Christmas tree bugs

Asked November 30, 2015, 11:01 AM EST

My live Christmas tree had bugs when we brought it in the house so we took it back out and sprayed it with Ortho bug spray. Now I have Google this and have read this can make the tree flamable....what can I do? Do I need to get another tree or how can I be sure this tree is safe to put lights on?

Rock Island County Illinois

1 Response

Thank you for contacting us at eXtension. This could be a very serious safety issue, and I'm glad you checked with us.

A lot depends on what product you actually used. Ortho makes hundreds of insecticides, so it's hard to guide you specifically.

First: any insecticide that is an Emulsifiable Concentrate (it would have EC in the name, such as Permethrin 20EC) contains organic solvents. These would definitely increase the flammability of your tree. Many of the ready-to-use aerosol sprays contain an oil product which would, again, make the tree more flammable.

I am not sure if you can wash enough of the carrier off to make it completely safe.

Additionally, was the chemical labeled for use indoors? Many garden insecticides may give off fumes, which can be dangerous in an enclosed area such as your house. Certainly, there would be risk if pets or small children start chewing on the needles or twigs.

Finally: you say this was a live tree. Does that mean it has the root ball intact, and you were going to plant it outdoors after the holiday? If so, was the chemical labeled for use on ornamental trees? You may be causing some chemical damage to the needles by using a non-labeled product, although this is not going to be a very likely problem: more chemicals are designed for ornamentals usage than edible garden usage.

The safest thing to do would be keep this tree outdoors, either as decoration or as a landscape plant. Pick up another tree, and examine it before bringing it indoors. Check for any egg sacs (praying mantises are most common) and remove them. If there are a large number of visible insects, try hosing them off before bringing the tree indoors. Most of the insects that will warm up and start moving around cannot survive long in a warm, dry household. They will either starve or dehydrate. Whatever happens, they will not damage your furniture, house, rug, or you.

Please let me know if you have any other questions.