Maine’s key pollinator species — such as bees, butterflies and birds — thrive in tall grass, tall-stemmed plants, leaf litter, decaying damp wood and brush.
The problem is, so do ticks.
In a perfect world, homeowners could manage yards for tick control and promote pollinator habitat. It’s the unfortunate reality that you can’t do both.
This year tick control efforts and pollinator habitat promotion is falling in with the growing trend of “No Mow May,” a movement to pause mowing lawns during the month of May so pollinators will have a chance to dine on early blooming plants such as dandelions and other wildflowers.
“It’s hard to reconcile all these tick control measures with the desire to have a more natural landscape overall,” said Griffin Dill, manager of the University of Maine’s tick lab. “People are becoming more cognizant of protecting pollinator habitat and unfortunately the two don’t mesh well together at the moment.”
Three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants and 35 percent of our food crops depend on pollinators, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It’s estimated that one out of every three bites of food you eat exists because of pollinators.
But the numbers of some pollinators are in decline due in part to loss of habitat, according to the USDA.
In Maine, Rockland and Lamoine’s town councils have formally endorsed No Mow May as a way to maintain that important pollinator habitat.
But all that non-mowing is also great for tick populations.
Tick control, according to Dill, means the more mowing the better. He said it is smart to keep lawns mowed as short as possible in addition to picking up leaf litter, hauling off brush piles or decayed trees, and opening things up to reduce shade.
In one case, a Maine farmer is burning over acreage to destroy tick habitat.
Another popular and highly effective tick management strategy is using synthetic chemical pesticides which can harm pollinators.
“If you are applying pesticides you can try to minimize the effects on pollinators,” Dill said. “Try to avoid spraying on any blooming flowers and try to spray early or late in the day when pollinators are less active.”
In the end, Dill said it’s a question of balancing the desire to be rid of ticks with the desire to promote pollinator habitat.
“You need to determine your tolerance for tick numbers versus the amount of wildlife you want.”