After servicing a pool in Wading River last week, Sean Lanigan of Lanco Pool Services found himself covered in ticks, a surprise to him since he’d been in the customer’s backyard only a few minutes.
“They were so hard to find, you didn’t even realize they were ticks. You think it’s a piece of dirt until you see it’s moving on your finger,” Mr. Lanigan said. “I had about 20 all over me.”
This, apparently, is the new normal on the East End.
“Tick numbers are significantly higher on Eastern Long Island from what they were two decades ago, and lone star [ticks], in particular, appear to be spreading westward,” said Daniel Gilrein, an entomologist at Cornell Cooperative Extension.
Lone star ticks are in their nymph stage this time of year, meaning they are very tiny and difficult to see, explained Brian Kelly, owner of East End Tick Control, which services homes across the East End.
This season, he said, the ticks are out in “unbelievable” numbers, making it important to safeguard yourself and your home.
The experts say homeowners can take a number of steps to safeguard their yards – beginning with what’s called “flagging for ticks,” to see if there are concentrations of ticks on a property — and where they’re located.
To flag for ticks, simply take a white sheet and attach it to a stick, as you would a flag to a pole, Mr. Gilrein said.
“Something with a bit of nap would be best,” he said, like corduroy. “Perhaps flannel would be a good alternative”
Slowly drag the flag across the lawn and bush edges — wherever you think the ticks might be — and then turn it over to see how many ticks the flag picked up.
“Sometimes it’s just a couple, sometimes maybe 50 to 60 ticks,” Mr. Kelly said.
The ticks will stand out against the light-colored fabric.
Mr. Kelly recommends wearing high rubber boots with pants legs tucked in while flagging. Use a good repellent as well, he said.
Lots of ticks means it’s time to clean up the yard, the experts say. Start by removing leaves, brush and weeds from the lawn’s edge and the home’s perimeter. If you have swings or play sets, pull them away from the property’s edge, and at least 15 feet from any woods. Be sure to clean up any brush around children’s play areas.
If possible, restrict use of ground cover vegetation – like pachysandra and ivy, Mr. Kelly said. Mice and chipmunks, which often carry ticks, use those areas to feel protected.
“It almost turns into a tick condominium,” Mr. Kelly said.
“Trimming your trees and letting sunlight on your lawn makes a big difference with the ticks,” he added.
While Mr. Gilrein warns that lone star ticks like both sunny and shaded areas — unlike deer ticks, which tend to hang out in the shade — both say keeping the lawn cut short is important.
If homeowners are still having trouble keeping tick populations down after sprucing up their properties, Mr. Kelly said there both synthetic and organic insecticide options are available.
Synthetic options usually last about 30 days, he said, while organic options tend to take out the ticks only at the time of the application.
Mr. Lanigan said he checks himself every time he leaves a customer’s yard now, and that he also often finds ticks inside boots.
“I’ve caught about 60 ticks on me so far this year, and normally I have 10 the whole year,” Mr. Lanigan said. “I would get your backyard sprayed.”
He added that even though you might leave a property tick-free, that doesn’t necessarily mean man’s best friend is OK.
“Don’t forget to check your dogs, too,” he said.