Oh, Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree, how buggy are your branches?
Picture this. You pile the family into the car and drive an hour away to chop down the most magnificent Christmas tree. You bring it home, position it perfectly in the center of the room, sit back to enjoy the beauty and scent of your freshly-cut evergreen, and then you notice… is something crawling on the branches?
Thousands of critters take shelter in trees throughout the year, especially in the colder months when they are searching for a place to escape from wintry conditions. If there are slumbering insects in your tree, upon entering your festive, warm home, they will wake up thinking it’s spring. Then what?
Here’s how you can identify the most common Christmas tree bugs and keep them from making their way into your (indoor) winter wonderland.
What Are the Most Common Christmas Tree Bugs?
- Aphids– These are the most common Christmas tree bugs, usually found in the tree’s lower branches. They are tiny brown or black bugs that look very similar to the tick (to tell them apart, count the legs- ticks have 8, aphids have 6). Aphids are attracted to the sap in conifer trees, often evergreen, balsam fir, spruce, Fraser fir, and white fir trees. They are completely harmless to humans; however, they will leave behind a reddish/purple stain on your carpet or furniture if you decide to squish one.
- Adelgids– While adelgids look similar to aphids, you won’t see them like that on your tree. These insects produce a cotton-like wax filament over their bodies to protect themselves and their eggs from the cold weather in the winter months. The result? Your tree will have the appearance of snow dusting on the branches and needles! Remember, it’s not decorative; it’s adelgids, harmless but invasive nonetheless.
- Spiders & Mites– Typically found on Douglas fir, white pine, Fraser fir, or spruce trees, these brown or red insects are smaller than your average spider. However, spiders are predatory in nature, so if you find them, they’re looking for other insects in your tree and are not harmful to humans or pets.
- Bark Beetles– Bark beetles are black or brown and cylindrical (roughly the size of a grain of rice). Bark beetles burrow into the tree, so you might notice small holes in the branches or trunk, or sawdust on the floor. Commonly found in Monterey, Ponderosa, and Coulter pines, white fir, and juniper trees, these bugs prefer moist environments, so they pose no threat to the wooden furniture or flooring in your home.
- Praying Mantis– While the praying mantis could make its way into any tree, it’s not the bug you want to keep an eye out for, but its egg sack. This light-tan, walnut-sized egg mass can hold over 400 eggs and would begin to hatch after a few weeks of being indoors. If you find one, carefully detach it from the branch and take it outside.
- Scale insects– Scale insects often have a brown or red shell. However, their identifying feature is the white waxy covering they secrete to protect themselves through the winter, making pine tree needles look like they have tiny white splatters of paint on them. These critters often feed off the sap in Scotch pine, Norway spruce, and Douglas-fir trees.
- Sawflies– Found in spruce and pine trees, sawfly eggs look like brown cocoons. From them emerge black and yellow flies that feed upon the sap inside the pine needles. Those needles, usually in the lower region of the tree, will die and fall first.
How Do I Keep Christmas Tree Bugs Out?
Now that you know what to look for, how do you keep these bugs out of your Christmas tree? We compiled the following steps you can take to keep your tree bug-free.
Got Bugs? Contact Aspect Pest Control!
Prevent Christmas Tree Bugs
- Inspect Your Tree– Examine the needles, branches, and trunk for any signs of eggs or infestations. If you’ve already purchased your tree and then find something, you’ll want to cut those branches off yourself and leave them outside.
- Shake It Up, Baby! Make sure your tree gets a good shake before you bring it inside. Many Christmas tree farms have mechanical tree shakers that should dislodge dead needles, pollen, dust, critters, and their eggs. If you bought your tree at a small local farm already chopped, shake it yourself or hit it against the driveway or sidewalk a few times. (If you’re really paranoid, you could also hose your tree down and leave it outside to dry!)
- Let Your Tree Sit Rest for 24-48 Hours– Instead of bringing it into the house right away to decorate, leave your tree in the garage to rest for 24-48 hours. If any unwanted visitors have cozied themselves for the winter, a warmer environment will wake them. Better to happen in your garage than inside your house!
- Keep the Vacuum Handy– If Christmas tree bugs do make their way inside, it’s best to vacuum them up. Like with aphids, if you choose to squash bugs, you’re running the risk of them leaving behind a mark on your carpet or furniture.
**We do not recommend spraying your tree with insecticide, as that poses a more significant threat to your home than the bugs do. Many insecticides are flammable, which doesn’t pair well with your Christmas tree lights. Some sources may recommend dusting your tree with diatomaceous earth (a powder that will dry out and kill the insects), but keep in mind that it is not fast-acting. You could also run the risk of using too much of it, which could endanger your household pets if they ingest it.
This holiday season, follow our preventative measures to keep Christmas tree bugs from taking their holiday in your home and practice regular exclusion methods. Luckily, large infestations are rare, but should you find yourself in such a position, either ditch your tree or call Aspect Pest Control – asap! You can always count on us, during the holiday season or any time of year, to keep your home safe and critter-free.