Beloved traditions like trimming the tree and decking the halls are what make the holidays a cherished time of year. Yes, even this year. But beware, homeowners: Fresh holiday greenery and decorations stored in the attic could bring holiday grinches like spiders, ticks, and ants into your house.
“While these decorations are meant to bring joy, they can actually end up causing quite a headache if any pests manage to catch a ride into your home,” said Cindy Mannes, senior vice president of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association.
Mannes says bugs like to hide deep in the branches of trees and wreaths, and many other pests, including spotted lanternflies, like to lay eggs in them.
“This makes thorough inspections crucial to preventing an infestation,” she says.
Don’t let your holly, jolly holidays become a pest nightmare before Christmas. To keep unwelcome bugs out of your festivities this holiday season, consider the following tips.
Carefully inspect live greenery
Part of the fun of the holidays is decorating with live greenery like wreaths, trees, and garlands. But live greenery should always be checked for signs of pests or eggs.
“Homeowners can help prevent the spread of pests by buying healthy plant material,” says Sarah Scally, assistant horticulturist for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry. Before purchasing, look at the tree, wreath, or garland for signs of pests, including insects, egg masses, and disease symptoms.
“Avoid greenery that is yellowing, drooping, losing needles, oozing sap, or has holes or sawdust on twigs or trunks. These can all be signs that pests may be present,” says Scally.
Shake out all live greenery
Once you’ve thoroughly examined your greenery, there’s one extra step to take just in case your eyes missed something.
“Pests such as spiders, mites, and ticks are known to nest in live garlands and wreaths,” says Mannes. “Shake out trees to dislodge any hiding hitchhikers you might not be able to see at first glance.”
Properly store firewood
Being prepared for a cold winter means stocking up on firewood for your fireplace or backyard fire pit. But be sure you properly store your wood supply to avoid pests.
Mannes recommends storing firewood at least 20 feet from your home and 5 feet off the ground to limit access for pests.
“Firewood poses a high risk of moving serious invasive pests—such as emerald ash borer and Asian longhorned beetle—inside your home. Purchase firewood that is grown locally. If local firewood is not available, purchase firewood that has been heat-treated,” says Scally.
She says regulations concerning firewood vary by state, so be sure to check and follow any local regulations before moving firewood.
Inspect firewood before bringing indoors
Having extra firewood ready to go for your fireplace is essential to keep that roaring, crackling fireplace going. With the temperatures dipping outside, you’re going to want to quickly brave the frigid air to grab more wood for your fire. Be sure to check for any signs of pests before bringing anything indoors.
“A warm fire is the perfect way to get cozy on a cold winter night, but firewood stored outdoors and brought inside can also create pest problems. Spiders, ants, and termites are known to take shelter amidst firewood stored outdoors and can easily hitch a ride into the home,” says Mannes. “Inspect any firewood before bringing it indoors to ensure that pests stay outside.”
Dispose of greenery responsibly
Holiday cleanup sadly ends with the unhappy task of ditching your evergreen decor. But when disposing of live greenery, place it as far from the home as possible to avoid attracting pests to your property.
“These pieces of live greenery can attract mice, rats, and other pests looking for harborage sites during the winter,” says Mannes.
Scally says if your greenery appears to have been pest-free, it is fine to compost, but “if over the holiday season it becomes obvious that there is a pest present, the greenery should be bagged and disposed of with the regular trash.”
Contact a licensed pest control
If an infestation is suspected, it’s important to enlist the help of professionals. Pests that enter a home (e.g., termites, ants, and rodents) can create serious health threats to humans and significant property damage. Don’t try to go it alone.
“Rodents are known to spread over 35 diseases worldwide, and termites cause more than $5 billion in U.S. property damage every year,” says Mannes.