Backyard Tick Prevention: Be Proactive in Controlling Local Tick Populations
Jul 01, 2015 02:48PM
● By Natasha Michaels
Increased awareness about ticks and the diseases they carry has led to heightened interest in preventive measures people can take for their own property. In Fairfield and Litchfield counties, where densely wooded areas frequently abut landscaped lawns and backyards, this is of paramount importance. “If we all did a little bit to help prevent ticks from proliferating, things would be a whole lot better for everyone,” says DJ Reich, co-owner of Mosquito Squad, based in Norwalk.
It is a common misconception that ticks prefer deer as their favored hosts are actually the mice, chipmunks and other rodents inhabiting the forests and suburban and even urban yards. Stacy Skoldberg, co-founder of Milford’s GreenSprays, says mice are the number one carrier of ticks and this year both the rodents and their parasites seem to be reproducing at a higher rate than usual. Ticks are born on the forest floor, where a rodent typically becomes their first blood meal. When they complete that first meal and fall off, they are ready for their next victim; they usually prefer children or other animals over adults.
“The key to successful tick prevention is being proactive rather than reactive,” Reich says. “Eliminate big leaf piles, brush and wood piles that may have accumulated,” he says. “Those are the rodent gathering and nesting places, which is where the ticks will then be.” Ticks are not commonly found in most green grassy lawns, but rather in the brush and leaf piles and stacks of loose wood around the perimeter.
Spraying pesticides in the yard has long been an option for homeowners worried about ticks infesting their yards. Of growing concern, however, are the environmental and health impacts of conventional chemical yard-spraying techniques. A number of providers in the area now offer more natural, effective alternatives, including one certified organic option. There is a difference in the offerings, as in other industries where the words natural and organic have been co-opted to mean different things.
“The pesticide world as a whole is where the food industry was five years ago; there is a gap where marketers of toxic synthetics are allowed to use the word ‘natural-based’ or ‘organic-based’. It is greenwashing the product and misleading to consumers because 1,000 gallons of toxic product with 5 ml of an organic oil in it is allowed to be called ‘organic-based; clearly it is not. That said, if buying organic is financially out of reach, spraying a toxic product in my opinion is better than not protecting your property at all,” explains Skoldberg.
GreenSprays was launched in 2012 as the first certified organic mosquito and tick prevention company in the area. To become certified organic took three years of testing and a significant financial investment; for discerning homeowners there is a true distinction between other companies offering “organic” or natural options and GreenSprays’ certified organic offering. GreenSprays uses organic cedarwood oil as the main ingredient for tick-spraying and all treatment applications are made in Connecticut, sourced from certified organic tree growers.
Skoldberg says the number of applications required depends on the size and type of property but that, in general, “you don’t get better results by treating with more product, regardless of whether it is toxic or organic in origin.” She says consumers should ask about the type of sprayer being used, because companies employing backpack sprayers instead of commercial grade hoses may not achieve the right type of coating needed.
Synthetic-controlled pesticides have been the industry standard for years, says Mark Delfino of Bridgeport-based Greenskeeper Lawn Care. The company still offers that service and it remains the bulk of their business but increasingly his customers – especially women – are asking for a more natural alternative. “When people call trying to decide what application they want, I ask them three things: do you have pets, do you have children, and are you concerned about the environmental aspects of your application? If the answers are yes to any two of those questions, I steer them toward the natural alternative,” says Delfino.
Greenskeeper offers a 100 percent pure garlic oil application, which is diluted to a strength of 2.5 gallons of oil in 200 gallons of water at the time it is sprayed. “Garlic repels ticks but doesn’t actually kill them,” Delfino says. One challenge with the garlic oil is that it breaks down more quickly than the synthetic, requiring more applications, especially after a heavy rain. It also makes the yard smell like the inside of an Italian restaurant for a few days after application, Delfino jokes.
Mosquito Squad initially used garlic oil when they began offering a more natural tick prevention application a few years ago but has now switched to exclusively using cedarwood oil for their non-synthetic applications. Reich says demand for the more natural tick spraying has grown significantly to about 20 percent of his business and the efficacy rate is comparable to the synthetic applications. The company has a re-treatment policy which entitles customers to additional applications at no cost if their contracted yard applications are not effective the first time. Their respray rate, based on actual efficacy data, is about 2 percent – which is less than the industry average.
GreenSprays and Mosquito Squad also offer options for treating rodents for their tick infestations. In both “tick tube” products, the insecticide used is permethrin, a “mild pesticide” derived from chrysanthemum oil. These products include cotton soaked in the chemical and left inside a tube, which is placed in strategic areas in the yard. Mice will find them and use the cotton to build their nests. Their use of the cotton and lying in the cotton treats the rodents with the pesticide – much the same way a dog is treated with Frontline – and thus kills any ticks or tick eggs on the mouse or in the nest.
All companies offer different recommended protocols for applications and frequency, depending on the product selected, the time of year and the property itself. There is agreement that beginning early in the year in March or April, continuing through the summer and ending with a final spray in the fall is the optimal approach to truly prevent and control tick proliferation in your yard. Skoldberg says spraying in the early fall – September – may be most important to control future tick population growth because that is when ticks are laying their eggs.
Natasha Michaels is a contributing writer to Natural Awakenings Fairfield County.
Greenskeeper Lawn Care • 740 Railroad Ave, Bridgeport • 203-696-0278 • GreenskeeperLawnCare.com • Serves most of Fairfield County
Greenleaf Services • 45 Old Hwy, Wilton • 203-563-9559 • GreenleafServicesllc.net • Serves lower Fairfield County
GreenSprays Organic Lawn Care • 105 Woodmont Rd, Milford • 203-916-3666 • GreenSprays.com • Serves Fairfield County
Mosquito Squad • 15 South St, Norwalk • 203-832-9500 • SquadCtNy.com • Serves Fairfield and Westchester counties