Spraying our yard for ticks: yea or nay? And chemical or organic?
May 4, 2015 10:57 AM   Subscribe

We have a small back yard that backs up into some woods. I’ve seen deer in the neighborhood (not in our yard though), and there are definitely mice, bunnies, chipmunks, squirrels, and neighborhood cats and dogs that can be seen roaming our property. We’re thinking of getting the back sprayed for ticks, esp. for the sake of our one year old. Is that overkill? And if we spray, do organics work, or do we need to go chemical?

We have a smallish back yard, with woods and public land behind us. Ticks are around; we haven’t seen any on our property (or on ourselves), but we haven’t spent as much time outside as we expect to this coming summer. We don’t have any animals in our home, but there are lots of wild and domestic animals that seem to pass through our yard (no fences), and we actively garden and loll about in the greenery.

We’ve gotten quotes from two landscapers so far:

One will do a course of organic treatments for $400, for five treatments through the summer. The formulation, with cedar oil and some other things (clove, maybe?) is said to help with mosquitos, as well.

Another will do two applications of a chemical treatment for $520. This is not expected to help with mosquitos. These guys are always expensive, but are generally very professional.

Are tick treatments worthwhile? And, if so (and assuming proper application by competent people), is 5x organic the way to go, or 2x chemical? With a little one around, of course, my inclination is organic, if it will work—but I’d take chemical if that’s necessary to ensure she’s not going to be bitten by a tick.
posted by Admiral Haddock to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
CDC says yes, but also suggests removing potential tick habitat.

While you may be able to prevent deer from entering your yard by constructing a fence, mice and other rodents won't be deterred. Which is where preventative landscaping comes in.

Lyme disease is a major concern where I live, so I tend to think about these things a lot.
posted by Nevin at 11:01 AM on May 4, 2015

There are a lot of things that you can do to keep ticks away. Here is a link to Mass.gov site that lets you know how landscaping can help.
posted by beccaj at 11:27 AM on May 4, 2015

You might want to wait a year or two before spraying anything. A one year old isn't going to venture far from you. I would think that he would be more at risk from an enthusiastic pest control guy than a tick right now. Once he hits 3, he will wander more and by then you will know how bad your tick problem really is so that you can weigh in which is the bigger risk- chemical exposure or lyme disease. Even organic products can harm children.

I would do as much of it on my own as possible. Your number one priority will be keeping your baby safe. A professional's number one priority will be killing the ticks so that he gets paid. If you do hire someone, get recommendations from area daycares.
posted by myselfasme at 11:31 AM on May 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

One other thing to consider: getting bitten by a tick isn't necessarily dangerous. Lyme disease is not a concern until the tick has been attached for 36-48 hours or more. Now think about if you ever go more than 24-36 hours without seeing every inch of your 1 year old's body. Plus, as myselfasme pointed out, a 1 year old doesn't do much wandering around. Ticks are generally of concern in tall grass etc. Also most of the ticks you see are dog ticks - deer ticks are the ones that transmit Lyme. Yes, in our area of the country there are other tick borne illnesses aside from Lyme but they are much less common. Basically it just shouldn't be that hard to avoid ticks if you're being mindful about it and aren't bushwhacking around the property/fields.

I personally (speaking as someone with a 2 year old and 4 month old) would not want the chemicals in the yard and would take precautions with the baby (tick checks at night during bath time, lightweight covering clothing, etc) and use some of the landscaping ideas from the CDC for prevention rather than using the pesticide.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 12:29 PM on May 4, 2015 [6 favorites]

Also for babies, I think if you're generally baby wearing or have the baby in a stroller, or when they are on the ground having them hang out on a blanket, that will keep them away from bugs. You can even get an elasticized mosquito netting to go over the stroller/car seat for evenings. One other idea is that they sell those tents for the backyard with netting for sides which could make hanging out in the backyard in the summertime a lot less buggy generally as well.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 12:33 PM on May 4, 2015

I personally wouldn't bother because I'd be more concerned about the affect that those kinds of chemicals can have, not just in terms of toxicity but also in terms of ticks becoming resistant.

There are lots of other ways that you can be careful about ticks. eg. Wearing light coloured clothing which will help you see any ticks on you more easily, checking yourself and your family members for ticks when you come inside, removing any ticks with a device made specifically for removing ticks, keeping an eye out for any suspicious looking marks (like the bulls eye commonly associated with tick bites).
posted by kinddieserzeit at 12:37 PM on May 4, 2015

My brother's family lives in a place with a ton of ticks. Although they don't have Lyme in their area, they do have Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and STARI. They tried some "organic" spray at some point and were unimpressed. To reduce ticks in the yard, they have chickens (!) and they sprinkle diatomaceous earth around. They also are all outfitted generally in clothing that's been treated with permethrin, which is a very safe insect repellent treatment for clothing. You can buy these clothes under brand names like (links to kids clothes on Sierra Trading Post, but this stuff is also sold by REI, Great Outdoor Provision Company, Eastern Mountain Sports, etc) Insect Shield, Bug Shield, Buzz Off, and BugsAway (the latter seems to be for adults only).
posted by hydropsyche at 12:48 PM on May 4, 2015

Ticks are around; we haven’t seen any on our property (or on ourselves), but we haven’t spent as much time outside as we expect to this coming summer.

Overkill. Wait until you find out you can't walk into your yard or the woods without getting ticks all over you. And once you realize you've got a bad problem, a good, natural, not-harmful-to-Seaman-Haddock treatment (have used it several times) is: go to a feed store and get a big bag of sulfur (think this, but a bigger bag). Buy a cheap spreader like you'd use for fertilizer, buy or make a sifter, or, if you want, just spread it liberally with your hands. Spread the sulfur all over the yard or closest to the house or wherever Seaman Haddock (or any outdoor pets--those are your flea and tick bait!) is likely to go.
posted by resurrexit at 1:41 PM on May 4, 2015

One thing I have seen folks do is soak cotton balls in permethrin, stick them in toilet issue rolls, and scatter them around the backyard. The idea is that the mice, etc. will take the cotton back to their nests where the permethrin will kill the ticks.

You can also buy commercially premade tubes online.
posted by apparently at 2:10 PM on May 4, 2015

I started getting tick treatments after I found three ticks on my toddler two days in a row after he played outside in the grass.

The exterminator will not spray your whole yard, only the perimeter and brush where ticks tend to congregate. You may want to avoid letting your child crawl around in those areas.

Chickens eat ticks! Food for thought if you would consider some egg-laying pets.
posted by amro at 4:23 PM on May 4, 2015

2nding Damminix. It has been around for about 30 years and is used by a lot of AG depts. The problem with deer ticks is they don't jump from deer to people they get carried around by mice...
posted by Gungho at 6:44 AM on May 5, 2015

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