Ticks are tiny pests that cause big problems. If you find ticks on you, your loved ones, or your dogs after spending time in your yard, it’s important to take steps to evict them from your property.
Identifying a tick problem isn’t easy. The primary thing you’re looking for is the insects themselves, so you’ll need to get acquainted with what they look like and their habits.
What does a tick look like?
Ticks are wingless and have a flat, oval-shaped body. Nymphs and adults have eight legs and can be a grayish-white, brown, black, orange-brown, or yellowish color. There are various species in the United States including the deer tick, brown dog tick, American dog tick, and Lone Star tick. They live in different parts of the county and carry different diseases.
How big are ticks?
- Larvae are the size of a grain of sand
- Nymphs are about the size of a poppy seed
- Adults are the size of an apple seed (bigger if they’re fed)
Checking for ticks
Check for ticks on yourself by wearing long-sleeved, light-colored clothing for yard work or when spending time outside, especially around the perimeter of your property. Look for ticks on your clothing. This is best done in a bathtub where you can spot any ticks that fall off the fabric. Make sure to tuck your pant legs into socks to protect your legs.
Check your pet for ticks by running your fingers through their coat against the direction it normally lays. Stop if you feel any small bumps or see a black spec in their skin.
Areas where ticks commonly attach to pets:
- Head and ears
- Under the collar
Areas where ticks commonly attach to people:
- Behind ears
What do you do if you find a tick on you or your pet?
If you find a tick, get a container ready to put the tick in. Ticks can get out of even tightly closed containers, so make it escape-proof by wrapping plastic wrap around the lid’s edges. You’ll want to keep it for testing if you or your animal shows signs of tick-borne illnesses like Lyme disease.
- Grab a pair of fine-tipped tweezers.
- Get as close to the skin as possible and grasp the tick with firm pressure, then slowly pull it away from the skin with steady pressure.
- Check to make sure you completely removed the entire tick, then put it in the container.
- Clean the area with an antiseptic like rubbing alcohol.
Monitor the site for signs of rash or infection. If you see either of these, call your vet or doctor.
What attracts ticks to your yard in the first place?
Ticks are shy — they like their privacy. They prefer to hang out in places with plenty of coverage, shade, and moisture.
You might think ticks live in trees because they’re often found in your hair, but they don’t travel more than a few feet in the air. Because they dry out easily, they stay close to the ground where there is more moisture. Once they’ve latched onto your leg, they make their way up your body.
Here are some places ticks like to live in your yard:
- Tall grass
- Ground cover
- Fallen leaves
- Under outdoor furniture
Ways to treat your yard for ticks
We’ll explain several options you can take to treat your yard for ticks, including broad-spectrum insecticides, tick tubes, and Insect Growth Regulators. For treatment to work, first, you need to take steps to prevent new ticks from entering your space by creating a tick-free border around your property and treating your pets.
1. Create a tick-free border around your yard
Building a moat around your property might not be in the budget, but there are other ways to implement tick border control for your home.
Approximately 80% of ticks stick to the outer 9 feet of a lawn. If you already have a tick problem, it’s still important to ensure new adult ticks aren’t making their way into your yard. Otherwise, all your hard work can be undone.
Ticks don’t travel far across exposed surfaces. Hedges, shrubs, and ornamental grasses at the edge of your backyard provide the perfect opportunity for ticks to latch onto you when you get home. Instead of brush, line your lawn with a 3-foot wide section of gravel, mulch, or well-trimmed turfgrass. Hardscaping elements like brick or stone pavers also discourage ticks from getting in your space.
Once you’ve created a solid border, the only way ticks will enter your property is by latching onto a host like you or your pets. Move any furniture, dog runs, and play areas into the center of your yard and away from shade. That way, you’ll be less likely to pick up ticks while enjoying your outdoor living space.
2. Treat your pets
Our furry roommates aren’t so cute when they’re bringing dangerous insects into the house. Why is treating your pets a key component of treating your yard? A single tick can produce as many as 5,000 eggs. It’s important to eradicate all the ticks in your space so your tick treatments last.
Ask your vet about tick treatments first. A report from the Natural Resources Defense Council found that some over-the-counter products like tick collars contain organophosphate compounds that have toxic effects on animals and people. Some of them mix active ingredients, which also can harm you.
