Christmas Tree Pests Tuesday December 4, 2012
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Pest-Free Christmas Trees

Sniff, sniffahhhh, tis the season for the smell of pine needles..and with the wonderful aroma of pine, you just might have a few pests hitching a ride on that Christmas tree — right into your home!

Christmas tree with ornaments

Christmas trees can bring in pesky guests during the holidays.

Christmas Tree Farms and Pesticides

There are very few Christmas Tree Farms in southern California where you can actually have a tree cut fresh for the holidays, but you can purchase a live one in a pot for later planting. Most trees are shipped in from other states and are treated with pesticides during the year; however, sometimes small critters may be shipped into the state along with the trees.

Christmas tree farm in North Carolina

Christmas Tree Farm, North Carolina
(1 out of 5 Christmas trees in California come from N.C.)

Organic Christmas Trees

Pesticides used by commercial tree farms are usually removed from the trees prior to harvest and shipping, by rainfall and ultraviolet light. Still, if pesticides are a concern, there are some Christmas tree farms that tout organic methods. If the trees are raised without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, they can be certified as organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Mechanical Christmas Tree Shaker

Washington State University plant pathologist, Gary Chastagner, uses a mechanical tree shaker at a commercial shipping yard in Oregon to check for yellow jackets.

Yellow Jackets Invade Hawaii by Way of Christmas Trees

Hawaiian residents count on having their Christmas trees shipped from the mainland in time for the holidays, however in 2010, Hawaii had to implement a new law that requires all Christmas trees destined for the Island States be shaken. An article by the ARS (United States Agricultural Research Center) indicated that due to shipments of Christmas trees across the Pacific, the Hawaiian Islands have been invaded by the Western Yellow Jacket.

Black and Yellow Western Yellow Jacket

Western Yellow Jacket (Vespula pensylvanica)

Yellow jackets usually nest in the ground but mated queens that havent built their nests yet, will sometimes make their home in coniferous trees during the long winter months. A Yellow jacket is a meat-eating predator known to compete for insect prey with Hawaiis native birds. This competition has greatly reduced the native insect population on the islands. Christmas trees are now screened by agricultural inspectors and manually or mechanically shaken before shipment.

Adelgids (Adeleges tsugae)

Hemlock Woolly Adelgids (Adeleges tsugae) look like snow.

Other Insects Living in Christmas Trees

Insects common to coniferous trees, once in your home, wont take up permanent residence and may quickly die but you can still avoid these unnecessary guests by taking a few precautions. Some of the insects that may be hitching a ride on a Christmas tree are aphids, spider mites, scale insects, bark beetles, spiders, adelgids (invasive woolly insects that look like snow), and praying mantis. The adult mantis may be gone but the babies in a mantis egg case may hatch once inside the home.

Praying Mantis Egg Case

Praying Mantis egg case on fir tree.

A single egg case from a praying mantis female can contain hundred or more babies. Normally they wouldnt hatch until spring but with the warmth of your home, you could have a hundred babies roaming around under the tree. These tiny mantises dont bite or carry diseases; they can actually be beneficial insects inside your garden.

Praying Mantis in "prayer" position

Praying Mantis (Mantis religiosa)

The Praying Mantis strikes the prayer position before attacking its prey and will eat just about any insect a garden has to offer. If you find an egg case on the Christmas tree, you could gently dislodge it and place it in your garden as a natural form of pest control.

Aphids on coniferous

Cinara aphids on a pine tree.

Tips on Pest-Free Christmas Trees

Now that I have you thoroughly worried about pests traveling in Christmas trees, dont despair, these insects that make their homes in coniferous forests lack the proper food and habitat to survive for long periods of time in your home. Just as a preventive measure, here are some tips to ensure your tree is insect-free before carrying it inside the house.

Inspect the tree thoroughly for any aphids or egg sacs. Give the tree and branches a good shakedown. What looks like a dusting of snow may be woolly adelgids. Do not use aerosol pesticides! These products are flammable. Check the trunk for small holes with trails of sawdust; it may have bark beetles.

Bark beetle eating the trunk of a pine tree

Mountain Pine Bark Beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae)
munching on a tree trunk.

You really dont need to worry too much about pests in your Christmas tree – even if you miss some upon inspection. Coniferous forest type insects need food and humidity to survive. Most likely, the insects will die within a few days, and then you can vacuum them up!

Christmas Tree Trivia

The first written record of a decorated Christmas Tree was recorded in the year 1510 from Riga, Latvia (The Baltic States). Men of the local merchants guild decorated a tree with artificial roses, danced around it in the marketplace and then set fire to it.

In the early 1800s the Christmas tree was introduced to America and by 1851, Christmas trees began to be sold commercially within the United States.

Real Christmas trees are grown in all 50 states and Canada; 80% of all artificial trees worldwide are manufactured in China.

Approximately 25-30 million real Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. every year.

It can take as many as 15 years to grow a tree 6 – 7 feet high but the average growing time is 7 years.

350 million Christmas trees are currently growing on U.S. tree farms, all planted by farmers; Christmas tree farms provide state-wide employment for over 100,000 people.

For every Christmas tree harvested, 1 to 3 seedlings are planted the following spring.

Christmas Tree Doll Ornament

Happy Holidays!

Article by Donna Walker

Photos are credited within each image

Christmas Tree References

United States Department of Agriculture NCSU College of Natural Resources Christmas Tree Specialist Jill Sidebottom and Jeff Owen Raver, Anne, How Green Can a Christmas Tree Be? New York Times, December 8, 2008 U.S. National Park Service National Christmas Tree Association

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