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Keep Your Garden Free of Ticks, Fleas, and Mosquitoes

With summer approaching and the start of summer break for many schoolchildren, families will be spending much more time in the yard playing games, cooking out, having a dip in the pool, and working on the garden.  While this increased activity outdoors is great for keeping in shape and getting much-needed fresh air and sunshine, it can put you and your family at risk of being chewed by all kinds of unwanted garden residents.  Here in Maryland, we could talk for days about how brutal the tiger mosquito can be—spending even a few minutes outside can result in an impressive (and infuriating) amount of red itchy welts. 

Unfortunately, mosquitoes aren’t the only thing you have to worry about.  Many tick bites occur in residential properties and gardens, and those with pets that have picked up fleas can tell you some serious horror stories.  Aside from being annoying, bites from these creatures can put the health of you and your pets at risk.  Lyme’s disease, heartworms, West Nile virus, cat scratch fever,  rocky mountain spotted fever, encephalitis—these are just a few of the illnesses known to be carried by fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes. 

Don’t let this scare you out of the garden, though.  There are tons of commercial products available to spray for these frustrating bugs, and pets may be treated and protected with a variety of medications and repellents.  There is also a way to use your landscape itself to discourage pests from calling your yard home.  Just like deer-resistant gardening, there is such a thing as tick, flea, and mosquito-resistant gardening, and while there isn’t much of an explanation as to why some of these plants repel them, they do seem to be effective.  Several of these plants are very easy growers, and might already be featured in your garden.  In addition to these plant deterrents, there are ways to design the garden space to make it less attractive to ticks, fleas, and mosquitoes.  Here are our tips for keeping you, your family, and your pets safe in your yard this year:

Plant These!

We may not really understand why these plants are so effective at deterring ticks, fleas, and mosquitoes, but when these monsters are making your beautiful deck or patio unlivable, it really doesn’t matter.  Below is a short list of plants known to make these garden pests give a wide berth.  Be aware that some of them might be toxic if ingested by people or animals, so please do some research before planting to ensure the safety of your family:

  • Garlic (rub or smash garlic bulbs around high traffic areas)
  • Lemongrass
  • Lavender (can also be used to deter pests in the home in sachets or in pillows)
  • Mint (most species, including peppermint, chocolate mint, and apple mint, thought to repel; use dried in the home to repel indoors)
  • Catnip (found to be an incredibly powerful repellent)
  • Rose geranium (can be toxic to pets)
  • Citronella grass/citronella geranium
  • Chrysanthemum (can be toxic to pets)
  • Rosemary
  • Beebalm
  • Lemon thyme
  • Marigold

Place these plants close to areas where your family congregates, such as a patio, deck, or porch.  Work them into pre-existing beds between flowers, shrubs, trees, and especially around groundcovers and grasses that provide shelter and shade for ticks.  Work with windy areas on your property to ensure that the breeze is directing the scent of repellent plants to high traffic areas.  Pay particular attention to planting pest repellent plants in cool shady areas where pests are more comfortable.  Planting in containers will allow you to place plants near entryways to the home, on decks and patios close to people, and will allow you to transfer plants around as you notice problem areas change.    

Don’t Hate the Parasite—Hate the Host

Well, you can hate the parasite, too—we certainly do—but, the point is that your pest-resistant landscape will only prove effective if it is host-resistant, also.  It is no coincidence that tick and flea populations are abundant where there are lots of deer and small rodents.  Deer, mice, rats, opposums, rabbits, and raccoons are all fantastic candidates for tick and flea carriers, and when you make your yard unattractive to them, you cut down the risk of associated parasites dramatically.

Consider including as part of your tick/flea/mosquito resistant garden deer resistant plants.  A lot has been written about plants that deer seem to avoid (though, it should be stated that no plant is truly deer-proof), so some simple research should provide you with a plethora of attractive, hardy, and fragrant options that you won’t be upset to include in your garden.  Actually, some of your pest-resistant plants can double as deer-resistant plants.  Lavender, catnip, bee balm, and mint are all said to be unpalatable to deer.  

The only sure-fire way to keep deer and rodents out of your garden is to install a barrier.  If you see deer regularly or your property shows signs of regular deer browsing, we strongly suggest installing deer fencing to prevent deer from destroying your landscape and depositing ticks on your lawn. If you would like more information about deer fencing and control products, please visit our friends at DeerBusters.com.

Repellents for deer and small animals might be a good way of enhancing the effectiveness of your resistant plants and barriers.  Many repellents are organic and harmless to pets and people, and come in granular, spray, or sachet and clip forms. 

When it comes to keeping rodents off your yard, it is extremely important to limit or remove areas where they might be tempted to nest.  Large, open compost, wood, or brush piles are ideal nesting spots for opossums or raccoons—not to mention a beacon for mice and rats looking for food and shelter.  Don’t allow large piles of leaves, branches, or wood to sit in your yard.  If you have a compost pile, make sure that it is enclosed, turned frequently, and isn’t full of rotting meat or dairy that calls to pests.  Also, be certain that trash cans are protected, closed, and that food or garbage isn’t left exposed to attract rats or mice that could be carrying fleas.

Don’t Let Them Get Comfortable

Here are some final tips for making sure your yard is as uncomfortable as possible for parasites:

  • Mow your lawn!  Never allow your grass to grow tall—tromping through long and unruly grass is the best way to pick up wood and deer ticks.  The reason for this is ticks hate direct sun and heat.  Tall grasses and groundcovers give ticks a shady place to hang out and wait for a meal to come close.  Keeping grass sheared short takes away all the good cool spots and beats ticks back into the shade.  Mulching will also keep weeds from growing tall where you don’t mow.
  • Don’t allow water to stand in your yard.  Puddles, open rain barrels, and water collected in watering cans and buckets after storms can become  a mosquito nursery in an instant.  Be vigilant after rains, and drain any water that collects around the garden.  Empty watering cans when not in use, and keep rain barrels covered.  Replace the water in bird baths and pet bowls regularly.  If you have a garden pond or water feature, make sure that the water is always circulating.
  • Keep play and living areas relegated to sunny areas of your landscape to protect family and guests.  If you have a play set or play equipment on your property, it may be a good idea to mulch the entire area and eliminate grass altogether.  Placing a mulch or gravel perimeter around patios or decks can help to keep ticks and fleas farther away from people.