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Ask the Gardener: Ways to win the battle against disease-carrying deer ticks

Cut the lawn, treat your clothes, and spray, spray, spray.

A generation of the deer tick from smallest to largest: larva, the nymph, and the adult.AMERICAN LIME DISEASE FOUNDATION

What to do this week A month of rain has made this an unusually lush summer in New England gardens, while much of the rest of the country has suffered heat, drought, and forest fires. We’ve been lucky. Keep birdbaths filled but dump out rainwater collected in old bins so you don’t breed mosquitoes. If you want more butterflies, make a butterfly birdbath by carving out and watering a small mud puddle in a sunny patch of mineral-rich soil. Pick summer vegetables and annual flowers to keep them producing.

Q. What can I do to protect my kids from deer ticks outdoors?


N.H., Walpole

A. This is a bad year for deer ticks (Ixodes scapularis, also known as black-legged ticks), which can carry potentially debilitating Lyme disease. They go “questing” on humid, damp days, waiting patiently to grab onto anything passing by their ambush posts in shrubs or tall grass. (Fortunately, ticks cannot hop or fly.)

Ticks have several life stages, the most dangerous being the immature nymph stage from May through August because they are only the size of poppy seeds then and hard to see. However, you have to keep an eye out for the larger adult ticks, too, because they are active almost year-round except in hot, dry weather or when temperatures fall below 36 degrees.

For defense, spray picaridin or DEET repellent, especially from the knees down. Or spray your gardening/hiking clothes and shoes with permethrin (it should not be applied directly on the skin). I garden in light-colored clothes I’ve hung on the outdoor laundry line several times a season and soaked with Sawyer insect repellent for ticks and mosquitoes. After it dries, it survives six trips through the dryer. You can also mail your gardening clothes to Insect Shield ( for longer-lasting treatment.


For reducing ticks, the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station recommends keeping lawns short and free of leaf litter in high traffic areas around houses. Use hardscaping and wood mulch in those places as much as possible. We replaced our tall grass meadow with lawn to prevent ticks. Locate playgrounds in sunlit areas 3 yards from shrubberies and forest edges. When hiking, try to stick to the path.

Immediately after gardening, throw your clothes into a dryer on high for 10 minutes (without washing first) to kill any hitchhiking ticks, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Swimming or showering will encourage ticks to jump off your body before they embed. Once a day, inspect kids, outdoor pets, and yourself. Try a fine-toothed louse comb for scalps. Ticks seek damp, snug spots for blood-sucking, like underneath waistbands.

A flat tick walking on the skin surface has not transmitted disease. Less than half of deer ticks can transmit Lyme disease, and to do so they must be embedded and swollen with your blood for more than 24 hours. Use fine-pointed tweezers to remove ticks, which can then be frozen and sent to a lab to test for infection if you choose. There is no quick diagnostic test for humans, so consult a doctor immediately about taking protective antibiotics if you are worried.

Q. There has been an explosion of rabbits in my neighborhood in the past two years. Aside from trying to fence in my flowers and vegetables, is there something to keep them away?


W. T., Scituate

A. There are various deterrents you can try, mostly sprays. I also grow ornamentals they don’t like, such as pungent herbs, geraniums, hairy lady’s mantle, or plants with silvery foliage. I learn from trial and error. Because rabbits and other critters love veggies, the most effective solution is an electric fence around a vegetable garden. There are a lot of DIY kinds that are not expensive, but nothing beats a dog with hunting in its DNA.

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