Create a tick-resistant garden

Milford. Spring is here, and I’m sure you are anxious to spend as much time as possible outside. By implementing a tick-resistant garden, you can minimize the risk of Lyme disease for you and your family.

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Deer-resistant plants

Bear in mind that no plant is completely resistant to deer, and the best way to short-circuit the tick’s life cycle is to have a fenced property that eliminates deer completely. Deer-resistant plants may help if you use enough and place them strategically to surround the ones deer love to eat. Here are a few of the plants recommended by Penn State Extension for Pocono gardens:
To attract butterflies and hummingbirds: fountain grass (pennisetum alopecuroides), goldenrod (Solidego sp.), lavender (lavandula sp.), mint (mentha sp.), nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus), ornamental onion (Allium schoenoprasum), and pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium.)
For the cut flower garden: blue salvia (Salvia farinacia), California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), daffodil (Narcissus sp.), foxglove (Digitalis sp.), iris (Iris sp.), larkspur (Consolida ambigua), statice (Limonium latifolium), and veronica (Veronica sp.)
For dry borders: blue flax (Linum perenne), globe thistle (Echinops sp.), hen and chicks (Sempervivum sp.), lambs ears (Stachys byzantine), red valerian (Centranthus ruber), rose campion (Lychnis coronaria), and Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia.)

By Pamela T. Hubbard, Master Gardener

Ticks are the perpetrators of Lyme disease, a potentially disabling infection of the joints and nervous system. As 75 percent of cases occur in our backyards, gardeners need to be especially vigilant.

The blacklegged tick, Ixodes scapularis, formerly known as the deer tick, takes two years to complete its life cycle. Females lay 2,000 to 3,000 eggs in May then die. The eggs hatch in July or early August and the larvae feed on mice, chipmunks, and birds that may be infected with the Lyme disease spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi. Some birds, including the American robin, Carolina wren, house wren and veery, carry the spirochete short-term. Mice may be infected for life. The larvae drop off their host animals, molt to nymphs, and overwinter in places such as rodent burrows and leaf litter. The nymphs appear the following spring. They molt to adults then feed on larger animals such as deer, humans, and pets.

Although deer are immune to the disease and can’t infect the tick, they are important to its life cycle as 90 percent of adult ticks feed on deer. The tick spreads the bacteria into a human’s bloodstream when it bites and remains attached for 24 to 48 hours. Female adults are active in temperatures as cold as the mid 30’s, so you may find ticks on yourself or your pets at this time of year or earlier.

Know what ticks like

Ticks prefer cool, wet, shady places and are mostly found in densely wooded areas. They like stonewalls, and woodpiles but are also found in grassy or brushy areas. The unmaintained edge between woodland or brush and your lawn, called the ecotone, is the next highest in tick population. Ornamental vegetation and the lawn have the least number of ticks. Ticks don’t like open, sunny areas. Knowing the ticks’ favorite habitats can help you make your property more tick-resistant.

Tips for a tick-free habitat

There are landscape changes you can make in order to keep your property as close to a tick-free habitat as possible:

Restrict areas where deer, rodents and ticks are common, such as forest and brush. Make them off-limits for family activities.

Create a three-foot barrier of woodchips or rock to separate the off-limits area from the lawn.

Keep woodpiles away from the home, or site them on the woodchip barrier.

Remove leaf litter.

Create a tick-safe zone, a nine-foot barrier of lawn between the woodchips and patios, gardens, and play sets.

Create open, sunny areas by pruning trees to let in more sunlight.

Place play sets in sunny areas.

Keep lawns mowed.

Trim shrubs near walks and patios.

Remove groundcover around trees.

Surround gardens with fieldstone, gravel or lawn paths.

Construct an eight-foot-high fence to keep deer out.

Select deer-resistant plants for your landscape.

Remove exotic-invasive species that deer love to browse, such as Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii).

If all else fails, use a perimeter spray for ticks in the spring and again in the late summer, following the label instructions.

Pamela T. Hubbard is a Penn State Master Gardener of Monroe County. For more information email her at

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