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Insects on Christmas Tree: Truth or Hype

There has been a little hype lately about the possibility of live Christmas Trees being infested with insects, perhaps up to 25,000. Frankly, that is hype and perhaps a tactic to promote fear and sell insecticide products. In over 9 years of experience with Extension I have never had a client inquiry or problem brought to my attention regarding a serious problem, or even a minor problem, related to insects on Christmas trees.

Most live trees are grown in Oregon, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Washington, New York and Virginia. It is a multi-million dollar industry which takes great care to assure that insects are not going to be a problem when you purchase a tree from a reputable tree lot. According to UF/IFAS entomologist Adam Dale, “even live Florida trees found on tree farms are well protected from pests.” He recently visited a number of large Christmas tree farms in Florida and noted that there is not a lot of insect pressure on trees.

That being said, I cannot guarantee that you will never encounter insects on your Christmas Tree. If you are still concerned about possibly bringing indoors an unwanted critter, the following steps will help;

  • Inspect the tree thoroughly looking at the leaves and branches. If you see any cocoons, egg masses or bird’s nests, remove them by hand.
  • Shaking the tree vigorously will knock off pests. Some tree lots have a tree shaker that is designed to remove lose needles and will also remove pests. If a lot of needles fall off the tree that is a good indication that the tree is too dry and one should look for another tree anyway.
  • You can vacuum the tree carefully. There is an aphid known as the Cinara aphid which feeds only on conifers. It looks like a small tick, but is not harmful to other plants, humans or pets. Simply vacuum it away. Dispose of the bag afterward.
  • Use caution when using plant or garden insecticides on trees prior to bringing inside. Aerosol sprays should never be used as they are flammable and may result in a fire. Products labeled for outdoor use only should not be used. Other products such as Neem oil or diatomaceous earth are not recommended as they may cause skin or inhalation irritation. An ultra-fine horticultural oil and/or insecticidal soap may be used, however, do not leave the tree in direct sunlight as it may damage the tree. Always read and follow the product label instructions prior to use.
  • If you do find any insects around the tree after bringing inside, simply vacuum them up.

Keep in mind, we have been bringing live trees inside for about a thousand years and no one worried much about a few insects. If there are any, their mere presence does not necessarily pose a problem as over 99% of insects are beneficial.

We should be concerned about proper placement and care of Christmas trees once they are brought inside. For more information on Keeping Your Real Christmas Tree Fresh and Safe click on this link: http://charlotte.ifas.ufl.edu/publications/REM-11242009-045–ChristmasTree.pdf