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Ask the Gardener: Win the battle against disease-carrying deer ticks

What to do this week A month of rain has made this an unusually lush summer in New England gardens, while much of the rest of the country has suffered heat, drought, and forest fires. We’ve been lucky. Keep birdbaths filled but dump out rainwater collected in old bins so you don’t breed mosquitoes. If you want more butterflies, make a butterfly birdbath by carving out and watering a small mud puddle in a sunny patch of mineral-rich soil. Pick summer vegetables and annual flowers to keep them producing.

Q. What can I do to protect my kids from deer ticks outdoors?

N.H., Walpole

A. This is a bad year for deer ticks (Ixodes scapularis, also known as black-legged ticks), which can carry potentially debilitating Lyme disease. They go “questing’’ on humid, damp days, waiting patiently to grab onto anything passing by their ambush posts in shrubs or tall grass. (Fortunately, ticks cannot hop or fly.)

Ticks have several life stages, the most dangerous being the immature nymph stage from May through August because they are only the size of poppy seeds then and hard to see. However, you have to keep an eye out for the larger adult ticks, too, because they are active almost year-round except in hot, dry weather or when temperatures fall below 36 degrees.

For defense, spray picaridin or DEET repellent, especially from the knees down. Or spray your gardening/hiking clothes and shoes with permethrin (it should not be applied directly on the skin). I garden in light-colored clothes I’ve hung on the outdoor laundry line several times a season and soaked with Sawyer insect repellent for ticks and mosquitoes. After it dries, it survives six trips through the dryer. You can also mail your gardening clothes to Insect Shield (www.insectshield.com) for longer-lasting treatment.

Find more information on how to win the battle against disease-carrying deer ticks, written by Carol Stocker here.

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October 28, 2023

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