How to Spot and Get Rid of Bugs That Might Be Living In Your Christmas Tree

How to Spot and Get Rid of Bugs That Might Be Living In Your Christmas Tree
Photo: Andrey Yusenkov, Shutterstock

As convenient as they are, and regardless of how many pine-scented candles you light, it can feel like there’s something missing from artificial Christmas trees. It’s not only the mess live trees can make when their needles fall off and then are tracked around the house (although that’s a bonus). The other thing absent from (most) artificial Christmas trees is bugs.

Sure, it sounds gross — and fortunately, is pretty rare — but that’s kind of what you signed on for when you decided to bring a recently chopped tree out of nature and into your home. Now that Christmas is over and your tree is probably coming down soon anyway, it may seem like dealing with any of its pest residents is doing too little, too late.

But it’s not — doing a bug-check before taking the tree down (and taking action, if necessary) is a good idea before you drag the tree through your home and out the door. Here are the bugs to look for and how to get rid of them.

When Should I Take Down My Christmas Tree?

I once kept my tree up until March just to hold on to the festivity of the season — I know, I know. I’m the first to admit that that was a terrible idea. But when is the best time to take down your tree?

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The bugs that may live on your Christmas tree

Before we go any further, we should point out that the bug occupants of Christmas trees, while disgusting, are probably not going to hurt you. As Dr. Chad Gore, an entomologist and market technical director with Ehrlich Pest Control, recently told Prevention, most Christmas tree pests stick to feeding on plants — especially sap (which is why they’re on your tree in the first place).

One exception, though, is spiders, which can also live on Christmas trees, and can bite — though Gore said it’s uncommon. Still, he recommends wearing gloves when you dispose of the tree. Other pest residents could include:

  • Aphids (which look like ticks with wings)
  • Adelgids (which can look like a dusting of snow, but are actually bugs)
  • Pine needle scale (which look like white specks, but are eggs laid by bugs)
  • Bark beetles (about the size of a grain of rice)
  • Bark lice (at least these don’t feel on humans)
  • Praying mantises (one may have hitched a ride on the tree into your home)

How to get rid of bugs in Christmas trees

The good news is that if you spot bugs on your tree at this point and you get rid of it, you won’t be accused of “ruining Christmas” or anything. Also, many of the bugs that live on the trees prefer living outdoors, so if a few manage to escape while they’re being evicted, they may not stick around for very long.

Still, in an ideal world, no one would have to worry about letting bugs into their home on their Christmas tree. But if you do see any, here’s what to do (and not do):

Vacuum 

Vacuuming is both the easiest and safest option. And don’t just go around the tree: if you see bugs, get out the attachments and suck up as many as you can before moving the tree out of the house. Hit up the base, branches, bark — anywhere you see (or might see) bugs. Once the tree has left the building, vacuum along the path it took from its spot to the door to go outside. Then, empty the vacuum’s bag or canister into a sturdy trash bag, seal it, and then put it in the trash can.

Make Sure You’re Watering Your Christmas Tree Enough

If you’re committing to a live tree this holiday season, I hope you’re ready to do a lot of watering. That big boy’s going to need a gallon or more per day, and no additives or spray-on stuff can change that. Keep your tree watered. Otherwise, it becomes a huge...

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Don’t use over-the-counter insecticide sprays

This is especially the case if you happen to see bugs ahead of the holidays and don’t want to take the tree down. That’s because many OTC sprays are flammable, and you don’t want that stuff near the heat-generating lights hanging on the tree. Plus, it’s best to avoid spraying chemicals inside your home if there are alternatives.

It’s too late for diatomaceous earth

While you may have heard about using diatomaceous earth to get rid of bugs on a Christmas tree, it’s something that’s useful before you bring the tree into the house — not vice versa. (Like, if you noticed bugs on the tree as you were unloading it from the car.) The insecticidal powder doesn’t contain synthetic chemicals and does work, but it has to be on the tree for at least 24 hours before it begins to be effective, so it’s of little use to you at this point.

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