Prevent tick-borne diseases while enjoying outdoors

Ticks, including the black legged tick, often gain access through pant legs or shirttails and crawl up looking for a place to settle in and feed. (Photo credit: Scott Bauer, USDA ARS, Bugwood.org)

MUKWONAGO, WI — The water bottle is filled, sunscreen and hat are on for a hike in the park or some gardening. Next, add a bit of tick protection to the must-have items when heading out the door for an adventure, to garden or play.

Continue enjoying the outdoors by enlisting a variety of strategies to limit the risk of exposure to ticks and the disease pathogens they transmit. Here are just a few of the ways to increase personal safety and enjoyment.

Wear light colored clothing to more easily spot the tick before it moves onto skin. Wear long pants and tuck them into socks and tuck your shirt into your pants. Ticks often gain access through pant legs or shirttails and crawl up looking for a place to settle in and feed.

Consider spraying clothing with an insecticide labeled for repelling and killing ticks. Spray the clothing and let it dry before wearing. Or invest in pre-treated clothing for gardening, hiking or other outdoor activities. Read and follow label directions carefully.

Always conduct a tick check on yourself, children and pets after spending time outdoors. Studies show that regular tick checks are the most effective way to prevent diseases transmitted by ticks.

Ticks can feed anywhere but are often found in and around the ears and hair, inside the bellybutton, under the arms, around the waist, back of the knees and between the legs.

Check all clothing inside and out. Ticks can survive for several days in the house and even when washed in warm or hot water. An hour in the dryer on high heat will kill them.

Shower within two hours after spending time outdoors. The water can help dislodge any unattached ticks plus this provides a second opportunity to conduct a tick check. Studies found this practice greatly reduces the risk of tick-borne diseases.

Manage the home landscape to reduce the tick population. Keep the grass mowed and remove brush, groundcovers, firewood piles and birdfeeders near the home or where the family frequents.

Keep swing sets away from the woods and placed on woodchip mulch. Eliminate invasive barberry, honeysuckle and buckthorn that create a tick-friendly habitat.

Many people are doing the opposite. They are eliminating lawns, increasing groundcover, planting more trees, shrubs and flowers to create more diverse wildlife-friendly habitats.

There is limited evidence that increasing animal diversity may help reduce the rate of tick associated diseases. Unfortunately, the fragmented woodlands and ecosystems do favor deer and white-footed mice that are key to the maintenance and transmission of tick-borne diseases.

Consider creating a tick safe zone area that the family can frequent and limit personal time in tick infested areas. Widen pathways, prune trees to increase light, exclude deer and discourage rodents to reduce the risk of exposure.

If additional control is needed to create a tick safe zone, consider using a pesticide like Summit Tick and Flea Spray that contains permethrin. Users will only need small amounts at the right time of the year for effective control.

One application in spring or fall is usually sufficient for managing the ticks that can transmit Lyme disease. For the dog tick, also known as wood ticks, an application can be made any time after the adults emerge. As always read and follow label directions.

Make these practices part of the normal routine so the whole family can continue to safely enjoy all their favorite outdoor activities.

About Myers

Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the nationally-syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV and radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds and Blooms magazine and was commissioned by Summit for her expertise to write this article.

For more information, visit www.melindamyers.com.