If you live somewhere where it’s cold in the winter, that usually means two things: Christmas is coming and the bugs are finally gone. On that note, you might be thinking about when and where you’ll be purchasing your tree. Well, we have good news and bad news. The bad news? Some bugs do stick around for wintertime—and they might be hiding in your tree. The good news? According to Dr. Nancy Troyano, Ph.D. and entomologist for the family of pest control brands Ehrlich, Western Exterminator and Presto-X, there are plenty of ways to avoid bringing these sneaky critters home with you. (By the way, here’s how many bugs you’ve been eating every year without even realizing it.)
“The good news is that the type of pests that often make Christmas trees their home are not the type that will cause an infestation and are, most likely, completely harmless,” says Dr. Troyano. Some bugs you might find hanging out in your tree include aphids, adelgids, scale insects, bark beetles, psocids, praying mantis egg masses, and mites. “These insects tend to go dormant on trees during the cold months, but as soon as you bring them indoors and warm them up, they spring right back to life,” Dr. Troyano adds. “They will likely not stay on the tree as the tree dries up and try to find other places to make their home.” Here’s what else your Christmas tree wishes you knew.
Fortunately, most Christmas tree lots have mechanical tree shakers for this exact reason. (It’s also important to note that if you cut down your own Christmas tree, you are much more susceptible to bringing home unwanted critters.) But if there isn’t a tree shaker available, not to worry—shaking the tree yourself will get the job done, too. “A mechanical tree shaker vigorously shakes the tree, which is meant to rid it of loose pine needles, but also dislodges insects in the process,” says Dr. Troyano. “In a mechanical shaker, the entire tree is subject to the vibrations and as such, many insects are expelled regardless of where they are located on the tree.”
After the tree has been shaken, it’s important to still check the branches and pine needles for any lingering bugs. Once you bring your tree home, make sure you regularly vacuum around the bottom of the tree to ensure that there are no leftover bugs that might’ve crawled down. Plus, it’ll help keep the tree’s surroundings neat and free of fallen pine needles. You might even want to save those pine needles—they have a lot of incredible uses.
However, Dr. Troyano stresses that as much as you’d like to use a chemical spray to get rid of any leftover bugs, this can pose a serious fire hazard. “Do not use chemical sprays! Aerosol sprays, for example, can coat the needles and branches and they are very flammable. Generally speaking, just being indoors and away from their preferred food source will kill off these pests naturally.” (Feeling extra cautious? Here are some other ways you can bug-proof your house.)