Gardening How-to Articles

Keep Mosquitos and Ticks Out of Your Garden and Off Yourself

If you garden in the city, whether in your backyard, community garden, or any other space, you’ve likely been bitten by your share of mosquitos, and possibly even by ticks. Nongardening New Yorkers also share outdoor space with these bloodthirsty pests in the summer. Ticks and mosquitoes are a part of the ecosystem here in New York City. They are in our gardens, our parks, and our playgrounds, and they are here to stay. Some carry diseases. Learn how to reduce their number in your garden and protect yourself from bites and infection.

The summer of 2016 was filled with news about the Zika virus and its impending march across the globe. But this year, there’s an even bigger threat in New York City: West Nile virus (WNV). This mosquito-borne disease has been in the city since 1999 and doesn’t seem to be leaving. It may not get a lot of play in the news these days, but all five NYC boroughs have already had positive test results for mosquitos with WNV, and we still have several months before cooler weather shrinks mosquito populations.

Joining them recently is the blacklegged, or deer, tick (Ixodes scapularis), which spreads Lyme disease. This species is not yet widely established within the five boroughs, but increasing numbers have been found in several parts of the city. In 2016, there were 946 confirmed cases of Lyme disease in NYC, and while the majority of those cases were acquired outside the city, the NYC Department of Health issued a health alert for 2017, reminding New Yorkers to exercise caution when enjoying the outdoors.

Another tick species, the American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis) has been detected in great abundance in all boroughs of NYC. Though this species doesn’t typically spread Lyme or other infections in NYC, in other parts of the country it may carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever and is worth taking steps to avoid.

Reducing the populations of these disease-carrying invertebrates in your garden will go a long way toward minimizing your risk. There are also plenty of effective personal protection strategies for limiting both mosquito and tick bites when you step into your garden, the park, or any other outdoor space.

Source Control: Stop Mosquitos and Ticks from Breeding

If you have a garden, yard, courtyard, or other outdoor space, there are several things you can do to reduce the mosquito and tick populations around your home.

Eliminate Standing Water

Many people assume that since they don’t have a pond or pool in their backyard, they don’t need to worry about standing water, but this assumption is incorrect. Mosquitos can breed in a water-filled bottle cap. A birdbath, planter trays, gutters, and even small recesses in your outdoor furniture can hold enough water to allow mosquitos to proliferate. Carefully inspect your garden and yard for any containers or locations where water is accumulating and dump it all out at least once a week.

Cover Rain Barrels

The easiest way to prevent mosquitos from getting in and laying eggs is with tight mesh window screening. Purchase a roll of screening mesh and cut the size you need to cover the top of the barrel. A bungee cord wrapped around the edge will keep the screen in place and still give you easy access to the water. If you want something more permanent, seal the mesh in place with tape or a drum ring.

Keep Your Eyes Open

When walking in your neighborhood, look for potential breeding sites like watering bowls at a dog run or stacks of flowerpots and trays at the community garden. Dump the water whenever possible, or call 311 to report standing water when the situation is particularly bad or in an inaccessible or private area.

Eliminate and Protect Food Sources

Your compost pile and food items in the trashcan may attract rodents and raccoons, which carry ticks. By securing your garbage, food waste, and compost piles, and employing other rodent-proofing strategies, you can reduce all these pests at once.

Personal Protection: Keep Mosquitos and Ticks from Biting You

We can reduce the populations of mosquitos and ticks around us, but we will never eradicate them completely. You still need to add a level of personal protection.

Use Window Screens

Makesure all the windows in your home have screens with a good seal along the window frame and are without rips or holes. Mosquitos can get through a tiny opening.

Choose the Best Repellent

Not all bug sprays are equal, and it’s important to find one that works best for you and the activity you have in mind. Both DEET or picaridin are effective against mosquitos, but studies have shown that DEET is more effective against ticks. Visit the EPA's repellent search tool to review your options, and be sure to choose a product approved and registered by the EPA and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Always read and follow label directions. Some repellants will protect you for a couple hours, and some will last all day with one application. Whichever you decide to use, be sure to keep the supply away from children and assist them with application. Everyone should wash off the repellant with soap and water when finished with outdoor fun.

Wear Long Sleeves and Pants

The mosquitos capable of transmitting the West Nile virus are most active in the morning and evening. If you’re heading out for a walk in the park or to work in the garden at these times, wearing long sleeves and pants will reduce the areas where you may be bitten and prevent ticks from biting you right away. Tuck your pants into your socks to give ticks fewer entry points to your skin.

Stick to the Path

Ticks climb grass, branches, and other vegetation to “quest” for hosts. Questing is when a tick reaches out with its two front legs, ready to latch onto any host that passes by—a deer, a dog, or you. When walking in the park or hiking a trail, the closer you are to the middle of the path, the less likely you are to brush against vegetation and pick up a passenger.

Do Tick Checks

After spending time outdoors, check your body, your pets, and your children for ticks, and remove any you find as soon as possible. Try to identify the species and consider sending it in for testing if you have concerns about Lyme disease or any other infection.

One final note: don’t let ticks and mosquitos discourage you from being outside this season. By taking the proper precautions, you can still enjoy a safe and healthy summer in the city.

Archie Oman Egbert is an integrated pest management specialist for the New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene.

    Discussion

  • Bonnie Kolesar July 31, 2017

    For mosquito control in California, I use a pest control service that sprays garlic in the yard (powder form or liquid). The treatment is applied every month for four months of the year, and I know that it has reduced the mosquito problem.  I can now sit outside and enjoy the property, including early morning and evening hours. I really like that it’s a natural way of dealing with the issue and is not harmful to animals or people.

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Image, top of page:
Deer Tick
Ixodes scapularis (deer tick), the species that carries Lyme disease, waiting in the questing position for a host. Deer ticks have been found in increasing numbers in New York City this year. Photo by Michael Apel.
American Dog Tick (Dermacentor variabilis)
The American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis) is found in all five boroughs of New York City. Photo by Jerry Kirkhart.
Southern House Mosquito
The West Nile virus is transmitted by mosquitos and has been detected in all five boroughs of New York City in 2017. Photo by James Gathany, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Container
Mosquitos need only a small amount of standing water to breed. The saucers and trays beneath planting containers should be emptied at least once a week to keep them at bay. Photo by Sarah Schmidt