Aphids can infest your Christmas like little grinches, stealing away your Christmas cheer. Here is how to get rid of aphids on Christmas trees.
Christmas is the season to be jolly, but it can become a nightmare if you find your precious tree infested with bugs. While artificial trees are safe, the real ones often end up carrying pests to your home.
Aphids are one of the most common pests in the US, and it’s not hard to find them on fraser firs and white pine trees.
While they are harmless to humans, these pests can cause your conifer’s leaves to yellow and decay pretty quickly. It will leave a lifeless-looking tree when you decorate it.
In this blog, we will talk about how to save your Christmas tree from these tiny little grinches.
Cinara Aphids – Christmas Tree Infesting Bugs
While there are numerous aphid species out there, the Cinara Aphid is particularly notorious for infesting conifer trees.
Cinara aphids can thrive even in freezing temperatures, which is why conifers are so vulnerable to them.
Besides the damage they cause to Christmas trees, these pests accumulate in huge numbers, and their sheer presence can be a nuisance.
Size and appearance
The Cinara aphid is one of the biggest species of aphids and can grow up to one-quarter of an inch in length. They have dark bodies, usually ranging from brown to black. Some Cinara aphids may also have white spots on the rear part of their abdomen.
Cinara aphids hatch from black eggs, usually laid on the conifer needles. Just like other aphid species, they grow into adults rather fast. This allows them to reproduce quickly, multiplying in numbers and causing major infestations.
Where Are They Found?
These aphids tend to infest conifer plants in cold regions, which is how they earned the moniker ‘giant conifer aphid.’
These pests live in huge colonies comprising hundreds of aphids, often causing panic among unsuspecting humans, mistaking them for ticks.
In nature, they prefer to infest trees along the wooded field edges. Although they mostly infest the lower branches and the trunk of the tree in the fall, the pests spread to the upper whorl of the branches in spring.
What Damage Can Aphids Do To Your Christmas Tree?
In case you’re familiar with aphids, you probably know what a menace they can be to the trees they infest.
Aphids suck plant sap from the leaves, and doing this in such large numbers can severely damage the tree.
Aphids feeding on a Christmas tree will cause the leaves to become yellow and wither, eventually defoliating or even killing the tree.
These aphids also secrete honeydew, a sticky, sugary substance that results in the growth of a sooty mold. All in all, these bugs can completely ruin your Christmas.
How To Get Rid Of Aphids on Your Christmas Tree?
The best way to keep your Christmas tree free of aphids is to make sure it didn’t contain any in the first place.
When buying a Christmas tree, inspect it carefully with a flashlight and look for aphids.
You should also shake the plant and pound the stump on the ground. This will cause aphids hiding in the nooks and crannies to fall out.
If you somehow still end up having aphids in your Christmas tree, you can vacuum them off the plant or use natural insecticides to eliminate them.
If indoors, don’t squash the aphids near a carpet because they will leave behind horrible stains when crushed.
Other Bugs Found on Christmas Trees
Aphids aren’t the only pests that live in Christmas trees. You may find various other types of bugs on your Christmas tree as well.
Let’s talk about the most common ones and how to stop them from infesting your Christmas tree or your home:
Occasionally, praying mantises lay their egg cases in Christmas trees. Each egg case might contain hundreds of mantis eggs.
These eggs would hatch in the warmth of your home. Even a single praying mantis egg case can cause a large-scale infestation.
If you notice a lot of spider webs on your Christmas tree, it means the tree likely has spiders living on it.
While you can easily eliminate spiders with a handheld vacuum cleaner, be careful about the poisonous ones.
In case you are dealing with a venomous spider or a spider species that you are unfamiliar with, make sure you don’t touch it.
Adelgids are identifiable by the wool-like wax on their bodies, which allows them to camouflage very well amidst fake cotton snow or artificial snow spray.
They usually stay near the needle bases or the buds of a Christmas tree and look like a little dusting of snow.
Pine needle scale
These tiny red bugs can cause severe damage to your Christmas tree, resulting in issues like stunting, wilting, withering, and even the death of the tree.
Pine needle scales hatch from tiny eggs that resemble white specs on the plant. Getting rid of these scale insects is very difficult.
You may use vinegar, soap, or neem oil spray to keep the scale population in control until you’re done with the tree.
Bark beetles are another common pest found on conifers. These bugs can be black, brown, or red, with a shape and size similar to a grain of rice.
Different species of bark beetles attack different parts of a tree but usually prefer moist wood on stressed trees.
These are relatively harmless insects that only feed on mold growing on the trees. Psocids won’t damage your trees or bite you.
