We live deep in tick country.
Fully half of the ticks here can infect a person with Lyme disease and they are out in force if the weather is halfway decent. If you’re planning to be outside and enjoy the summer, it’s just a battle you have to fight.
That adds a rare element of danger to our vegetable gardening.
My wife had undiagnosed Lyme disease for 15 years. That’s the kind of thing that can make you feel like you’re going to die. Some people do.
And because of climate change ticks—and Lyme disease—are spreading like wildfire into many areas of the U.S. and the world. Most gardeners should be wary of them whether they realize it or not. All it takes is one bite to change your life in a very bad way.
Years of fighting to keep ticks out of our yard and garden, plus a lot of web research, have given us the tools to fight these nasty critters so I want to pass the knowledge on to you. You can keep ticks at bay if you’re diligent and informed.
Establish a perimeter
The first step to keeping ticks out of your garden is proper landscaping. Ticks need high humidity to live and they love wood piles, leaf piles and any other yard waste. Gardeners often have this stuff lying around because we need “brown” material for compost. However, you need to separate it from your main gardening area or get rid of it to keep the ticks at bay.
We have a 3-foot wide perimeter of cedar mulch around the entire yard and garden area. If you keep the grass cut short and the yard clear of waste, this acts as a perimeter defense against ticks. Like many insects, ticks hate cedar and we’ll use that against them (as you’ll see below).
Toss some tick grenades
In April and July (in the U.S.) we put out tick tubes every year to reduce the tick population. These are just cardboard tubes stuffed with cotton balls that are laced with Permethrin, a potent insecticide. You drop these just outside your yard, one about every ten feet until you encircle the area you want to protect.
The mice in the area will take the cotton balls to make their nests, which kill the ticks in the nest. Mice are key carriers of ticks because they travel close to the ground and don’t groom themselves very well. Ticks are very slow moving on their own, but mice can easily transport them into your garden area. You can buy tick tubes on Amazon but you can also easily make them yourself, here’s a thorough tutorial.
Beware of covert agents
Mice aren’t the only animal that can carry ticks of course. Just about any animal you’d want to keep out of your garden will also carry ticks. Chipmunks, voles, squirrels and of course deer are all animals that can serve to carry ticks from the forest into your yard or garden area. It’s almost impossible to keep everything out of your yard, but you can use repellents for smaller animals and fencing for larger ones.
This is all-natural chemical warfare of course, but one of the more effective methods we’ve found for keeping ticks at bay is to liberally use cedar oil. Cedar oil is both a contact killer and an effective repellent of ticks. You can get it formulated in different ways. We use the lawn version in a hose end sprayer to treat the yard and garden every couple weeks during the summer. Cedar oil goes around the gardens though, I don’t spray it directly on the plants.
We also use a different formulation directly on our skin and clothing per the directions. Cedar oil is completely non-toxic to humans and it doesn’t bother beneficial insects like bees and butterflies, which is quite a trick on the part of Mother Nature. If you want to learn more about cedar oil and how to use it, see this comprehensive article. If you’re sold on the idea, you can go here to get a discount on cedar oil products.
Lastly, if you find that you have been bitten by a tick. The best thing is to pull it directly off. There are a number of tick removal tools on the market and it’s handy to have one of those around when you need it.
Those are my best tips—if you follow them closely you should see a dramatic reduction of ticks in your garden area this summer. What are your methods for keeping ticks at bay? Let us know in the comments below!