In addition to pet-safe pesticides, check your pet frequently by hand. If you walk your dog in wooded areas, you should check them daily. You don’t necessarily need a special tick comb, but it’s helpful if you want to keep your hands clean. A fine-toothed comb will do double duty as a flea finder too.
Nothing like the fragrance of a topical tick medication to wake you up in the morning, or the sound of your cat hissing as you try to apply it. They may be smelly, but they’re veterinarians’ preferred choice for a reason. Unlike oral medicines, topical treatments can kill ticks before they bite.
Pro Tip: Look for a product that’s a tick repellent as well as a tick killer.
✓ Easy and fast to administer
✓ Usually don’t need a prescription
✓ Also provides flea protection
✓ Doesn’t need ticks to bite before killing them
✓ Can repel ticks
✗ Have to remember to apply it monthly
✗ Some aren’t suitable for cats
Special shampoos are available that kill ticks on contact. They’re convenient if you know your pet has a tick and don’t want to remove it while it’s alive, but they don’t offer lasting protection.
✓ Doesn’t need ticks to bite before killing them
✓ Usually also kills fleas
✗ Only kills ticks that are on your pet at the time of application
✗ Doesn’t prevent ticks from landing on your pet
Tick collars are a popular choice for pet owners who don’t want to deal with remembering to administer a treatment. Some of them can last up to eight months. However, as mentioned above, some flea and tick collars contain chemicals that can be toxic to you and your pet.
✓ No prescription required
✓ Usually provides flea protection too
✗ Not safe for dogs who swim or have other dogs chewing on their collar
✗ Cost more than other treatments
✗ Some products can be harmful
Oral anti-tick medications are also available. Some pet owners prefer these to topical treatments because they may be easier to administer, but they only kill ticks once they bite (the mouthparts have to make contact with the pet’s bloodstream). It’s not guaranteed that oral tick products will kill all ticks soon enough to prevent disease.
✓ Easy to administer for squirmy pets
✓ Some work as long as three months
✗ Requires ticks to bite before it can kill them, putting your pet at risk for tick-borne illnesses
✗ You have to remember to administer them regularly
✗ Requires a prescription
3. Treat your yard
So you’ve made a tick-free border, treated your pets, and now you’re ready to kill the existing ticks in your yard. You have a few options: A broad-spectrum insecticide spray like permethrin or bifenthrin, tick tubes, neem oil, and botanical insecticides.
Remember, don’t apply pesticides near streams or other bodies of water. They can kill aquatic life and pollute the water.
Broad-spectrum insecticides kill a number of different insects including ticks, mosquitoes, and fleas, among others. They’re the quickest way to get rid of pests, but the harsh chemicals can also harm beneficial insects like bees and can be toxic to cats.
The two main tick sprays used for residential tick control are permethrin and bifenthrin (also known as Talstar). Both are types of pyrethroid, which is a synthetic version of chrysanthemum flower extract that kills ticks on contact. For your yard, you’ll want to purchase liquid concentrate or a premixed solution that will be sprayed by a garden hose sprayer or pump sprayer.
Choosing permethrin or bifenthrin: Both will get the job done and function similarly. Permethrin has stronger “knock-down” power, meaning it kills more ticks at the time of application. Bifenthrin is more effective in the long term. It’s usually a little more expensive than permethrin.
How do permethrin and bifenthrin work? They kill insects by attacking their nervous system.
✓ Also kills fleas and mosquitoes
✓ Safe for dogs and humans
✓ Guaranteed to cut down the tick population
✗ They also kill beneficial insects like bees
✗ Can pollute water
✗ Can be toxic to cats
How to use a broad-spectrum insecticide:
- To minimize the negative effects, only apply the insecticide to tick-prone environments instead of the entire yard (the outer 9 feet of your lawn and shady areas).
- Measure the square footage you’ll be spraying by multiplying the length by width of each section, then adding them together.
- For example, area A has a length of 3 feet and width of 2 feet. 3 x 2 is 6 square feet.
- Area B has a length of 6 feet and a width of 2 foot. 6 x 2 is 12 square feet.
- Area A (6 square feet) + Area B (12 square feet) is 18 square feet in total.
