Organic Tick Control
Throughout New England there is a prevalence of two types of ticks that are primary vectors of disease, the deer tick, Ixodes scapularis, (Lyme Disease, human babesiosis, and human anaplasmosis) and the American dog tick, Dermacentor variabilis, (Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever). When asked to “do tick control” or “spray for ticks,” the goal is to limit your exposure to tick-borne diseases. How can this be done organically? Let’s take a look.
By far the most important aspect of tick-borne disease control is awareness along with prevention, thorough tick checks, and removing ticks properly. Our favorite resource for this type of information is the University of Rhode Island TickEncounter Resource Center.
Creating tick-safe landscapes
Alone, changes to the landscape may not be as effective a control when compared to some chemical applications, but very effective when used in combination with other measures. Additionally, complete landscape redesigns can be expensive so a decision must be made as to how much will be spent on creating a tick-safe landscape.
Tick populations are directly related to how much habitat there is for the ticks and their hosts (mice, chipmunks, birds, deer, etc.). The more habitat there is, the more ticks there will be, and the more exposure we have to them. Fortunately we know quite a bit about ticks and their habitats. Take for instance that most ticks in lawns are found within the first nine feet of the lawn’s perimeter, and more frequently near stonewalls, woods, beds and borders. We also know ticks favor humid and shady conditions like those found under trees, shrubs, groundcovers, or leaf litter. Here are just a few things that can be done to minimize tick exposure in the landscape:
- Prune trees and shrubs for better airflow and sun exposure
- Mow lawns according to grass type and use
- Move swing sets away from the woods and lawn perimeter
- Mulch play areas with playground mulch
- Create a transition area from woods to lawn with a four foot wide wood chip or mulch border (but no plantings)
- Remove fallen leaves from the lawn, lawn perimeter, walkways, near basements or other stone structures and recycle them
- Repair stonewalls, foundations and walkways
- Install deer fencing (most effective) or other deterrents
- Grow deer resistant plants (success with “deer resistant” plants is variable due to deer populations and food availability in the area—if a deer is hungry it will eat just about anything).
The intent here is to keep ticks and their hosts out of the areas that are most frequently used—your outdoor living spaces.
Sprays and other controls
Products applied, organic or otherwise, are used to repel (deter ticks from the treated area) or kill them (acaricides). At present, there are not many organic options available and they generally don’t last long in the environment. This means more applications, and according to some research these additional applications have proven to be ineffective against later stage ticks (adults).
All of the natural and organic products we have had access to use ingredients found on the EPA’s list of approved 25(b) active ingredients and are referred to as “minimum risk pesticides”. Regrettably, the majority have not yet been tested by independent laboratories or in actual field studies (in other words, we don’t actually know if they work) as deterrents or acaricides. The good news is that there are some options making their way through the process of testing and registration, and will be available to the public in the near future.
A biological control that uses an entomopathogenic fungus called Metarhizium anisopliae has been tested and found to be effective. It is scheduled to be released in 2014 under the trade name of Tick-Ex. Research was also started on nootkatone, a component of the essential oil of Alaska Yellow Cedar and grapefruit that is both an effective repellant and acaricide. Unfortunately, funding has run out on the most comprehensive research to date. Fortunately, what has been completed has been accepted for publication and will hopefully spur more interest and funding.
What can we do for you?
The best way to limit exposure to tick-borne diseases is preparedness, the creation of tick-safe landscapes, and appropriate application of controls. Still have questions about organic tick control? Leave a comment or contact us to schedule a consultation.