This year is expected to be one of the worst on record for ticks, and not just in the Northeast. At least one variety of disease-transmitting tick has been found in all of the lower 48 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And a lab at Cornell University has identified 26 species of ticks along the East Coast alone—far more than the deer ticks most of us associate with Lyme disease. With a little bit of work, including cutting your grass shorter and more often, you can rid your yard of the pests.

“Tick control is mostly about wildlife,” says Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann, coordinator of New York State’s Integrated Pest Management Program at Cornell. “If you have an open yard where animals can enter, you’re almost certainly going to have ticks.”

One way to know for sure is to perform what’s called a tick drag. Cut a 5-inch-square swatch of fabric and tie it to an 18-inch-long pole or stick. Holding the pole, drag the fabric along tall grass or weeds, particularly near a woodland edge of your lawn. Ticks will typically transfer themselves to the swatch. If the trial confirms their presence, follow these five steps to deal with them effectively.

1. Keep Your Grass Short

“Black-legged ticks, the type which transmit Lyme, don’t like dry, hot environments,” Gangloff-Kaufmann says. Because taller blades of grass cast a shadow and create shade, leaving your lawn a little shaggy is a bad idea in tick-rich areas.

Cut your grass as low as 2 to 2½ inches, and be vigilant about keeping up with mowing. If you miss a week and the grass gets tall, it’s a good idea to use the bagging attachment with your tractor or lawn mower because leaving those long lawn clippings behind can create the perfect environment for ticks.  

2. Make a Mulch Moat

Many tick varieties favor the dense cover of woodlands over open lawn. That makes any wooded areas adjacent to your property a potential hotbed for ticks. Adding a 3-foot-wide barrier of mulch around the perimeter of your yard does double duty. First, it creates a physical barrier that’s dry and sometimes hot, something ticks can’t tolerate. Second, it serves as a visual reminder to anyone in your household to be especially careful once they step past the perimeter.

For the border, you want mulch made from broad, dry wood chips or bark, not the damp, shredded variety, which creates exactly the kind of cool, damp conditions favored by ticks.

3. Trim Tall Grass and Weeds

“Ticks like to climb to the top of tall grass blades and look for questing opportunities—the chance to grab onto animals like deer or humans,” Gangloff-Kaufmann says. By keeping grass and weeds at bay with a string trimmer, you’ll minimize those chances, making it more difficult for ticks to latch onto you or members of your family, or to travel around your property after hitching a ride on your dog.  

4. Eliminate Tick Habitat

CR has long advocated for mulching grass clippings when you mow. And in many instances, it’s okay or even preferable to leave behind fallen leaves to nourish the lawn. But if you live in an area with a large tick population, it’s worth reconsidering both.

By bagging grass and blowing leaves into piles for collection, you keep your yard clear and cut back on tick-friendly places. You’ll want to recycle leaves and grass clippings through your town if possible, or compost them in a pile far from the house.  

5. Consider a Targeted Approach

Following the four steps above will make your yard less inviting to ticks, but if you want to make a serious dent in the number of ticks on your property, you’ll need to focus on methods that kill them. Many people opt for spraying their entire yard with pesticide, an approach that CR’s experts say is both ineffective and potentially dangerous.

“Spraying your yard provides a false sense of security,” explains Michael Hansen, Ph.D., senior scientist at Consumer Reports. “Instead, consider products that treat the fur of mice or deer with small quantities of tick-killing agents.”

One example is a new product that consists of cardboard tubes stuffed with cotton treated with permethrin, a tick-killing chemical. Mice collect the cotton and take it back to their nests. The permethrin binds to oils on their fur, killing any ticks that try to attach without harming the mice.

“Mice play an important role in the transmission cycle of Lyme disease,” explains Laura Goodman, senior research associate in Cornell’s Department of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences. The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station (PDF) has found that such systems have resulted in statistically meaningful drops in tick levels after several years of use.

Bonus: Tickproof Yourself

When working in the yard, wear a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, socks, and closed-toe shoes. Use insect repellent—the best  in our tests provide more than 8 hours of tick protection. “And regardless of the time of year, perform a tick check as soon as you return indoors,” Goodman says.

You Can Do It
With tick season here, prevent Lyme and other diseases with these vitally important tips.

If you do suffer a bite, Goodman advises properly removing the tick, sealing it in a container like a pill bottle, and sending it to a lab such as hers or one at a local cooperative extension service. For a small fee, it will analyze the tick and note whether it carries any tick-related diseases—information your physician can use if you need treatment.

For more information about ticks in your area, check your state health department’s website. Connecticut, home to the town of Old Lyme, where the disease was first documented, has a particularly comprehensive guide to ticks (PDF).