What Are Tick Tubes?
Tick tubes are a great first line of defense against nature’s Lyme disease carrying little nasties, the tick. If you live in an area where there are lots of ticks it may make sense to use tick tubes.
The use of tick tubes can reduce the tick population by up to 90%, making it one of the most effective tick control methods available.
If You Prefer All-Natural Tick Control...
...either in addition to or instead of synthetic chemicals, then you should see our article on using cedar oil for pest control.
How Do Tick Tubes Work?
In a symbiotic relationship, tick tubes use another little pest (the mouse) to kill the ticks for you. Ticks reproduce in mice nests and then use the mice to transport themselves across your yard.
The tick tubes contain cotton balls laced with a poison called permethrin. Permethrin is harmless to mice but effectively kills the ticks.
Permethrin Kills These Insects:
Elm Leaf Beetles
It works like is this. The mice find the cotton balls in the tubes and carry them back to use as a nice, fluffy addition to their nests. That cozy cotton nest soon reveals its other side and kills all the young ticks on contact while leaving the mice unaffected.
To use them, you place the tubes a few feet past your yard line (into the woods, tall grass, etc.) and put one down every 10 feet around the area you want to protect against ticks. Deploy them twice a year when the mice are mating and forming nests, which in the Northeastern US is April and July.
Where to Buy Tick Tubes
The easiest way to get tick tubes is to buy them online. For several years I bought Damminix tick tubes on Amazon.com. You can purchase them in various quantities to cover any size yard and they are ready to use out of the box. The tubes are even camouflaged so they aren’t visibly obvious.
A similar and cheaper product is Thermacell tick tubes. There's not much to tick tubes so the differences are minimal but I've noticed that in the high demand season there can be a 1-2 month wait (!) on Amazon, so order early.
The drawback is that for what they are, they’re very expensive. A one-year treatment for a 1/2-acre yard is nearly $200. Given that, the best option is to just make your own. It is much cheaper, and not difficult at all.
How to Make Your Own Tick Tubes
Making your own tick tubes is easy. Cardboard tubes are basically free, just save them from toilet paper and paper towels (cut paper towel rolls into 2 or 3 segments).
Buy some cotton balls. The big, fluffy ones are best because there’s more surface area for poisoning and you can use fewer of them to stuff a roll tightly so that they stay in place.
Here are the components of tick tubes:
I usually place 24-30 tick tubes to cover roughly half an acre of usable yard space.
Next, dilute the permethrin. The instructions on my bottle of permethrin SFR for reducing lawn tick populations call for 0.4 to 0.8 ounces of permethrin to 4 to 25 gallons of water. HOWEVER, that's for applications where you are spraying permethrin directly on the lawn.
The concentration of permethrin in tick tubes is 7.4%. So if you're using the bottle we recommend which is about 37% permethrin, the dilution will be about one part permethrin SFR to 5 parts water.
Where to Buy Permethrin (the active ingredient)
The permethrin is the only ingredient that isn’t a normal household item. It's very easy to obtain though, just order some on Amazon. We like this bottle (pictured below) because it is basically a lifetime supply.
It’s a 32 oz. bottle which, after dilution, is enough to last you a very long time if all you do is make tick tubes with it. If you don't want to go whole hog you can a smaller, weaker version that will also last quite a while.
Add the permethrin to the water in the proper proportions in a spray bottle, then shake it up. Avoid shaking it in front of your face.
Digging through the recyclables will get you a plastic container to use for treating the cotton. Just throw the cotton balls in the container and spray it with the permethrin dilution using a spray bottle. Move the cotton around and make sure it’s well-treated.
Here's a little video that brings it all together:
Let the cotton air out for a while then stuff the cotton balls into the tubes so they stay there. Not super tight, just tight enough that they don’t fall out easily.