I recently wrote about how gardeners freaked out about Lyme Disease are supposed to dress for gardening. It’s NOT a pretty picture and to prove that I’ll be posing for a shot of me in near-hazmat attire, ready to tackle a few gardening chores in my garden.

Today we explore the tick-prevention changes we’re told to make to our gardens, a subject that’s even more depressing.

How Ticks get on Gardeners

About 70 percent of people that contract Lyme disease catch it from ticks in their own yards. So how does it happen?

“Ticks do not jump, fly or drop from trees, but grasp passing hosts from the leaf litter, tips of grass, etc. Most ticks are probably picked up on the lower legs and then crawl up the body seeking a place to feed. Adult ticks will, however, seek a host (i.e., deer) in the shrub layer several feet above the ground.”

Of ticks that are in our lawns, most (82%) are located within 3 yards of the lawn perimeter, particularly along woodlands, stonewalls, or ornamental plantings. Tick abundance in manicured lawns is also influenced by the amount of canopy vegetation and shade. Groundcover vegetation can harbor ticks. Woodland paths also may have a high number of ticks, especially adults, along the adjacent grass and bushes. Source – Tick Encounter.”

Here’s what we’re told to do to make our gardens safer:

  • Reduce ticks on your property by pruning trees, clearing brush, removing litter, mowing grass short, and letting it dry thoroughly between waterings.
  • Create a three-foot wide barrier, three inches deep, between lawns and wooded areas using gravel, mulch, or wood chips.
  • Trim back vegetation along paths, trails, and yard edges
  • Avoid overwatering.
  • Use cedar mulch or gravel.
  • Use plants that are undesirable to deer. Apply deer repellents and/or deer fence.
  • Avoid fruit trees/clean up fallen fruits.
  • Move shrubs and overgrowth farther away from areas frequented by people.
  • To make your yard unattractive to host animals, eliminate bird feeders, bird baths and salt licks; erect fencing around the property; clear away woodpiles, garbage and leaf piles; remove stonewalls that provide homes to wildlife.
  • Have your property chemically treated.
  • Altering the landscape to increase sunlight and lower humidity may render an area less hospitable to ticks.
  • Prune plants so provide open space between the ground and base of the plant.
  • Restrict the use of groundcovers to less frequently used areas of the yard. Primary source.

Yet this illustration and a comment about it demonstrate that “ticksafe” zones are far from foolproof.

That may just be one anecdote but neighbors have tell me they get ticks just from walking on mowed grass, so I’m assuming there’s no safe height for turfgrass.

Can we Still Have a Wildlife-Friendly Yards?

I found one source addresses this obvious dilemma:

“Little information is available on how to integrate these two different objectives. Open lawns harbor fewer ticks and wildlife that carry potentially infected ticks. Fencing against deer will allow greater landscape flexibility. While data is limited, meadows appear to harbor few blacklegged ticks except along the edge with woodlands, dense vegetation and stonewall.”

Meadows are safer than what – shrubs? – but not as safe as open lawn, except around the edge. So if we could transport ourselves into the interior of a meadow somehow, we’d be safer than…. oh to hell with it! The take-away here is obviously that “Little information is available,” to which I’d add “but it’s obvious that wildlife gardening is the opposite of tick-safe gardening.”

About the suggestion that people spray “to protect your yard,” another source says:

“To treat your yard or other outdoor areas, a product called SEVIN can be applied. Sevin seems to have the least offensive chemical odor and is recommended for killing ticks. It can be applied to your dogs bedding area to help kill ticks that may gather there. Carefully follow the directions on the label. Sevin is usually less expensive than some of the other products on the market.”

Wait! Readers are concerned about the smell and the cost but not about what else Sevin kills besides ticks? What about those 500 “pests”?

More on spraying: “Consider removing shrubbery and flowers from the base of your house or treat those areas with Sevin to prevent ticks from being in close contact with your home. Removing shrubs will also discourage animals from nesting or bedding there.”

Sure, while I’m removing most of the damn plants in my yard, why not all the foundation plants, too?

And oh, this makes me crazy: “Consider making your pets either inside pets only, or outside pets only.” Coz it’s easy enough to do that, right?

What’s it Safe to do in the Garden?

I still haven’t found an answer to this question about everyday gardening: What, if anything, can I do in the garden without gearing up in protective clothing? Having found no answer to that question, here’s my plan: Just water. Touch no plants.

Which makes this gardener just so sad.

Sources:  State of CT,   LymeDisease.org  and TickEncounter.org.