Garden Parasites

Keep Your Garden Free of Ticks, Fleas, and Mosquitoes

Siobhan Cave
Keep Your Garden Free of Ticks, Fleas, and Mosquitoes

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.

Insect bug garden pest
Insect bug garden pest

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 unliveable, 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
BeeBalm
BeeBalm

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 product.

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.

Traditional flower gardens
Traditional flower gardens

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.

Garden Invasive Beetle

Beetle Management

Siobhan Cave
Beetle Management

Insects, bugs, creepy-crawlies, and all of those little creatures that cause you to look down at your arm when you feel the tickle of tiny legs on your skin and send yourself into furious flapping and flailing—they have an important role in your garden, regardless of how weird (spiders), gross (large spiders), and upsetting (large spiders that are hairy and move quickly) you might find them (gross, spiders are gross).

Well, most do, but all too frequently a perfectly harmless species hitches a ride from one place to another, or sadly, is introduced deliberately in the hopes of increasing resources or managing an ecological problem, only to set up shop and become a tremendous threat to native species and a royal pain in our you-know-whats.

Japanese Beetle
Japanese Beetle

Japanese beetle came from (you guessed it Japan!)

Of no creature is this truer than the arch-nemesis of the home gardener, Popillia japonica, a hitchhiker from mainland Japan that first appeared in this country in the early 1900s.  We know him lovingly as the Japanese beetle, or by a litany of personal pet names we have developed upon the discovery of his handiwork that we aren’t going to repeat in this post. His craftsmanship is pretty easy to identify once he’s moved into your yard, especially as he tends to want to eat the same things you do.  Peaches, plums, cherries, corn, grapes, and berries are some standout favorites of his, but he is known to nosh on as many as 300 varieties of flowers, fruits, vegetables, and trees. Usually, he sits on the foliage and chews all of the leaf out of the leaf, leaving behind a skeleton of veins, but if he’s really in a mood to tap dance on your nerves, he’ll drill holes through all of the best specimens on your fruit trees, leaving you with his brown-spotted and gnarled rotting scraps.  Got roses? Perfect! Some of the most devastating damage ol’ JB reserves is for your rose bushes, where he’ll delight in chewing up foliage and flowers.

Japanese Beetle
Japanese Beetle

The truly frustrating thing about this pest is that it’s really good at being a pest.  It is effective at destroying your yard even before it has its adult beetle form. After mating, Japanese beetles deposit their eggs into the surface of your soil.  The eggs become grotesque little grubs that burrow down deep into your turf to wait the winter out. When temperatures rise, they slowly climb up to the surface, using the young and tender roots of your freshly reseeded lawn as a buffet. This is what causes brown spots and dead clumps all over your grass areas.

Controlling this invasive will require an attack on two fronts, as eliminating beetles above ground won’t necessarily help you with your subterranean problem.  Unfortunately, even effective use of Japanese beetle control methods will only manage the pest on your property—Japanese beetles can travel miles to get to where you find them, so you’ll have to use these strategies every season to eliminate visiting beetles and limit their use of your lawn as a nursery.

Remove beetles by hand

Like weeds, when it comes to adult beetles, the best thing you can do is remove them by hand.  Japanese beetles are easy to spot, thanks to their shiny green and gold bodies, and you’ll usually find them chowing down with about twenty of their friends.  Clumps of feeding beetles are very easy to shake right into a bucket of hot soapy water, which saves you, your pets, and your plants from exposure to pesticides.  If your property is small and the damage seems to be localised to certain areas, this is definitely the best way to get rid of them. Bonus to those with or considering getting chickens: many hen hobbyists report finding an irresistible snack in their buckets of collected Japanese beetles—their chickens just can’t seem to eat enough of them. Turning some chickens loose in your infested areas might be a good natural solution to your beetle problem.

Japanese beetle traps are a popular passive way to collect your beetles, but as many will tell you, the attractant in the traps that entices them inside seems to do a whole lot more enticing them into your yard in general.  You will assuredly be up to your eyeballs in captured beetles, but be mindful of the beetles you’ve attracted that didn’t end up in the trap. Be prepared to use another control method in conjunction with the traps, and for beetle traffic in your yard to increase once you’ve set them up.

Closeup Rhinoceros beetle, Rhino beetle, Hercules beetle, Unicorn beetle
Closeup Rhinoceros beetle, Rhino beetle, Hercules beetle, Unicorn beetle

Consider placing a fine mesh protective barrier over at-risk plants, like rose and berry bushes, just before you would begin to see Japanese beetles in the late spring or early summer.

If your problem is dire or widespread, you will have to resort to pesticides keep the population in check.  Japanese beetles can be killed by several ingredients, like permethrin and carbaryl, that are found in many popular pest control sprays.  Neem oil also proves effective against the beetles if you would rather use a natural product.Take caution with any chemical you choose to use in the garden.  Use only the amount you need to get the situation under control (many pesticides that kill Japanese beetles are non-selective), and only use products designed for use with edibles on anything you plan on eating later.

Removing beetle grubs

Removing Japanese beetle grubs from your lawn is done with soil additives, most popularly Paenibacillus popilliae, bacteria that causes milky spore disease.  Once consumed and absorbed by the grubs, the bacteria can kill the grub in less than a month, using its remains to release more milky spore into the soil. This cycle allows you to apply the spore to your lawn once and inoculate it against grubs for several years before reapplication is necessary.  Milky spore is a powdered product that is easily applied to your lawn with a cardboard tube in four-foot spots.

Like milky spore, parasitic nematodes may be added to the soil to seek out and eliminate grubs along with several other unwanted pests.  Both methods of control are harmless to humans, pets, and wildlife.