However, a large presence of these pests can be annoying. Also known as booklice and bark lice, these winged bugs have gray or brown bodies and are attracted to high humidity.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I get rid of bugs on my Christmas tree?
It’s not advisable to use chemical insecticides on your Christmas tree, especially if children are going to come in contact with it.
You can shake up the tree and vacuum it to remove the tree pests. If the infestation is severe, you can use insecticidal soap.
Can you spray for aphids on the Christmas tree?
Using a hose to spray your Christmas tree with a jet of water is a great way to free it from an aphid infestation.
It’s also a much safer alternative to using bug sprays since the latter is usually toxic and highly flammable.
Do aphids live in Christmas trees?
Giant Conifer Aphids, also known as Cinara aphids, live in conifer trees. These include freshly harvested Christmas trees too.
Although aphids hibernate in winter, they can get active when placed in a warm indoor environment when you bring your Christmas tree inside to decorate it.
Should I spray water on my Christmas tree?
Yes, spraying water on your Christmas tree is one of the easiest ways to rid it of aphids and other tree pests.
It also helps keep the tree from drying and prevents it from losing too many needles. However, make sure all the Christmas tree lights are turned off and unplugged when you spray water.
When you get a Douglas fir, Fraser Fir, white pine, or any other conifer from a tree farm this holiday season, make sure you aren’t taking home a pest-infested tree.
Even if you end up with a tree that has aphids on it, you now know how to deal with them. Thank you for reading, and have a Merry Christmas!
Over the years, our readers have sent us several emails on this topic. Please go through them below.
Letter 1 – Live Christmas Tree Alert: Aphids enter apartment on Christmas Tree!!!
Subject: Sudden bug problem
Location: New York City
December 19, 2012 1:56 pm
Today, I noticed several bugs dead or dying on the floor near the windows (which were closed – it’s winter, and I live in New York City – apt on the 6th floor of a high rise). I’ve never seen these bugs before – when I started looking around, I found a bunch more (altogether, nearly 30), all on the floor or baseboards, almost all looked like they were dying. A handful were already dead. Only two seemed to be moving normally. I have no idea where they came from, why they appeared suddenly, or why they were dying. Their bodies are about 0.5cm long and 0.25cm wide. We put a Christmas tree in this room, but it’s been here for nearly two weeks with no sign of the bugs; we don’t keep any food in this area, it’s just a small sitting room (picture included). Any info you can provide on what these are and how we can keep them away would be MUCH appreciated – thank you so much for your help!!
Signature: Mari in Manhattan
Every year we answer several letters for folks who find unwanted visitors in their homes around Christmas. Many creatures enter homes on live Christmas Trees. This is a Giant Conifer Aphid in the genus Cinara. Aphids feed on sap and fluids from the host plant. If the Christmas Tree was in place for two weeks before the appearance of the Giant Conifer Aphids, we suspect there was enough sap to allow the Aphids to feed. As the tree dried out, the Aphids no longer had a food source and as they were dying, they were attempting to locate another living tree, to no avail. Since there is no other food, the Giant Conifer Aphids will die indoors. They will not harm you or your home, but they can be considered a nuisance. In addition to Giant Conifer Aphids, other insects that have entered the home on a Christmas Tree include Sawflies, Bagworms and Preying Mantids which hatch from oothecae laid on the trees. When we first began this site, we often got reports, usually without photos, of Preying Mantids hatching from Christmas Trees, but we haven’t gotten any recent reports since 2005. Perhaps if more Preying Mantids were living in the Christmas Tree farms, there would be fewer reports of Giant Conifer Aphids which are our newest and most frequent reports of critters coming into the home on Christmas Trees.
Letter 2 – Giant Conifer Aphid infestation on Christmas Tree
Think they came in with the Christmas Tree!
December 29, 2010 7:28 pm
We had a live Christmas tree in our house for about three weeks before I noticed a single one of these bugs. Then all of a sudden, one day I saw them all over the floor surrounding the tree. I kept finding more and more spreading out from around the tree into other rooms. FInally we saw they were all over the trunk and branches of the tree. I can’t seem to identify what they are from looking at any pictures of bugs commonly found on Christmas trees.
They are very small and almost look like woodticks except they have only six legs.
What are these little guys and how can I avoid bringing in bugs on the Christmas tree in the future?
