View from the Garden: It’s Cold—Remain Vigilant, Gardeners

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Some tick species continue to be active in winter. Photo credit: tuzyra/iStock/Thinkstock

Almost all the leaves are down now. Temperatures are dropping and the holiday season is upon us. So, we can forget about the warm weather omnipresent tick problem. Don’t do that! When my husband was at the dermatologist’s office recently, the previous patient had, to his surprise, been relieved of a tick on his back.

Some tick species go dormant but the dreaded deer tick does not. Ticks have a complicated (to me) life cycle but adult deer ticks began their major blood feasting in fall in preparation for egg laying in spring and the search for the feast continues until the tick has found its blood meal. They will be active until each is sated. If the ground is not frozen, the temperature is above freezing and there is no snow on the ground—they will be searching for blood.

Ticks wait for a warm-blooded creature, including us, in the same places as at other times of year. They do not jump from vegetation or drop from trees. They wait on the tops of low vegetation like grasses and shrubs and in leaf litter. As you walk by, they sense carbon dioxide, heat from your body and vibrations from your walking. When you brush across the vegetation, they crawl onto you and look for a warm humid place to settle in.

Walks in the woods and on beaches are wonderful this time of year. But when you walk anywhere ticks might be present, take the same precautions you did in warm weather—especially if you have been on overgrown paths, woody or bushy areas, in places with a lot of leaf litter or tall grasses (like beach grass). Wear light-colored clothing…long pants and long-sleeved tops… and tuck everything in. This makes spotting ticks easier when you inspect yourself at the end of your journey. Spray with an insecticide containing DEET. Be sure to read the label.

Ticks like humid, warm areas and, even if you have taken the above precautions, a thorough body check by yourself or a loved one is in order. Check backs of knees, your groin area, arm pits, neck, hairline, ears, navel and back…everywhere really. I have had ticks in almost all of these areas. Yaug! If you find one, remove it with a fine-tipped tweezers.

Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and remove it with even pressure, straight out…no twisting. Don’t try Vaseline, matches or alcohol thinking any of these will cause the tick to back out…it will not. Familiarize yourself with the symptoms of Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases. If you do experience any symptoms, it is NECESSARY to go to a doctor who is very familiar with tick-borne diseases. Ask around or call me.

Also, remember that your pets can still get ticks and need to be examined at times when ticks may be active. They might be hard to find but a thorough petting is in order. Remove any you find just like you do on yourself. Speak to your vet about protection for your pets.

To lower the chance of ticks in your yard, remove leaf litter and keep your grass short (though this is in contradiction to healthy lawn care). If you live in the woods, a three-foot border of wood chip mulch around the perimeter is suggested.

There are also companies that spray your yard to kill ticks. Some of these are “organic.” I don’t like them, though, because they also kill beneficial insects. Talk to the spray company. Some of my clients do use this spray but I have talked to the sprayer and they have agreed to avoid flower and vegetable gardens.

This is a beautiful season but ticks are still among us. They like it too.

Jeanelle Myers is a professional gardener, landscaper and consultant. For gardening discussion you can call her at 631-434-5067.

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