Ticks can hitch a ride on pets moving through tall grass.

Ticks can hitch a ride on pets moving through tall grass.

Gardeners are a grumbly lot, there’s always something bugging us. Lately, it seems my gardening friends are talking about ticks.

There are four different species of ticks commonly found in our area and two of them are known for transmitting serious diseases (Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme disease), so gardeners have good reason to be concerned. A bit of caution can help protect you during tick season.

Ticks live in sheltered areas — leaf litter, debris and crevices in manmade structures. As they move through the four different stages of their lives they go searching for blood meals. They’ll move up onto taller grass and plants in order to hitch a ride on a host, crawling on the skin of the passing person or animal until they can pierce the skin to begin their feast.

Because ticks are most active in the spring and fall, you can avoid hosting a tick banquet by embracing some simple practices over the next few weeks. First, as much as possible, avoid weedy or overgrown areas where ticks are likely to hide — this can be difficult, especially if you have pets. When you are outside, try to wear long sleeves and pants, tucking the pants into your socks. Wearing light colored clothes makes it easier to spot ticks. When you come inside, closely inspect yourself and your pets, as removing ticks before they attach is much easier than after they’ve started feeding.

Insect repellents containing DEET are generally recognized as being the most effective, but I’m not keen about spraying it directly on my skin so I apply it instead to my clothes. During the spring and fall, when ticks are active, I have a set of “garden clothes” that I treat fully with DEET-based products. They stay out in the garage, and I might wear them two-to-three times between washings. Sounds a little icky, but it works for me. After carefully reading the product’s instructions, first apply to a test area of your clothes to ensure it won’t leave stains.

I’d rather avoid or prevent tick hotspots than apply chemicals to our landscape, but effective pesticides can be purchased at most garden centers, hardware stores and big box stores to treat your property. They come both in spray and granular forms and work well when properly applied — be sure to read the labels fully to determine what is right for your property, children and pets.

Granular products might be more economical and manageable if you have a larger area to treat. It’s important for the application to be uniform and typically the soil should be wet to ensure the product is absorbed. A light rain is ideal, but since Mother Nature doesn’t always deliver on our schedule, you may have to water to make certain the product is fully absorbed. I keep our new puppy out of areas that have been chemically treated for days or weeks — depending on the weather.

You may need to use a combination of liquid spray products near structures and granular products in more distant corners. Again, read the labels carefully as spray products typically need to be applied during dry conditions and granular products need water to be absorbed, so you may need repeated applications. Be careful about allowing pets and children in treated areas, and as always read the labels thoroughly before using.

Ticks are most active during the spring and fall, so don’t be fooled into thinking they’ve gone completely away if they “disappear” in a few months. You may have to repeat your treatment cycle again this fall.

The Cooperative Extension Service offers helpful information online about ticks and the problems they cause, you can find it at: https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/ticks-and-tick-borne-diseases.

Embrace some small steps this season to avoid the big problems tiny ticks can cause.

Absent from their gardens, Kit and Lise enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of horticulture and suburban living. More on Instagram @AbsenteeGardener or email: info@absentee-gardener.com.

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