Could you get sick from a tick while gardening in Western New York?

blacklegged ticks, adults and nymphs
Blacklegged ticks (Ixodes scapularis), also called deer ticks, are tiny. Here they’re compared to the head of a straight pin. Adults are on the top and nymphs are at the bottom. Photo courtesy Jim Occi, BugPics, Bugwood.org

by Connie Oswald Stofko

“Compared to 10 years ago, calls and questions about ticks have more than doubled,” said John Farfaglia, extension educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Niagara County.

The geographic range of ticks has been increasing, he said, and ticks can transmit Lyme disease as well as other diseases.

Are you at risk in your garden?

Your garden probably isn’t a high-risk place, but the areas near your garden might be.

If your yard has well tended beds and mowed lawns, your risk is low, Farfaglia said.

But if your yard is at the edge of woods with thick brush and undergrowth, your risk is much greater. When you’re in those risky areas, you may want to take precautions such as wearing long sleeves, long pants and tucking your pants into your socks. You can also use repellent.

And if you hike or walk your dog through woodsy areas, your risk is high and you should also wear protective clothing and use repellent.

What puts an area at high risk for ticks

Tick Encounter Resource Center has a great interactive graphic that shows what increases the risk of ticks in your yard.

One of the factors is leaf litter. Since I have a narrow path between my house and my neighbor’s fence that I covered with leaves, I was afraid I was creating a habitat for ticks.

In the fairly urban area where I live, where there are no woods around, that’s probably not a problem, Farfaglia said. But if you don’t want to take any chances, avoid leaf litter and keep surfaces free of debris.

Other factors to consider and what you should do about them:

  • If you have overgrown shrubs, trim low-hanging branches.
  • Deer can carry ticks, so do your best to keep them out of your yard. (I know, easier said than done.) Farfaglia pointed out that it’s not just deer that carry ticks. Dogs can pick up ticks and bring them home, and ticks can make your dog sick, too. Any mammal can carry ticks– the white-footed mouse is one of the major animals that carry the ticks whose bite can cause Lyme disease.
  • If you have woodsy areas, perimeter sprays using tick-killing products like bifenthrin work well.

See the interactive graphic on protecting your yard from ticks for more factors and what you can do to minimize your risk from each one.

More information on ticks

Ticks are small and sometimes hard to notice– see the photo of black-legged ticks at the beginning of this article. People sometimes think they have mole or skin tag and don’t realize it’s a tick, Farfaglia said.

There is a lot of easy-to-understand information about ticks on many other sites, so there’s no need to reproduce it all here. You can find general information on ticks here on the Cornell site of New York State Integrated Pest Management, but note that one bit of information is outdated. It says that ticks need to feed on a person for hours in order to spread disease, but that’s not correct, according to this later blog post on the New York State IPM (Integrated Pest Management) Program. We don’t know exactly how long a tick does have to feed to spread disease, so the important thing is to get the tick off as soon as possible.

I also like the New York State Department of Health page on Lyme disease. The best video on how to remove a tick is on that page.

If you have a tick that you want identified, that can be done for a $5 fee at the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Niagara County. Contact the Cooperative Extension office in your county to see what services they offer.

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4 Comments on “Could you get sick from a tick while gardening in Western New York?

  1. Can a residential landscaper w/riding lawn mower transport ticks from one customer to another?

  2. From what I have read, I don’t think ticks would attach themselves to the lawnmower. Ticks are carried by mammals. In addition, the machine is just mowing the lawn, and that’s not where the ticks are. The ticks are in the woods and brush and leaf debris, the more wild places on the edges of your lawn. I don’t think it should be a problem, but if you want a more definitive answer, contact the Master Gardeners in your area. Please let me know if they give you a different answer! Thanks for the question.

  3. Rather than spraying an entire area and killing everything, I use tick tubes, which can be purchased, but I make my own by spraying cotton balls with permethrin, letting them dry, then stuffing them into short pieces of pvc pipe that I scatter where mice will travel in tick habitat. The mice are the first meal for the first stage of tickdom and the mice love the cotton balls (they always disappear) for nest material. The ticks die in the mouse nests. This won’t affect ticks that have already munched on mice and are ready for bigger things, but soon there won’t be any of those around as you killed them in the first stage of their worthless little lives.

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