Everyone hates ticks and fleas. And whether you live in the suburbs or in the wooded country like us, some simple steps can greatly reduce your exposure.
The area we have moved into, the St. Croix valley of Western Wisconsin, is a wooded area with lots of ticks. I have heard anecdotal evidence that it is a “hotbed” for Lyme disease. You can view Lyme disease data and map here. With that knowledge, I’ve been researching natural ways to manage the tick population on our property. Fall, after the growing season is done and the leaves have not fallen, is a great time to treat your yard as the adult females are looking for hosts for winter.
A Five-pronged approach
In addition to performing tick-checks on ourselves and pets daily, here are five main ways that I plan to reduce our interactions with ticks. Three of them will be used right away, as they are relatively easy to implement. One will be used further down the road, and one will be a last resort.
Our first method will be the use of a cedar oil spray. I have bought both the pre-diluted version to spray in areas that we frequent, like near landscaping, play/leisure structures, etc. I also bought a concentrated version that hooks up to a hose with a sprayer to broadcast the cedar oil solution to all the underbrush bordering our woods. I will focus on densely grown areas and undersides of plants. Part of this effort will be to reduce wood or leaf piles in our yard and in the woods near the border. Instead of wasting spray on these areas, we will try to reduce shady, moist tick-hideout spots.
Cedar oil is naturally repelling to ticks, fleas, and mosquitos. It actually is fatal to these pests. How cool is it that we can use a natural oil to help control all three of these horrible pests at the same time!
Second, a natural substance called Diatomaceous earth (DE) has been shown to be fatal to crawling insects/arachnids including ticks. See a guide that the Connecticut Ag department put together for tick management. Diatomaceous earth is a fine powder which is made from the fossilized remains on tiny organisms called diatoms. It has tiny sharp edges which scrape and dehydrate the outside of the ticks and fleas.
It is very important to use DE which is food grade, NOT DE for use in pools as this has additives. Also, when applying DE to your yard, do so on a non-windy day, and wear safety glasses and respiratory protection (a good quality safety mask). You can buy food grade DE and duster to apply it yourself. Did you know that many people actually apply DE to dogs and chickens to help combat tick, flea, and lice problems? I’ve read about it being used internally for parasite in animals too. Pretty cool.
A TICK MOAT
My third method is one that is encouraged by the CDC. Basically, you make a three-foot border between the part of the yard you use (i.e. the lawn) and any wooded/brushy areas. This is called a tick moat and it deters ticks from entering the areas you and your family most frequent. I don’t know what’s more natural than that!
GUINEAS AND CHICKENS
Our fourth approach won’t be enacted until at least next year (which is ok because late spring and early summer is another BIG time to get a jump on the tick population as the babies are looking for hosts). I have ready so many stories and threads of people rejoicing over the ability of chickens and guinea fowl to knock out pests like flies and ticks when they are allowed to free range. Guinea fowl are especially known for their tick (and snake and other pests) foraging abilities. I would like to get guineas in the future, but since they are known to be loud and hard to train to keep near their coop, I plan to start with chickens. I have read that chickens will do their part to reduce pest populations so I am hoping that getting a small flock of free-rangers in the spring will help us.
A LAST RESORT
After we perform all these methods, if we still find that we have a tick problem, we will use a minimal, localized application of pyrethrin. Do not confuse pyrethrin with permethrin which is often contained in synthetic insecticides. Pyrethrin is derived from chrysanthemums and is considered an “organic” insecticide. It breaks down quickly in the environment especially when exposed to sunlight.
However, there are definitely chronic toxicity concerns for pyrethrin in mammals if used over a long period of time. And sadly, although less toxic than most insecticides, it is toxic to bees (and cats apparently). We love bees, you know! Therefore it is important to use this substance sparingly and in a liquid form rather than dust form to better manage its spread (and if you spray it, spray it in the evening/night so you are less likely to hurt our pollinating friends, ok?).
So how can we use this substance in the most responsible of ways? I found information for making something called a “tick tube”. Basically, you take an empty toilet paper roll, and fill it with pyrethrin-soaked cotton balls. You place these tick tubes under brush and other areas out of the way from any humans or pets, but where one might find mice scurrying around. Why mice? Because the plan is that the mice will take the tainted cotton balls and use them to make their nests. The pyrethrin will not kill the mice, but when ticks try to make their home in the mice nests (a favorite tick nesting spot), the pyrethrin will selectively kill them. Pretty neat if you ask me.
As for making your own dog and kid-friendly tick repellent, keep an eye out for a post on that. I have made it myself in the past, and with a furred friend on the horizon, I will be brushing up my formula!
There you have it! A series of simple, do-it-yourself practices that should greatly reduce you and your family’s exposure to ticks, as well as fleas and mosquitos. Any one of these methods should help, but since I hate ticks we plan to do all of them! Leave a comment if you have questions or if you have tried these methods yourself!