Signature: Hoping they’re benign
This is a Giant Conifer Aphid in the genus Cinara. BugGuide notes that “They are, however, a problem for Christmas tree growers: customers don’t like large, conspicuous aphids in their homes, especially since they tend to abandon the tree as it starts to dry out.“ Benign is not really a word we would use to describe Aphids. BugGuide has this to say about members of the genus Cinara: “Tends to form colonies on individual trees. They secrete honeydew, which is eaten by ants and wasps and provides the substrate for sooty mold fungus. May cause some stunting or even death on small or already-stressed hosts, but generally not a serious threat.” Any threat they might have posed to the tree upon which they had been feeding is irrelevant because the tree died when it was cut. Other than being a nuisance in your home, they Giant Conifer Aphids that fled your Christmas tree as it began to dry out will not cause any further damage, unless there is a potential host tree living nearby that they can infest.
Letter 3 – Giant Conifer Aphids on Christmas Tree: Happy Belated Holidays: We’re Back!!!!!
Subject: Tick or Cinara Aphid
Location: North Florida
December 21, 2015 1:20 pm
Hi bugman. We found these bugs in our Christmas tree. I looked them up online and they seem to be the Cinara Aphid – but I don’t know if that’s just wishful thinking. Can you tell me what this is?
Happy Belated Holidays Lucas,
We have been away for the holidays and we did not read any WTB? emails while with family. Your identification request was the last we read, but alas, we could not respond before catching a jet plane. We are thrilled to find that you were able to self identify this sap sucking Aphid.
This is indeed a Giant Conifer Aphid in the genus Cinara.
We will not be responding to any additional emails until tomorrow.
Letter 4 – Aphids in the House: Did they come in with the Christmas Tree???
What kind of bug is this???
Location: Cleveland, Ohio
December 1, 2010 7:42 pm
The other day I noticed about 100 of these bugs just appear in my house. Shocked by what was happening and was freaked out. They got all over clothes, floors and were crawling on the walls. I took a picture of one before I killed it hoping to understand what this is and where it came from?
Its real small like 1/8” in diameter, black body with about three thorns on it’s butt.
Any advice would be helpful!
We had to enlarge your photograph which degraded the image quality, but it appears that this is an Aphid in the family Aphididae. According to BugGuide: “Aphids may be identified by two tubelike projections on the posterior, called cornicles or siphunculi. These appear to function as a means of chemical defense, emitting pheromones to alert other aphids about a predator nearby. They also offer mechanical protection, as the fluid emitted can gum up the mouthparts of the predators. Although many different aphid species are known, they may sometimes be identified by the host plant upon which they are found. However, several different species of aphid may infest a single plant species. An attempt to organize BugGuide’s aphid images by host plant is underway here.” Determining why they are in your home should result in resolving the problem. Aphids feed by sucking the juices from plants, and many species are significant agricultural pests. Did you recently purchase a new house plant? Perhaps you recently brought plants back into the house that have spent the summer outside. Maybe you just brought a live Christmas Tree indoors. It is often quite difficult to determine the exact species of Aphid based on a photograph alone. If these Aphids came from a live Christmas Tree, they might be Giant Conifer Aphids in the genus Cinara. Of this group, BugGuide notes: “They are, however, a problem for Christmas tree growers: customers don’t like large, conspicuous aphids in their homes, especially since they tend to abandon the tree as it starts to dry out.” Aphids are not the only insects that enter the home on a Christmas Tree, and each year we get at least one letter from a person who suddenly finds Preying Mantids have hatched from an ootheca that came with the tree.
Letter 5 – Giant Conifer Aphids on Christmas Tree
Subject: Xmas tree bugs
Location: United Kingdom
December 28, 2014 12:36 pm
Hi I’m from UK and want to identify this bug I have found at the Base of my Normann Fir tree. The photo should show size but approx 5mm bigger than an and but smaller than a spider.
We believe these are Giant Conifer Aphids and each holiday season we receive several reports of infested Christmas Trees. Often folks do not know the trees are infested until the trees begin to dry out and the Aphids either die or begin to search for a fresh food source.
Thanks Daniel, hope you have a great New Year.
Kind Regards, Steve
Letter 6 – Aphids might have come in on the Christmas Tree
Subject: House insect pest out of nowhere!!
Location: East Tennessee
December 9, 2012 4:18 pm
I came home after a weekend and these were everywhere. They’re like ticks with longer legs and easy to squish. Help me get rid of these please!!!!
Our guess is that these Aphids came in on the Christmas Tree.
Letter 7 – Giant Conifer Aphid probably came in on live Christmas Tree
Subject: Doesn’t look like a carpet bug, but that’s where they were found!
Geographic location of the bug: Manchester, UK
Your letter to the bugman: Can anyone I identify this little fella, found many of them in the carpet but they don’t appear to look like any imaged of carpet bugs I found on: Anthony
While we suspect the answer is “yes” we would like to confirm that you had a live Christmas tree in the house. This is a Giant Conifer Aphid, and folks with live trees are often quite surprised to learn their tree was infested with Aphids that begin leaving the tree when it begins to dry out. These Giant Conifer Aphids are a nuisance inside the home, but they will not damage your home or its furnishings, unless you have other live coniferous houseplants.