- Calculate how much product you need by multiplying the square footage you’ll be spraying by the amount of product recommended for 1,000 square feet, then dividing by 1,000.
- Let’s say you’re spraying 100 square feet, and that 8 ounces of product covers 1,000 square feet.
- 8 x 100 = 800
- 800 divided by 1,000 = 0.8 ounces
- If you’re using concentrate, follow the instructions to calculate how many gallons of water you’ll mix it with. For example, a popular concentrate is Permethrin SFR. Every 1.23 ounces of product should be mixed with 1 gallon of water. Multiply 1.23 by the number of ounces you need to get the number of gallons of water to use.
- If it’s less than 1 ounce, it’s easier to use a 1 gallon pump sprayer. You can get these online or from home and garden stores.
- If it’s more than 1 ounce, use a hose-end sprayer.
How to use a hose-end sprayer:
- Fill the reservoir with the proper amount of concentrate and water to the corresponding gallon mark. The gallon marks tell you how much water has been sprayed from your hose.
- Connect the nozzle to your hose, making sure it’s in the off position.
- Make sure your water is turned off and attach the reservoir to the nozzle.
- Turn on the water and spray the areas.
- Leaving the deflector on sprays the water downward. To get the undersides of leaves, turn the deflector up so the water fans upward.
- Continue spraying evenly until the water in the reservoir depletes.
Re-apply every three to four weeks for a couple of months. This will ensure all ticks are killed.
This handy-dandy, environmentally friendly product targets a common source of ticks: rodents. Instead of applying an insecticide across your yard that will kill beneficial insects, tick tubes only affect insects carried by mice, rats, and chipmunks.
How do they work? The wooden tube contains cotton balls soaked in permethrin. Rodents pick up the cotton balls for making nests, and the permethrin treats their fur like a topical treatment for pets.
How to use tick tubes:
- Put on rubber gloves.
- Spread out 12 tick tubes per every half-acre of property.
- Place them in areas frequented by rodents: under bushes, under decks, along walls, and along your house’s foundation.
✓ Highly effective
✓ Won’t harm beneficial insects in your yard
✓ Safe for people and pets
✗ Not safe for cats
Cost: $45-$100 per half-acre of land. We don’t recommend DIYing this — you won’t save a significant amount of money and it’s easy for homemade tick tubes to be dangerous or ineffective. Not to mention, you might be breaking the law.
Insect Growth Regulators
Insect Growth Regulators (IGRs) include anything that disrupts an insect’s life cycle. Some prevent insects from growing new exoskeletons, others prevent pupa from becoming adult insects, and a few stop insects from laying eggs.
There are many different types of IGRs. Because not all of them kill adult ticks, they’re best used in conjunction with a broad-spectrum insecticide. If you use an IGR that prevents reproduction, it’ll take months to get the population under control.
Note on neem oil: Neem oil is a great option for an IGR. It’s a gardener’s best friend. It’s made from the naturally occurring oil derived from the neem tree. One of its ingredients, azadirachtin, makes it harder for insects to grow and lay eggs.
How do IGRs work? IGRs are like birth control for ticks. They mimic an insect’s hormones and prevent them from moving into the next life stage or from reproducing.
How to use IGRs: Different IGR products will require different application processes. For some, you’ll follow the guidelines for applying a broad-spectrum insecticide. Others come with their own sprayers.
In any case, identify the areas where you’ll focus your application: shady, moist spaces around your yard’s perimeter. For neem spray, apply it at dusk or dawn (it degrades in direct sunlight).
✓ Safe for animals and humans
✓ Less harmful to the environment than broad-spectrum insecticides
✗ Weak knockdown power. You won’t see a change in population for at least a couple of weeks.
Cost: Neem spray costs $10-$30. Other IGRs for tick regulation cost between $25 and $60.
Preventing ticks from coming back
You definitely don’t want ticks making an encore. After you’ve controlled your tick infestation, make a few changes to your lawn care rotation to prevent ticks from ever coming back.
- Keep your lawn trim.
- Don’t overwater. Adjust your watering schedule to the seasons, rainfall, and your soil type.
- Clear debris like leaves, twigs, and grass clippings.
- Dethatch your lawn annually.
- Defend your home against rodents by sealing up holes and trash bins.
- Discourage deer (which can carry ticks) with strong-smelling herb plants.