It’s almost that time of year again. Twinkling lights (love them!), eggnog (so fattening but so good), that Mariah Carrey song (spare us), and, of course, decorating the Christmas tree! Whether you get a fresh one every year or dig your fake one out of the basement, both can come with their share of bugs. There are things you can do about them, though.
What are the most common Christmas tree bugs?
When it comes to a fake tree, the most common bugs you’ll find are spiders. They love a nice, quiet cardboard box to hang out in. There could also be centipedes, cockroaches, and even mice (we know that’s not a bug, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be there). If the weather permits, unpack your fake tree outside first. That way, any creepy crawlies can get back into the ecosystem and not into your living room. Shake each section of tree well and then shake the empty box. That will encourage anyone to move along. For a fresh tree, there are a lot more bugs to deal with. Here are the most common ones:
Aphids love to suck sap from trees. They look similar to ticks. They have six legs and are typically a few millimeters in length. Pretty tiny. Aphids are often black or brown, but they can also be red or green – how festive! Some may develop wings.
These insects are tiny, and the coating of wool-like wax they produce can look like a little dusting of snow on your tree (typically around the buds, candles, or needle bases of Christmas trees). Also festive, but still. No thanks. The belly of adelgids can be yellow or purple.
Pine needle scale
The eggs of these scale insects look like little white specs on your tree’s needles, almost like it has flecks of white paint on them. These infested needles will often drop early. If they hatch, small red bugs will produce.
Yup – spiders on your live tree, too. They’re looking to feast on the other insects that are living on the tree. Opportunistic little guys.
The little winged insects, also known as booklice, like to eat mold or fungi that could be on your tree. They’re brown or gray and will die pretty quickly in homes due to low humidity. Despite their name, they are not like typical lice and don’t bite or feed on humans.
Where do bugs like to hang out in Christmas trees?
It depends on the bug. Adelgids are more likely to be found on the limbs or green parts of the tree, and they can lay eggs that are white and sac-like with wispy webbing around them. Those are easy to spot against the green of the tree.
Scale insects and aphids are sap-feeding insects that can be found on the trunk, limbs, and the woody parts of the tree. This is also where you’ll find psocids.
As for spiders, they’ll show up anywhere. They could be hiding on the trunk, or within the boughs.
Should you worry if you find bugs in your Christmas tree?
For the most part, the bugs you will find on a Christmas tree are harmless. Most of these bugs prefer to eat plants, so they won’t be much of a bother. Doesn’t mean you want them in your house, though! Some spiders can bite but only if they feel threatened. You can wear gloves when handling your tree and setting it up inside just in case.
In some cases when there’s an egg mass on a tree, bringing the tree inside to a warm space can speed up the development and hatching. It’s rare, but if you do have one, you can suddenly see a hundred baby bugs around your tree. Gross, but that’s one way to keep the kids from shaking the gifts.
How to get rid of Christmas tree bugs
Your best tool is your vacuum. Simply vacuum the pests up and empty the canister or remove the vacuum cleaner bag. Remember to take the trash out immediately and put it in an outdoor trash can or they could crawl out and right back into your decorated home.
Don’t use insecticides or pesticides on or around your Christmas tree. Many can be flammable, and the heat of Christmas tree lights could be enough to cause an issue. If you have pets, that’s just another reason not to use an over-the-counter insecticide or pesticide. Often, using DIY pest control products leads to over exposure because homeowners think more will kill the bugs quicker. Leave the pesticides to the professionals.
How to prevent Christmas tree bugs
There are a few things you can do to help prevent bringing in a fresh tree with bugs on it.
- Inspect the tree. Bring a flashlight with you to the Christmas tree farm whether it’s dark out or not. Shine the light on the trunk in several spots. If you see bugs or eggs, move on to the next one. If you see a bird’s nest in a tree you’re interested in, choose another, too. They can contain mites and other parasites.
- Shake your tree. Many places will have a mechanical tree shaker that can be used but if not, give your tree a vigorous shake or two before you put it on your car or in house.
- Inspect it again. Before bringing the tree inside, inspect it again. Who knows what attached itself to your tree on the ride home.
If you do see bugs on or around your tree, don’t freak out. They’re harmless. Vacuum them up like we said and go watch the Grinch. Remember: shake and inspect. That way, you don’t have to worry about them in the first place. Merry Christmas!