Over the next few weeks, TBDA will share a three-part series of posts exploring ways to protect homes and surrounding property from ticks through a comprehensive landscape management plan aimed at creating low-risk tick zones within commonly used areas. By reducing the tick population around the home, one can substantially minimize the likelihood that family members or friends will be bitten by a tick and contract one of many tick-borne illnesses, including Lyme disease, babesiosis, anaplasmosis, bartonella, or other viral infections.
These low-risk zones should include recreational, dining, entertainment and gardening areas, as well as areas close to walkways, storage sheds, firewood piles and mailboxes.
Ticks require a humid environment to survive and must feed on a vertebrate host to grow and reproduce. Without these two key elements, they cannot survive. Therefore, to make property safer from ticks, homeowners should minimize the number of potential tick hosts and create a drier, less inviting landscape for ticks.
Unfortunately, ticks feed on a wide assortment of hosts, any number of which can infect them with a pathogenic organism. Immature ticks (larvae and nymphs) prefer to feed on smaller vertebrates, such as white-footed mice, chipmunks, shrews and birds; while larger adult ticks enjoy feeding on larger animals like deer, raccoons, squirrels, rabbits and opossum. Ticks are most often transported into private yards by deer that browse on plants, mice and chipmunks that live in stone walls and woodpiles, and by ground-feeding birds such as robins, finches, wrens and blue jays.
To cut back on the number of hosts found on most properties, residents should develop a strategy that disrupts their habitat. First and foremost, residents must keep their property clear of garbage or other food sources that may attract rodents, deer and other potential tick hosts. This includes bird feeders and the spillage of seeds and nuts that fall to the ground beneath them. Bird feeders should be relocated away from the house or removed entirely.
Homeowners should also eliminate heavy brush and ground cover (pachysandra, ivy, etc.) close to home and replace it with mulch and other less dense alternatives. These areas should be open to as much sunlight as possible. Rodents and other wildlife are less attracted to open and exposed areas, and ticks like these areas no better because they lose the shady, humid surroundings required for their survival.
Residents should relocate woodpiles away from their homes, as they provide nesting places for small rodents, and do away with, relocate or seal old stone walls near homes, which serve as favorite nesting places for rodents. Remember: where there are rodents, there are ticks.
This post is part of a three-part series discussing ways to protect the home and surrounding areas from ticks. In the next aritcle, we will highlight specific types of vegetation that tick hosts find more and less appealing as well as ways to protect property perimeters.