Ask A Master Gardener – Ticking Along

Gardeners deal with a plethora of insects as they tend to their duties. The good, the bad, and the ugly all make their appearances on a daily basis and make life interesting, challenging, and sometimes unforgettable.  This year the uptick of one in the ugly category has people legitimately concerned.

Technically, ticks are not insects, but are arthropods. However, most people ignore that designation and focus on the medical concerns that come with the bite of this creature.  Wisconsin is home to two ticks of concern: the American Dog tick (often referred to as a wood tick) and the deer tick (also called the black-legged tick).  Both are very active now, so precautions should be taken to protect yourself.   There are other ticks that reside in Wisconsin, but they are species-specific and feed on animals such as rabbits, deer, and other bovines but rarely feed on humans.  Therefore, they are not of concern to human health.

The deer tick causes some most of the serious problems including Lyme’s disease and human babesiosis. Both of these diseases have been on the rise in recent years, with Lyme’s disease doubling in the last 10 years.  Most cases of Lyme’s disease are in the northwest, but continue to spread across the state.  Prevention is the key to keeping outdoor activities safe from tick bites and the accompanying diseases.

Ticks are small individuals with limited movement. They reside on vegetation and wait for something to hitchhike on.  Tall grasses along paths, wooded areas, and even your host of hostas and veritable vegetable gardens have perfect conditions for ticks to hide.

Dress appropriately before going into potentially tick infested areas. Wearing long sleeves, long pants tucked into socks, and lighter colors so that dark colored ticks are easily spotted are all advisable.  Using Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved repellents such as DEET, and using them according to label instructions, will help keep ticks at bay.  Clothing impregnated with permethrin (sold in camping/outdoor stores) is another reliable option. Homemade remedies are not as effective and any potential repellency will be short-lived.  EPA registered repellents will last 4-8 hours or longer and provide reliable results.

Learn how to identify the different ticks. The following website: has great information about ticks, including photos and information about identifying them.  If you are bitten by a tick, the best method of removal is to use tweezers and grasp it near the mouth parts.  Use a slow, steady pull to remove it.  Deer ticks need to be attached and feeding for a period of time (generally 24 hours) in order to transmit the bacteria that causes disease.  Thoroughly check yourself, your family, and outdoor companions after being in areas where ticks might be a problem and immediately remove any you might find.

Once on the body, ticks can move about before making its painless bite. They can attach themselves to any body part, but prefer warm, moist areas.  Carefully check armpits, behind and inside the ears, groin, scalp, belly button, and behind the knee.

Don’t neglect your four-legged friends in this tick-vigilant journey. Any pet that spends time outdoors should be regularly treated with a tick preventative.  Methods vary between cats and dogs, so check with your veterinarian for the best product.

Carol Shirk

Certified Master Gardener

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