It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The days are getting short and chilly, hot chocolate and eggnog are being served in abundance, and there’s a roaring fire in front of the Christmas tree…wait, did something just move in the tree?
Yes, not only do we have to worry about rats and squirrels making their homes in our attics and basements in the winter, but also pests can enter your home without you realizing in the most unlikely of places: your Christmas tree. Taking home a real Christmas tree to decorate and enjoy its fresh evergreen smell is a time-honoured tradition that us Canadians still follow year after year. Too bad pests also have the same idea!
Most of the pest problems we outline can be avoided if you choose to put up an artificial tree instead (your choice—some people prefer the smell of real Christmas trees). While most companies are pretty good about applying pesticides before selling their real trees off, if you decide to go to a choose-and-cut-it-down-yourself location, the likelihood of finding pests on your desired real Christmas tree is greater.
To help keep your home pest-free this holiday season, let’s take a look at the pests you absolutely don’t want to find in your Christmas tree.
No, these varmints are not named after the singer Adele (though the start of their name sounds similar). Adelgids are usually mistaken for a light dusting of snow on the tree, making them excellent camouflagers if snow has fallen outside. If it’s clear our and you’re seeing this dusting, then you know your real Christmas tree has a problem and not a neat pre-decoration feature. Adelgids can usually be found on fir trees, Norway spruces, and White and Scotch pine trees.
2. Pine Needle Scales
Not to be mistaken for your tree’s actual needles. Pine needle scales are varmints that appear as tiny white specks on the needles or branches of pine trees. When they hatch from the eggs, their appearance is that of tiny red moving bugs. You’re more likely to find them on Douglas firs, Norway spruces, and Scotch pines.
Also known as ladybug food, aphids are green and pill-shaped in their appearance. While they’re best known for being garden pests, they can also nest in real Christmas trees. A sticky substance on your Christmas tree’s trunk is usually a dead giveaway as to their presence. Pay extra attention to the lower boughs of your Christmas tree where they’re most likely to be occupying. Do not squish these varmints yourself, unless you really want purple or red stains to appear on your favourite couch and furniture.
Yep, keep an eye out for moths when buying your Christmas tree. Moths generally like to nest in hidden and out-of-sight locations such as corners. You know what else moths love? Lights. And guess what has a lot of lights? Yup—your Christmas tree. Add to the fact that Christmas trees usually are placed in the living room, and you’ve got plenty more light sources for a single moth (or two, or three, or even ten) to gravitate towards and annoy you!
These varmints you’re more likely to notice more than any of the other varmints on this list. These girls and boys need no further introduction; we’ve already talked about them in great length in this post. Thankfully, black widows and brown recluses are not the types of spiders you’re likely to find in your Christmas tree. They prefer hanging out in the dark corners of isolated spaces, such as the garage or shed. Still, it’s best keep an eye out for spiders and cobwebs before bringing the tree home and if you’re especially afraid of them.
6. Bark Beetles
Bark beetles are hard-bodied, cylindrically shaped beetles that make their way onto Christmas trees to live inside of them. They are either red, brown, or black in colour and are about the size of a grain of rice. Look for any sawdust trails against the tree’s trunk and small holes; these are the biggest giveaways that these are your current Christmas tree pest problem.
7. Rodents (Rats and Mice)
Usually companies selling their Christmas trees are pretty good at getting rid of their rodent problems. However, if your home is already infested with rats or mice and you didn’t notice before bringing the tree home, you’ll definitely notice if they’ve made their home nearby. Trees make for excellent climbing (something your cat likely already knows, if you own one!), plus they may also find your edible ornaments (think candy canes, as an example) pretty tasty too!
8. Birds and Bird Nests
Bird nests make for great decorations if they’re artificial, but definitely not so much so if they’re real! If left alone outside for a while, birds can and will nest in any tree they see as a fit place for their eggs. When it’s especially cold outside, they’re less likely to relocate anytime. Check your tree branches in the higher regions for any egg cases or nests before you bring it home.
