For many families, chopping down a live tree (or at least buying one from a lot), then bringing it home to be decorated with ornaments and tinsel is a Christmas tradition.
My family never bothered, and instead we reused a plastic fir that folded up into a box year after year.
That meant I was always a little jealous of families with live Christmas trees. But recent news about trees carrying pests into people’s homes has changed my mind.
Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences says that it’s common for Christmas trees to carry insects, including moths, weevils, and mites.
While some scary reports claim that "up to 25,000 bugs" could be clinging to your tree, most experts agree it’s unlikely you’ll bring home more than one or two.
And even though these bugs are harmless, no one wants to accidentally infest their home before Christmas.
Luckily, experts say it's easy to keep the bugs out of your home, if you know how.
First, give your Christmas tree a good shake before you put it in your car or bring it indoors.
You can also store your tree indoors (say in your garage or a shed) for several days before decorating it. This will dry the tree out, and kill off any bugs still clinging to it.
It also pays to check your Christmas tree for insect eggs, which are laid in the summer or fall but don’t hatch until the weather warms up. Bringing a tree with eggs into your home could mean hatching dozens or hundreds of bugs in your living room.
You don’t need to avoid a tree with eggs necessarily - cutting off and throwing away any branches with eggs will solve the problem.
One approach to avoid is using aerosol or liquid pesticides on your tree, even ones marketed for use on live Christmas trees.
Here's why you should never spray pesticide on your Christmas tree:
Christmas trees are responsible for a major spike in household fires each year, so dousing your tree in chemicals that might make it even more flammable is a bad idea. Most trees have already been sprayed with pesticides in their nurseries anyway.
While it pays to be careful about bringing bugs home, Doug Hunley of the National Christmas Tree Association said it shouldn’t be a major concern this holiday season. In fact, they’re just another part of the tradition.
He reveals that most tree buyers have probably bought home bugs at least once, but the few insects die out from a lack of food before they have a chance to multiply.
"Christmas tree insects are so small you’ll never know they are there and they have always been on real Christmas trees," Hunley told Today.
"On a rare occasion a particular insect like a common aphid may crawl off a tree and be noticed by the family, but these are harmless hitchhikers."
Before you go, here’s one last word of advice about your live Christmas tree: see if your municipality collects and recycles trees after the holidays. It’s a helpful way to turn your waste into something useful, and most of these programs are free.