Garden Notes: Be aware, vigilant against ticks

I have been the reluctant host of four ticks this year, raising my “eww, yuck!” response time to a new personal best.

The Center for Disease Control shows 13 states as the origin of 95 percent of Lyme disease cases in the United States. Pennsylvania leads the list. Children ages 2 to 15 and adults ages 30 to 55 are most likely to contract the disease.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, there were 5,758 cases of Lyme disease reported in 2013. That’s an all-time high, up from the 5,033 cases reported in 2012.

Ticks are active throughout the year, but they slow down if temperatures are below freezing. In warm months, they’re busier in the early morning hours and in early evening. They hide during stretches of high heat and aren’t as likely to be “questing” on hot afternoons.

Ticks hang out in shady, moist areas, especially the edges of woods and old stone walls. They cling to tall grasses, shrubs and bushes until a likely target happens by.

Tom Ford, Penn State Extension Educator, says ticks position themselves strategically on foliage with their legs outstretched to grab a suitable host. Animals and humans “acquire” a tick only by direct contact. Some species of ticks will crawl several feet toward a host. When a tick has found a likely victim, it will climb up until it reaches “a protected area.”

All together now… eww, yuck!

Nymphs are the most likely to transmit Lyme disease. They’re about the size of a poppy seed and extremely hard to spot. It pays to be vigilant.

The best way to stay safe is simple and very inexpensive. It’s the No. 1 thing you can do to prevent tick-borne illness: check yourself thoroughly for ticks. When you’re inside the house, check again.

Ticks cling to your clothes. The CDC recommends placing any suspect clothes in a dryer on high heat for an hour. Showering within two hours of coming indoors will wash off any unattached ticks and is another opportunity to check everywhere.

Now’s the time to thoroughly examine your navel.

Dave Geske of the La Crosse Health Department said, “An awareness of our bodies and environment is going to become increasingly more important with respect to tick-borne diseases. We have to take the smart steps to protect ourselves.”

Toward that end, we should make our homes and gardens inhospitable for tick-carrying mice and chipmunks. If you have a woodpile or bird feeders, move them away from your house. Move swing sets and sand boxes away from areas where ticks might breed. Keep your grass short: three inches or so will lower the humidity at ground level, making it hard for ticks to survive. Get rid of any weeds, dead leaves or brush. Create a three-foot border of wood chips or gravel between your lawn and woods or stone walls.

Enjoy your garden and the summer weather, but always check for ticks.

It’s creepy being a reluctant host.

Contact Teresa Futrick at