We’re not talking about ticks, relax! Although they are part of the mite family, ticks will not nest on trees or jump out from them. Mites, on the other hand, can and do live on trees. They can be identified easily; look for tiny red and brown dots moving around on your tree’s trunk and branches. Mites can cause premature needle dropping as well as unpleasant small red stains on the carpet or your tree decorations, so keep an eye out for this also.
This one’s a little more unlikely, but you never know! We’re adding this varmint to the list mostly to remind you of this scene. It’s a classic!
How to Prevent Christmas Tree Pest Infestations
Now, time for an early Christmas present: some good news about these pests. While these varmints may indeed be able to hitch a ride on your real Christmas tree, they are easy to get rid of if detected right away and it’s very easy to prevent an infestation from arising. You just need to know what to do!
Most of the more common pests we’ve listed here, such as the spiders and the aphids, are more of an inconvenience to you than they are a health concern. You don’t want to squish any of these pests if you find them—they can really leave unpleasant stains on your walls and furniture! Plus, many commercially grown Christmas trees are already clean when you buy them. (If you’re a company that sells them and needs help with pest control, let us know!)
Obviously it goes without saying that inspecting the tree very closely is your best bet to avoid taking some pests home with you! The problem with a lot of these pests is that most of them are practically microscopic in size; you’d need to get really up close and personal with your tree to find them. Noises and weird movements in your tree are a dead giveaway, but usually these are noticed after the tree has been brought into the house.
Here are some tips on how to avoid taking home an infestation along with your desired Christmas tree of choice:
- After bringing the tree home, let it stand in your garage for two days.
- Grab a white sheet and place it under the tree. Then, shake, shake, shake! Shake, shake, shake! Shake your tree’s booty! Usually this will knock a lot of the pests off of your tree, and the white sheet will help you spot them easier.
- Once you’re done shaking, grab your good old friend the vacuum cleaner and vacuum up any bugs you’ve found that fell off, as well as on and around the tree itself.
- If you’re concerned about your family’s allergies, especially to pollen, it might be worthwhile to grab the garden hose and give your tree a spray. When you’re done, put the tree in water in a pot and then let it dry naturally for another one or two days before you bring it inside.
- If your tree is all clear and no pests came off of it, you’re good to go! Bring it inside and let the tradition of trimming the tree commence!
In the event you’ve discovered you have indeed brought home one of these pests, even after shaking its booty, here are our suggestions:
- Trim the tree…literally. Trim away any infested looking branches that may be infected with bugs or hosting a bird’s nest and dispose of them properly. Afterwards, you can hide the newly made gaps with your favourite garlands and decorations.
- Give your living room or wherever the tree is placed a good vacuuming before and after decorating. Besides, pine needles can get everywhere!
- If you do find bugs, don’t spray the tree inside! That can be more hazardous to your health than the actual varmints! Take the tree outside and follow the previous steps we outlined. If treatment in the form of pesticide needs to be applied, then let your local Pest Boss handle it. Don’t go out and use an aerosol pesticide, no matter how tempting it is; those are highly flammable and can do a lot of damage that will endanger you and your family and pets (plus, they’re incredibly ineffective).
- If push comes to shove and treatments have failed or there are too many varmints for you to handle, remove the tree from your home and return it to where you bought it. Most companies are okay with replacing your tree with a cleaner one if your tree is particularly buggy.
Don’t panic; while the odd Christmas tree horror story may be floating around online, such as this “pleasant” story about aphid eggs, in reality the likelihood of finding pests on your Christmas tree are very, very minimal. Many of the pests we outlined in this article tend to die out after a few hours, especially since the heat will be on and their lifespans are already so short.
If the bugs get out of hand, though, or spiders decide to move in behind your furniture, then calling in a professional pest control company to get rid of them is the safest thing you can do. Worst-case scenario, pests in Christmas trees are at least a good way to get rid of other unpleasant varmints (i.e. relatives) during the holidays!
From all of us at Pest Boss, we wish you a very happy holiday season! May they be merry, bright, and pest-free!
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