Letter 8 – More Giant Conifer Aphids on a Christmas Tree
Subject: Christmas Tree Bugs
Location: Fairfax, VA (but don’t know where tree came from)
January 16, 2016 8:29 am
Our Christmas tree began dropping sap onto the ground in several locations. We thought it was because it may have been shaped recently, but upon closer inspection found hundreds of these bugs underneath the ends of the branches. They are gray with dark gray spots. They don’t move quickly, nor seem to fly. They seem to be clustering together, feeding on the tree. Do you know what family of bugs we’ve invited into our home for the holidays?
Signature: Sincerely, Buggin Out
Dear Buggin Out,
You have Giant Conifer Aphids, a common occurrence on commercially grown Christmas Trees.
Letter 9 – Giant Conifer Aphids on Christmas Tree
Subject: What’s the insect that came as a bonus with my Christmas Tree?
Location: Austin, Texas
February 1, 2016 2:41 pm
For the second time in my life I have managed to purchase a live Christmas tree that weeks later developed an insect issue. This time the insect is different than the first. In my Google search to determine what it was this year, I came across your site and another individual’s issue with a Christmas tree pest–which for them turned out to be the Giant Conifer Aphid.
Thanks to their picture and your site I now know what my insect was the first time. Now I’m wondering what this new one is. The aphids never left the tree and I didn’t notice them until I was taking it down. Those were also on a different type of tree for me–a Fraser Fir.
This year I bought a rare type of tree–a Natural Noble. While Noble Firs are common enough for purchasing, Natural Nobles are not–at least not where I live. It’s a beautiful and expensive tree that I discovered at a particular local nursery in Austin, Texas. I’d never seen one available before at a Christmas tree stand or a nursery. This is now the 3rd year I’ve bought this type of tree but the first time it has come with bugs.
The other night (4-5 weeks after purchasing the tree) I noticed what I thought was a large mosquito in my kitchen. Then I noticed a second one. Then the lightbulb went off in my mind to go look at the trunk of the tree as this time of year there aren’t mosquitos. Yep, sure enough there were insects parading up and down the trunk, in different sizes. They were fast movers. While the image may make them appear large they really aren’t. Like I said, they look about like a giant mosquito.
They are winged, or at least many of them were, but I never saw them flying. They were either dead under the tree or dead in another room. The ones on the trunk were very active but not flying. I don’t think those had wings or were so juvenile they couldn’t be seen yet. Overall they’re pretty fragile and when you touch a dead one its legs cling to the skin.
I looked online quite a bit for insects that come in with Christmas trees but couldn’t find anything that looked like this or that had wings. Any idea what this is?
Signature: Michele (Austin, Tx)
A living Christmas Tree is host to many creatures that continue to develop in the warm indoor conditions of the heated home. For the past few years, we have gotten submissions of Giant Conifer Aphids in the genus Cinara plaguing homemakers. Your image depicts winged adult Giant conifer Aphids similar to the one in this BugGuide image.
Thank you for the positive identification and your very timely response. I’m so sorry that I didn’t offer you more of a challenge. You get emailed about these bugs a lot and I was convinced they were something other than the Giant Conifer Aphid. These winged adults look so different in size and shape from what I experienced the first time.
Nonetheless, thank you again for taking the time to respond to me. I’ve had a lot of fun perusing your website.
Letter 10 – Giant Conifer Aphids on a Christmas Tree
Location: Dead on the ground and in the Christmas Tree
December 2, 2016 12:09 pm
You helped us identify the bugs on our Christmas Tree last year as aphids – I was very happy to learn they were aphids and not ticks or spiders, so thank you! However, even with close inspection before bringing it home, it seems our tree again this year has aphids. We’ve had the tree six days and so far we’ve seen a handful of dead ones on the ground under the tree, until this morning. I found a small puddle of sap on the floor so investigated and discovered a branch with a cluster of them just above the puddle. I cut the branch off and attempted to thoroughly inspect the tree. I didn’t find any, but they’re pretty hard to see with the naked eye – their color and size help them blend in well! My question: is the tree doomed? Are aphids a pack bug? If there’s a handful, is the tree bound to be infested and they just haven’t made their appearance yet? I’d rather drag the tree out now and not Christmas morning!
Thank you, again!
Signature: Buggin Out, Again
Dear Buggin Out, Again,
Each year we get at least one report of a Christmas Tree with Giant Conifer Aphids on it. We suspect that most farmed Christmas trees have a good chance of supporting a population of Aphids. Aphids are generally found in significant numbers rather than individually. We are most amused that you asked if your tree is doomed. The tree was doomed the minute the axe was taken to it, and one might even argue that since it likely came from a tree farm, it was doomed the minute it was planted. Our advice to you is to chill and ignore the Aphids you have found and to just enjoy your tree until you normally remove it. The Giant Conifer Aphids will not infest your houseplants, and they will not leave the tree unless they drop dead onto the floor. You will need to vacuum tree needles anyways, so don’t stress. Since we will be leaving the office for the holidays, we are postdating your submission to go live to our site at the end of the month.
Letter 11 – Giant Conifer Aphids come in on the Christmas Tree
Subject: Bugs from Christmas tree
January 8, 2016 8:46 am
After one month of a Christmas tree in our Sun room, hundred or so if these bugs started crawling all over. When squished, they squirt a deep red almost brown color. Not sure if they are nymph stage or what?
Live Christmas Trees are notorious for introducing insects to the home. Your critters are Giant Conifer Aphids, and we have gotten numerous reports this year alone of Giant Conifer Aphids indoors. Live Christmas Trees eventually begin to dry out, and as the food supply for these sap sucking insects diminishes, they set out in search of other conifers, which they are not very likely to find in the home. Other than being a nuisance, they will not harm you, your pets or your home.
Thank you so much for your expeditious response. Glad to know they are not harmful, but that was probably our last live tree. Will resort to artificial in the future. Too bad because it really smelled nice! 🙂
Letter 12 – Giant Conifer Aphids on yet another Christmas Tree
Subject: Bug in Christmas tree
Location: Sacramento California
January 10, 2016 11:18 am
These bugs were at the top of our Christmas tree when we took it down. Didn’t see them anywhere else on the tree.
We bought the tree in the town of Camino in northern California.
Signature: Bill Shortridge
Most folks never notice Giant Conifer Aphids on the living Christmas Tree until the tree begins to dry out and the Aphids leave the branches in search of food. Giant Conifer Aphids pose no threat to the home unless there are other potted conifers indoors.
Letter 13 – What Came in on the Christmas Tree? Giant Conifer Aphids
Lots of bugs on Christmas tree
Location: Dallas, Texas – but could have been imported!
January 3, 2011 6:31 pm
Hi bugman! I was very sad that my husband wanted me to take down the Christmas tree. But now I am very glad he did! As we were removing ornaments and lights, we discovered the tree was positively CRAWLING with these bugs. We threw the tree over our balcony so as not to drag it through the house, and vacuumed thoroughly, just in case. Sorry for the blurry photo – we were in a hurry to take the image and get it out of the house.
That is a close up of the trunk of the tree in one spot, but it was like that everywhere. For scale, the needles remaining on our floor are all about 3/4 inch long, so I assume that’s a similar length to the ones in the photo. The bugs were quite small.
Do you know what kind of bugs they are? My mom suggested they are some kind of stink bug, but the back legs are much longer than any stink bug I’ve seen. We are in Dallas, TX, but the tree could have been shipped in from somewhere (we got it at Home Depot).
Signature: Deana in Texas
You have Giant Conifer Aphids in the genus Cinara (see BugGuide for more information), and they are commonly brought into the house with a Christmas tree. As the tree begins to dry out, they will flee the tree. They will not harm your home or you or your pets, but they can be an annoyance. Your mom is quite astute. Stink Bugs and Aphids are in the same insect order, Hemiptera, and this order is characterized by sucking mouth parts and includes Cicadas and all True Bugs including Assassin Bugs, Bed Bugs and Toe-Biters.
Thanks so much for the information! I’m glad to know they aren’t really harmful to our two cats and dog or to our home.
In the future, is there something we can look for when choosing a tree so that we don’t have this problem again? We didn’t see the bugs when we brought it home (and I would think we would have noticed when holding the trunk of the tree to carry it in the house or put it into the stand) so I suppose they were either just eggs at the time or perhaps living -inside- the tree somewhere. I read that they do have some kind of secretion, also – is that something we can look for on the tree in order to prevent this for future holidays?
Or is this just one of the risks associated with purchasing a live tree?
Aphids often reproduce by live birth, so if there were a few individuals on the tree when you purchased it, they escaped notice. If the tree was up for a few weeks, the number of individuals might have increased exponentially, producing the infestation you discovered upon undressing the tree. Interestingly, in years past, there have been other insect sightings associated with a live Christmas tree. One year we received about five letters of Preying Mantids hatching from ootheca or egg cases, but we received none of those this year.