You just want to enjoy a little outdoor time in your yard. But when you come inside, you happen to notice you brought an itty-bitty passenger: A tick hitched along for the ride. In addition to being slightly unnerved, you'd like to fix the situation so it doesn't happen again.
Before you consider bombing your yard with every sort of pesticide, you may want to consider more natural alternatives. Here are some ideas.
In your yard
The best thing you can do is make your personal outdoor space unattractive to ticks. Follow these landscaping tips to discourage ticks from setting up shop in your yard.
Cut it short. Mow your lawn often and keep your grass short so it won't provide a shady spot for ticks to hide, suggests Popular Mechanics.
Remove hiding spots. Take away piles of brush, limbs and grass clippings near your house. Those are perfect places for ticks to hide.
Make a moat. Create a barrier of wood chips, mulch or gravel between any wooded areas on your property and wide, open lawn. This "moat" creates a dry and potentially hot barrier that ticks can't stand and it also is an obvious perimeter for people in your home, so they know not to step beyond it. Make sure you choose mulch made from broad, dry wood chips or bark, says Consumer Reports. Damp, shredded mulch offers a cool, wet environment, which is exactly what ticks want.
Start trimming. Ticks like to hide in tall grasses and weeds, so get out your weed whacker and cut down those hiding spots. Be sure to check around your house and on the edge of your lawn for extra-high growth.
Clear junk. If you have old lawn furniture or clutter in your yard, get rid of it. Those are just more places for ticks to hang out, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Fence them out. Ticks hitch rides on deer, raccoons and other animals that amble into your yard. A fence can help keep them out. You may also want to sprinkle some deer repellent or avoid plants and other greenery that are attractive to deer. Check with your nursery for advice on what to plant.
Target ticks. Experts say blasting your yard with pesticide to kill ticks will likely be ineffective. But a targeted approach is safer and more efficient. You can buy "tick tubes" — cardboard tubes that are stuffed with cotton balls that are treated with permethrin, a chemical that kills ticks. Mice take the cotton from the biodegradable tubes and use it to build their nests. Ticks then feed on the mice, are exposed to the chemical, and die, while other animals are unharmed.
On your body
If you know you're going to be working in the tick-friendly part of your yard, prevention is key. Wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, socks and closed-toe shoes. Use insect repellent on your exposed skin and your clothing, preferably with products containing permethrin. You can also buy permethrin-treated clothing and outdoor gear.
Once you come indoors, do a thorough tick check.
Ticks can hitch a ride on your clothing, gear and pets, then jump onto you later. So, check your gear and your pets for ticks. Tumble dry clothes on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks, suggests the CDC.
Shower within two hours of coming indoors. Showering quickly may help reduce your chances of contracting Lyme disease and other tickborne illnesses. It's also a good time to do a full-body tick check. Check in all the nooks and crannies where ticks might hide, including under your arms, in and around your ears, behind your knees, in your hair and around your waist.
If you find a tick, the best way to remove it is to use tweezers and pinch the tick as close to the skin as possible, then pull it straight out and away.
After a tick bite
If you've removed a tick from your body, it's important that you clean the area well with soap and water. Watch the spot carefully for any sign of rash and keep track of any other symptoms you might have.
A normal tick bite reaction, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, includes:
- Small red bump, usually less than 1 to 2 inches in size
- Redness around the bite that doesn't grow after 24 to 48 hours
- Reaction at the site of the tick bite can last days, even weeks
The most common signs of tickborne diseases, according to the CDC, include:
- A rash, especially a circular one that can indicate Lyme disease
- Fever and/or chills
- Aches and pains, particularly in the joints
Check with your doctor right away if you know you've been bitten by a tick and have any of these symptoms.