Backyard Boss

Your backyard is the place for barbecues, ball games, sunny days, and happy memories. But, yards can also be homes to the less-friendly parts of nature: harmful insects, weeds and invasive plants. These pests and weeds can pose health and safety risks to your family, friends, and pets, and cause damage your home and property value.

Be the boss of your backyard! Start by creating a safe outdoor environment and fight back against the backyard pests outlined below.

Poison ivy, sumac and oak
Invasive weeds


  • Hazard: Ticks can transmit Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. If left untreated, Lyme disease infects the joints, heart, and nervous system, while Rocky Mountain spotted fever causes fever, headache, abdominal pain and vomiting, and muscle pain.
  • Be the Boss:
    • Make your lawn less inviting to ticks by keeping your lawn mowed and removing excess leaves or brush.
    • Deer are common carriers of infected ticks, so make sure to plant landscapes that do not attract deer.
    • If your lawn backs up to a wooded area, create a border of wood chips, gravel, or mulch to make it more difficult for ticks to migrate to your home.
    • Check your body for ticks after spending time outdoors, especially, in and around your ears, inside your belly button, behind your knees, around your waist and on your scalp, and in your hair.

Learn more about ticks and Lyme disease


  • Hazard: Mosquitoes can carry Zika and West Nile viruses. The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes. People infected with West Nile may show few symptoms; however, about 20 percent develop a fever as well as headaches, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea or rash, according to the CDC.
  • Be the Boss: Follow the “four Ds” to protect yourself and family from mosquitoes.
    • Drain standing water
    • Stay indoors at Dusk and Dawn
    • Dress in long-sleeves and wear pants
    • Use Deet-based mosquito repellent

Learn more about mosquitoes and the diseases they spread

Poison Ivy, Sumac, and Oak

  • Hazard: Poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac can lurk in backyard; especially, in newly created lawns or landscapes near wooden areas. These weeds may look harmless, but 85 percent of people develop a rash when they come into contact with the plants’ oils.
  • Be the Boss: If you’re unsure if something in your backyard is poison ivy, just remember the phrase “leaves of three, let it be.” Control the weed long-term through mowing or carefully “digging out” the plants while wearing water proof gloves. Pesticides can also effectively rid your lawn of these weeds.

Invasive Weeds

  • Hazard: Invasive weeds that aren’t native to your area can overtake lawns and landscapes and harm the local ecosystem.
  • Be the Boss: Learn to recognize invasive weeds in your area, and select and purchase native plants when adding color or variety to your landscape.


  • Hazard: Grubs destroy lawns by feeding on grassroots. Eventually, a grub infestation can lead to total loss of a lawn, requiring costly replacement of sod or the lengthy process of replanting.
  • Be the Boss: Keep your lawn well-watered to help minimize grub damage. Contact a lawn care professional if you suspect you have grubs.

More information for kids on pest identity, use of pesticides, and the environment can be found in EPA’s Backyard Activity Book.

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