We’ve lived in our house for over four years now, and we’ve always raked the leaves off the lawn but this is the first year I’ve raked all the leaves out of the yard – including those under the trees and bushes.
I raked up all the “leaf litter” in an effort to control ticks in our 1/3 acre yard, and truth be told, it makes me kind of sad.
I keep the front yard neat and clean, but the back yard has been left very natural and carefree. I loved the way the fallen leaves looked, and knew they kept the ground cool for the plants, gave birds places to uproot insects, and as the leaves decomposed, put nutrients back to the ground.
When I was a camp counselor at a 4H camp in the Adironadacks I taught a class to the kids where we’d dig into the layers of leaf or pine needle litter to see the way everything decomposed into soil, and what insects we’d find there. (Lots of worms and centipedes, I remember, never any ticks!)
But if you look at the life cycle of the tick, you can see where removing all the leaf litter in your yard can reduce their numbers (info courtesy of http://www.health.ny.gov/publications/2825/):
Deer Tick Life Cycle
The deer tick passes through four life stages (egg, larva, nymph, adult), over a two year period
Egg to Larvae
Eggs are fertilized in the fall and deposited in leaf litter the following spring. They emerge as larvae in late summer of that year, seeking their first blood meal. The tiny larva crawls around the forest floor and onto low-lying vegetation looking for an appropriate host. Their first host is generally a mouse or other medium-sized mammal or bird. Once attached, the larvae embed their mouth parts and feed for several days. If the host is infected with a disease such as Lyme, the tick may be infected during this feeding. The larvae then drop off their host into the leaf litter where they molt into the next stage, the nymph, remaining dormant until the following spring.
Larvae to Nymph
During the spring and early summer of the next year the nymphs end their dormancy and begin to seek a host. Nymphs are commonly found on the forest floor in leaf litter and on low lying vegetation. Their host primarily consists of mice and other rodents, deer, birds and unfortunately humans. Most cases of Lyme disease are reported from May through August, which corresponds to the peak activity period for nymphs. This suggests that the majority of Lyme disease cases are transmitted by nymphal deer ticks. After feeding for several days the nymph ticks drop off to the forest floor.
Nymph to Adult
Over the next few months the nymph molts into the larger adult tick, which emerges in fall, with a peak in October through November. Both male and female adults find and feed on a host, then the females lay eggs sometime after feeding.
Adult ticks wait for host animals from the tips of grasses and shrubs approximately one meter above the ground. When an animal or person brushes by the vegetation, they quickly let go and climb onto the host. Adult ticks feed on their host for five to seven days. The female will become engorged with blood, providing nourishment for her developing eggs. After feeding and mating, the female tick drops into the leaf litter where she lays thousands of eggs. She will become dormant as the temperature drops below 40° F.
If you have ever seen a nymph tick, you know how poppy-seed tiny they are. (I took one off from behind my daughter Rosie’s ear!) The state of New York provides some guidelines on preventing Lyme disease and ticks in the yard on their web site http://www.health.ny.gov/publications/2825/:
Creating a Tick-Free Zone Around Your Home
While deer ticks are most abundant in wooded areas, they are also commonly found in our lawns and shrubs. There are a number of measures homeowners can take to reduce the possibility of being bitten by a tick on their property.
Ticks and their primary hosts – mice, chipmunks and other small mammals – need moisture, a place away from direct sunlight and a place to hide. The cleaner you keep the area around the house, the less likely your chances of being bitten by a tick.
Although it may not be possible to create a totally tick-free zone, taking the following precautions will greatly reduce the tick population in your yard.
- Keep grass mowed. Remove leaf litter, brush and weeds at the edge of the lawn.
- Restrict the use of groundcover, such as pachysandra in areas frequented by family and roaming pets.
- Remove brush and leaves around stonewalls and wood piles.
- Discourage rodent activity. Clean up and seal stonewalls and small openings around the home.
- Move firewood piles and bird feeders away from the house.
- Manage pet activity; keep dogs and cats out of the woods to reduce ticks brought into the home.
- Use plantings that do not attract deer (contact your local Cooperative Extension or garden center for suggestions) or exclude deer through various types of fencing.
- Move children’s swing sets and sand boxes away from the woodland edge and place them on a wood chip or mulch type foundation.
- Trim tree branches and shrubs around the lawn edge to let in more sunlight.
- Adopt dryer or less water-demanding landscaping techniques with gravel pathways and mulches. Create a 3-foot or wider wood chip, mulch, or gravel border between lawn and woods or stonewalls. Consider areas with decking, tile, gravel and border or container plantings in areas by the house or frequently traveled.
- Widen woodland trails.
- If you consider a pesticide application as a targeted treatment, do not use any pesticide near streams or any body of water, as it may kill aquatic life or pollute the water itself.
On that last note, our yard borders a creek, so I’m adverse against using pesticides – for the health of my family and the quality of the water in the creek that flows to the Hudson River.
The New York State publication Be Tick Free: A Guide For Preventing Lyme Disease, has a drawing of a home landscape.
Have you come across any advice for landscaping your yard to prevent ticks and Lyme disease?