Christmas trees in North Carolina are grown in a near-natural setting. Most tree
patches are adjacent to woods. Native broad leaf plants and grasses serve as ground
covers around trees. There is an abundance of wildlife, such as deer, turkey and
songbirds. There is also an abundance of insect activity as butterflies,
pollinators and natural predators like lady beetles and praying mantids find a
place to live and thrive.
Unfortunately, your real Christmas tree may have an unwanted hitchhiker. There
are several kinds of insects that spend the winter in conifers such as Fraser fir.
If you are an insect, a Christmas tree provides a well-protected place to live
through the cold and snow of winter months. When you bring the tree into your home,
they think spring has come and become active again, even reproducing in the home. A
similar situation occurs when you leave houseplants outside on the patio in the
summer, then bring them back inside. They may harbor spiders, sow bugs, earlyworms,
or some other critter that has found a safe place to live. In Christmas trees,
pests such as Cinara aphids, spider mites, and praying mantid egg cases may be
found. Fortunately, with Christmas trees, these unwanted hitchhikers do not bite or
cause disease. Like ants at a picnic, they are just a nuisance. In many ways these
hitchhikers are a symptom of a fresh tree recently harvested.
Most years, these pests are rare. Perhaps one tree in 100,000 has any one of
these pests on it. Chances are you can get a real tree every year for the rest of
your life and never be troubled with them again.
A Worse Problem in Warm Falls
These insects are active later in the fall when there are unseasonably warm
temperatures. Therefore we experience worse problems in years with a warm, dry fall
such as 1994, 1999, 2004, and 2006.
Not the Grower's Fault
Should the growers have treated for these pests? Unfortunately, they didn't even
know they were there or they would have. Sometimes it's like trying to find a
needle in a haystack. When enough trees are infested with pests, they can be found
through scouting and treated. But sometimes only one tree in more than an acre of
trees has one of these post-harvest pests on it. No one notices they are in the
tree until they are brought into the home.
Growers try to be good stewards of the land and water. Most growers strive to
use pesticides only when they are needed to preserve tree quality and when they
would effectively control the pest.
Rogues' Gallery of Post-Harvest Pests: