Having grown up in the country, I am very familiar with ticks and the problems that they can cause. These days, ticks are no longer relegated to rural settings and their damage goes beyond a few itchy bites. Ticks are carriers of pathogens that can cause diseases such as Lyme arthritis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and ehrlichia.
Now, back when I was a child the "country remedy" for ridding yourself and your pets of ticks was to bathe in a diluted solution of liquid pine cleaner. In hindsight this was probably not the safest or most effective solution and fortunately we now have better alternatives to choose from.
Whenever I am faced with a pest problem I like to take an integrated pest management or IPM approach, which simply means I first take measures that have the lowest impact on the environment. And then, if necessary I take a more aggressive approach later. Below I’ve listed some methods and products that you can try to help eradicate the ticks in your garden.
For Your Garden – Environmental control of ticks is a two-part procedure: clean up and then chemical application. First you need to clean up the area where the ticks are present. Overgrown areas serve as habitat for tick hosts such as birds, rodents and ground squirrels as well as providing the tall vegetation ticks need to gain access to people and pets. In your case the area is a thick grove of bamboo. While it may be undesirable or even impossible to completely remove the bamboo you can thin it out. This will not only reduce the amount of habitat available for tick hosts, but it will also make chemical application more effective. Tall grass, weeds and other vegetation should also be cut back to a manageable level. Be sure to wear protective clothing and plenty of repellent when you tackle this job to minimize exposure to the pests. Light colored shoes, socks, long pants and a long sleeve shirt are recommended so that you can easily spot ticks on your garments. Tuck your pants legs into your socks to prevent ticks from getting under your clothing. Apply repellent to your clothing and not to directly to your skin.
The next step is to apply a pesticide. I like to start with those that are known to be environmentally friendly. I prefer to use a product made from pyrethrins because it is safe and effective. The active ingredient in this pesticide is actually extracted from a plant or a family of plants that we traditionally associate with the fall, the chrysanthemum. For the garden it is best to use a water-soluble product that you can spray using a hose end sprayer. The added benefit of a pyrethrin based products is that they also help control things like roaches, ticks, silverfish, lice, fleas, bedbugs and I like to use it to control ants in certain parts of my garden, particularly when I’m working. One word of caution, while this can’t hurt us, it is toxic to fish, so be careful when applying it around water features or ponds.
You can also use an insecticidal soap to control ticks. Insecticidal soaps are safe for both people and animals.
Before you apply any type of chemical on your plants, make sure they are fully hydrated by watering them well a couple of days before you spray.
Another product to try is a synthetic pyrethroid called Damminix®. This pesticide is packaged as permethrin soaked cotton balls stuffed inside of cardboard tubes. The idea is that tick hosts such as mice will gather the cotton balls and use them for nests. The permethrin kills the ticks in the nests, without harming the mice. Simply scatter the cardboard tubes around your bamboo thicket and in other areas mice are likely to make their homes.
Of course my favorite method of tick control is Guinea hens and chickens. Both are excellent tick eaters.
For Your Pets – Tick borne illness not only pose a problem for you, your pets can contract them as well. So it is important to keep your pets free from ticks. To begin keep your animals well groomed and check them on a regular basis for ticks. You can use a flea comb to remove unattached ticks. If you find an attached tick it is important to remove it without allowing the head or pinchers to break off in the skin. Using blunt tweezers, grasp the tick near the head and gently apply pressure until it withdraws from the skin. Clean the site with antiseptic and dispose of the tick in soapy water or alcohol.
You can use a powdered form of pyrethrin on dogs to eliminate ticks and fleas. If you do this follow the directions carefully as an excessive application can make them sick and DO NOT apply pyrethrin to cats.
Tick collars are a popular method of controlling ticks on both dogs and cats. These collars work best on small to medium sized dogs and cats. Also, it is safest for your animals to use the collars for a limited amount of time. Six days or less of wearing the collar is ideal. When not in use keep the collar in a jar with a tight fitting lid in a cool, dry place.
There are also many topical flea and tick preventatives that you place between the shoulder blades of your cat or dog. These are generally available through your vet.
Sometimes even the most safeguarded pet can contract a tick borne illness. Some common signs to look for include increased bruising, blood not clotting well, nose bleeds, intermittent fever, weight loss, depression, fatigue, and joint pain If you observe one or more of the symptoms in your pet, you should contact your veterinarian.