide to get rid of ticks from your yard.
1. Clear out yard debris
Well-kept lawns are surprisingly important for deterring ticks. Since ticks like shaded and moist areas, it’s important to keep yard debris to a minimum.
Cut your grass short and frequent. Ticks use tall blades of grass as a step-ladder to reach out and grab onto a warm host as it walks by. Short grass provides less shade for ticks and the increased sun results in a drier lawn. In addition, since lawn trimmings provide that shaded and moist area that ticks prefer, it’s recommended to use a mower with a bagger that can be emptied elsewhere. Not only does it pick up the lawn trimmings, but can also remove the ticks along with it. If you do not have a bagger, you can simply rake the grass.
Pick up leaves in the fall. As the cold weather approaches, ticks become increasingly active in searching for a warm body. Piles of leaves provide the perfect habitat, so it’s very important to pick them up as soon as possible.
Trim shrubs and low-hanging trees. Overgrown plants, bushes, and trees provide dense shade, so trim them back enough to allow enough sunlight to keep the area beneath them dry. Shrubs such as barberry bushes are hotbeds for ticks, as they have a wide, dense base which reduces sunlight. In fact, some states are banning them for their invasiveness and association with lyme disease.
2. Create a barrier from shaded areas
Add a 3′ border to edge of yard. If you live near a tree-line or wooded area, adding a 3 foot border of wood chips or pea gravel creates a nuisance for tick movement and in most cases will avoid crossing. It’s important to use traditional wood chip mulch and not the dyed variety, the latter of which can often be moist.
Keep recreational areas within the border. Placing swingsets, patios, and decks as far away from the treeline (and within the mulch border) will drastically reduce your exposure.
3. Eliminate deer and rodent attractants
Deer are considered a reproductive host for ticks. This means ticks are able to feed until they are engorged and have enough protein supply to lay between 1500-2000 eggs. Yes – that’s a whole lot of problem for your yard. The good news is that reproductive hosts contribute blood but no pathogens. So this means the ticks feeding from deer will not obtain lyme disease from that deer, but they are increasing the tick population in your neighborhood.
On the contrary, mice and small rodents are considered reservoir hosts which do contribute infectious pathogens. And unfortunately, it’s estimated that between 40% – 90% of white-footed mice carry Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes lyme disease.
This is a two-fold problem that we’ll focus on: reducing the deer attractants (who are essentially assisting in increasing the tick population) and reducing the rodent attractants (who are increasing lyme disease cases).
Get rid of plants that deer like. Your local garden center/nursery will be a great resource specific to your region to help identify if your plants, shrubs, or trees are attracting deer and what replacements are available.
Keep plants away from house. If you have plants and bushes right alongside your house, mice and chipmunks use these as a runway to stay protected from predators in the sky. Keeping things nicely trimmed and spaced out helps alleviate some of this concern.
Use deer and rodent repellents where they frequent. Personally, deer repellent does not work very well where I live (north east) for white-tail deer. However rodent repellents such as Critter Ridder work pretty well if you know where they like to live. For example, I have a stonewall that attracts a lot of chipmunks (and probably mice at night), so I spread some of the repellent around the whole rock wall and there’s definitely less chipmunk sightings. Remember – if you see chipmunks in a certain area during the day, it’s safe to assume there are also mice in that area at night.
4. Place tick tubes around property
Broad spectrum insecticides sprayed across your entire yard will kill ticks – but it will also kill other beneficial insects. Tick tubes works differently by targeting the source of most tickborne diseases – rodents.
So, how do tick tubes work? This very simple product uses cotton balls or lint which are soaked with permethrin – one of the leading recommendations for killing ticks as it’s safe for children and dogs once dry. The permethrin-soaked cotton is then stuffed inside a cardboard tube and placed around your property where mice and chipmunks may frequent (under bushes and decks or along stone walls and foundation of home). These rodents take the treated cotton balls to make their nests, and as a result, the permethrin treats their fur in similar ways we add flea and tick repellent to dogs.
At first glance, the whole idea of tick tubes sound like a gimmick – but there’s actually a lot of research and recent evidence showing the true benefits. In fact, Disease Ecologist Richard Ostefield is leading an $8.8 million study called the Tick Project which uses methods very similar to this. Since mice can carry dozens of disease-ridden ticks at a time, this works wonders by eliminating localized tick populations.
There are easy DIY methods for creating tick tubes, which are obviously a cheaper alternative to buying. However when my tick problem was at its peak, I opted to buy a pack on Amazon from Damminix. They also blend in a bit better around your yard as opposed to 20 toilet paper rolls!
- Permethrin, a synthetic pyrethroid is based on a natural compound extracted from chrysanthemum
- Tick tubes deliver tick-controlling permethrin
- You can place biodegradable damminix tick tubes around your property in the spring and fall
5. Spray tick killer and IGR
Permethrin is part of a group of chemicals called pyrethroids, and is a synthetic version of the natural extracts from the chrysanthemum flower. This is one of the most often recommended insecticides for treating large areas where people and pets may play in. In fact, this can even be used in places where food and livestock are handled.
Permethrin comes in a variety of forms including liquids, powder/dust, aerosol, and even pre-treated clothing. For treating your yard, you should use Permethrin SFR concentrate with a 2-gallon sprayer. One quart of Permethrin concentrate will make about 34 gallons of solution at a rate of ~1oz/gallon, so it’s really affordable as well.
- Active Ingredient: Permethrin 36.8% Target pests: Subterranean termites, and general broad insect control.
- For use in: Residential, commerical, and recreational areas. Can not ship to CT or NY
- Application area: Perimeter treatment of lawns, ornamentals, recreation areas and athletic fields. Indoor spot, crack...
We recommend Archer IGR as an additive to the Permethrin listed above (these can be mixed together in the same sprayer). The active ingredient in Archer IGR is pyriproxyfen, which is an Insect Growth Regulator. This works by targeting juvenile ticks by mimicking their natural hormones, preventing growth into adult ticks. When used effectively, IGRs help control localized populations of ticks and are especially useful when there are large infestations.
- The active ingredient in Archer Insect Growth Regulator is pyriproxyfen, an Insect growth regulator (juvenile hormone...
- Archer Insect Growth Regulator acts similarly to insect growth hormones that occur naturally in insects and acts on the...
- In some species, such as fleas and flies, Archer Insect Growth Regulator also has activity on adult insects by affecting...
Where to spray in your yard?
I always recommend spraying the perimeter of your home (foundation, windows, door frames) as a good baseline protection from not only ticks but other unwanted insects.
Depending on the size of your lawn, you may very well be able to spray the entire area and be done with it. However, I have a 3 acre property, so spraying this multiple times per year is not practical. What I do instead is spray a perimeter line about 6 feet wide that separates the treeline from the rest of my yard. Remember Step #2? This barrier works exponentially better if you spray it.
Once the perimeter is sprayed, I then spot-treat under bushes, along our stone landscaping rocks, and under low-hanging trees and other shady or moist areas that ticks like to hide. And remember – cut your lawn frequently and cut it short, pick up leaves, and trim your plants. A well-maintained property goes a long ways in reducing the number of ticks, and the insecticides finish the job for any ticks that do venture into your yard.