By Colleen Cavagna, CCE Community Educator

Now that the warmer weather has arrived, outdoor activities are increasing for people, pets and livestock. While having fun outdoors this summer, stay safe from illness that can be spread by ticks. Ticks are an increasing problem in the United States, worse in some areas than others, but still something to think about even in lower population areas.

Ticks are associated with many diseases such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Fever and cattle Babesiosis, to name a few. In the U.S., approximately 12 species of ticks cause major public health and veterinary concerns. The blacklegged tick (deer tick), American dog tick, and lone star tick are medically the most important in the Northeast. Bites from a tick can cause minor irritation up to complete paralysis in the case of some species.

Ticks fall in the category of arthropods and are more closely related to mites, spiders and scorpions. Their food sources include mammals, reptiles, birds and even amphibians. Female ticks will lay a single batch of eggs and then die; egg masses can range from 1,000 to 18,000. Obligate blood-feeders, ticks require a host animal for food and reproduction. Most ticks have a three-host lifecycle; during each of these three active stages they feed on a different host. Yes, sometimes that host may be us!

A “tick drag” may be used to determine if ticks are present in your lawn. Drag a square yard of white flannel cloth over the lawn and leaves and check for ticks. Do this several times before concluding there are few or no ticks. Tick drags will not work when the grass or vegetation is damp or wet.

The blacklegged tick that is prevalent in New York State is found more in some areas than others like densely wooded areas (67%), ecotone (22%) or unmaintained transitional edge habitat between woodlands and open areas, ornamental vegetation (9%), and lawns (2%). Within the lawn, most of the ticks (82%) are located within 3 yards of the lawn perimeter particularly along woodlands, stone walls or ornamental plantings.

The lawn perimeter, brushy areas, groundcover vegetation and, most importantly, the woods, form the high-risk tick zones. The idea for residential tick management is to create a tick managed area around your home that encompasses the portions of the yard that your family uses most frequently. Like walkways, recreation and entertainment areas, the mailbox, storage areas and gardens.

The Tick Management Handbook suggests the following.

• Keep grass mowed.

• Remove leaf litter, brush and weeds at the edge of the lawn.

• Restrict the use of groundcover in areas frequented by family and roaming pets.

• Discourage rodent activity.

• Move firewood piles and bird feeders away from the house.

• Manage pet activity to reduce ticks brought back into the home.

• Either use plantings that do not attract deer or put up fencing.

• Move children’s swing sets and sand boxes away from the woodland edge and place them on a wood chip or mulch type foundation.

• Trim tree branches and shrubs around the lawn edge to let in more sunlight.

• Adopt hardscape and xeriscape landscaping techniques with gravel pathways and mulches. Create a 3-foot or wider wood chip, mulch, or gravel border between lawn and woods or stone walls.

• Consider creating areas with decking, tile and/or gravel, or use border or container plantings in areas that are by the house.

• Consider a least-toxic pesticide application as a targeted barrier treatment.

If you enjoy getting out in nature to hike, walk your pet or just stroll in the woods, you can apply a tick repellent containing DEET, the active ingredient in many tick repellents. Always read and follow the label instructions carefully. In applying tick repellant, pay particular attention to the shoe tops, socks and lower portion of pants.

By modifying your landscape and including new procedures in your outdoor time, you can have a safe and tick-free summer. For more detailed information about ticks, go to the Tick Management Handbook: