Un-Welcome Guests: Bugs in Christmas Trees
It’s the stuff of B-grade horror movies. A family happily cuts down a Christmas tree and brings it inside. They decorate it, reveling in holiday joy. Then someone notices a few bugs around the tree skirt. Soon, insects start pouring out of the tree and scatter all around the house. Horrified, the family realizes they’ve brought in a bug’s nest on the tree, and resort to immediately dragging the tree out into the front yard, ornaments and all. Even after a thorough house-cleaning and exterminating treatment, everyone feels shaken for the rest of the holiday and makes plans to only have fake trees from now on.
It sounds awful, but this really does happen. Among the staff here at Thompson Brothers, two of us know someone personally who has brought inside a bug-infested tree. Though it makes for a great story, thankfully it’s not as much of a problem as the movie image might convey. Here’s what you need to know about the (rare) occurrence of accidentally bringing home bugs in your fresh Christmas tree.
Tree infestations are more likely to happen in a warm, dry fall.
Unfortunately for those of us in Western North Carolina and Upstate South Carolina, we have had an unseasonably warm fall and an incredible drought this year, and many areas haven’t yet had a frost. This weather makes it more likely that bugs will have survived this late in the season.
You’ll only find three types of insects
in Christmas trees from the Carolinas.
- Aphids. Tiny and usually inactive, most aphids go unnoticed around us; however, Cinara aphids grow larger and favor pines and some firs. They are dark brown or black, and are often mistaken for ticks. Count the legs to be sure: aphids have six legs, while ticks have eight. Aphids will not bite, they feed only on your tree (not your houseplants), and they don’t carry disease. However, aphids left in your tree can survive long enough to lay eggs, and the offspring can develop wings.
- Spider mites. These light, tiny creatures stay in trees to spend the winter, but will become active in the warmth of your home. On the tree, they can cause needles to drop prematurely. In your home, they can leave small red stains on your carpet or furniture, but they do not bite or harm people.
- Praying mantis. Female mantises often lay their eggs in Fraser firs; the nest looks like a gooey-but-hardened blob on the trunk. In a warm home, the eggs will hatch, and hundreds of tiny mantises will quickly disperse. The insects will not harm people or pets, and in fact they’re quite helpful in eating other pests, but you likely won’t be happy to see so many long-legged creatures scurrying around your home.
The best way to prevent bringing insects inside is to keep them from traveling on the tree in the first place. Wherever you buy or cut down your tree, have it fully shaken out before you leave, either in a mechanical shaker or by a person (or you can do it – shake it vigorously to remove loose needles and insects). Then remove (or ask to have removed) any birds nests, visible egg sacks, or other growths on the trunk.
If you still end up with insects on your Christmas tree or in your home, the best first step is to take the tree outside as quickly as possible. Then, vacuum up all visible bugs in your house, being careful not to squish them, which could leave stains. Never spray insecticide (or any kind of bug spray) on a Christmas tree!
Sprays are flammable and should not be used anywhere near your tree or decorations.
The bugs that live on Christmas trees need the trees to survive, so they should die out as soon as the tree has been removed. But if you’re still seeing bugs or need help removing particularly stubborn insects, the professional exterminators at Thompson Brothers Exterminating are happy to treat your home, clean up and clear out insects, and help restore your holiday mood. Contact us
for any holiday insect problems.