10 Ways to Beat Garden Bugs
Here’s our 10-step game plan for winning the bug battle in your vegetable garden this season.
Most bugs get a gardener’s attention by chewing vegetable plants, turning leaves brown, or boring into tree trunks. Then there are the few that pose a direct threat to people themselves. High on that list is the tick, a diverse family of insects whose bites are capable of spreading at least 16 different diseases to people – including some that are disabling and potentially fatal.
Gardeners, hikers, and naturalists are at risk of contracting to tick-borne diseases simply because they’re outside more often and active in the same vicinity as ticks.
Since ticks are most active between April and September, now is the season to be especially alert for ticks.
The most common ticks – at least the ones most likely to bite and infect people – are hard-shelled little bugs, oval in shape and most often brown or black in color. They have four pairs of legs (eight total) and range in size from the tip of a pencil to slightly larger than a typical tomato seed.
The size and color not only varies from species to species but by the age and activity of the tick as well. For example, the nymph stage of a tick is significantly smaller than the adult size, while even mature adults balloon in size when fully engorged on the blood of a host.
Hard-shelled ticks live primarily in grassy, brushy, or wooded areas, or on animals. They don’t jump or fly onto people and pets. Rather, ticks rest in wait on vegetation with their front legs outstretched in a scenario known as “questing.” When a suitable host passes by, ticks latch on, crawl to bare skin, and insert their feeding tube. People often don’t notice this insertion because a tick’s saliva contains a mild anesthetic.
One or more ticks pose threats to people and pets in all parts of the U.S.
The blacklegged ticks (or deer tick, lxodes scapularis) that cause Lyme Disease and six other infections are widespread throughout the northeastern, mid-Atlantic, and north-central U.S. Lyme disease bacteria is carried by the western blacklegged tick (l. pacificus) in the Pacific Coast states.
The lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum), distinguished by the lone white dot on the female’s back, can carry six different infectious diseases and is primarily a threat in the southeastern and south central U.S.
The brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus) is found throughout the U.S. but is the primary cause of Rocky Mountain spotted fever in the southwestern U.S.
Other species cause scattered threats throughout the country.
Symptoms can run the gamut and aren’t always easy to trace to a tick bite. The most common symptoms, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, are rash, fever, chills, headache, muscle pain, joint pain or swelling, and nausea.
When treated quickly, antibiotics head off most tick-borne diseases. Left untreated in sensitive individuals, infections can grow into lasting neurological problems, chronic pain, and liver or heart damage.
The best anti-tick strategy is to avoid getting bit in the first place. Some tips from the CDC:
Take steps to reduce ticks in your landscape by making your yard inhospitable to them. Ticks live in cool, shaded and moist areas.
Another line of defense is using insecticides as a barrier around the perimeter of the house, patio, or yard. Preen Garden Weed Preventer Plus Ant, Flea, and Tick Control is a granular product that can be applied over mulch and watered in to both prevent weeds and kill ticks (and 20 other bugs) in ornamental beds.
If you find ticks latched onto the skin, CDC recommends using fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick close to the skin and pull the bug straight up and out. Then thoroughly clean the area with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
Consider calling your healthcare provider if you live in an area where Lyme or other tick-borne diseases are a concern. Health-care providers can give advice on whether treatment is warranted and also identify the tick if you place it in a sealed bag after removal.