Home Improvement Expert Danny Lipford

Julie Day Blog

’Tis the Season for . . . Ticks?


This holiday season has proved full of surprises. From the leaking roof to two fender benders in one day (ice-related and amazingly not my fault) to the exploding gingerbread (trust me – the oven will never be the same), life’s lesson plan this season seems stuck on “disaster” of the sort that’s only comical after bolting back a few cups of eggnog. It’s been a season of going with the flow, sometimes while clinging to an upside-down canoe.

Given the pattern, I really should have been prepared for anything from earthquakes to temporary paralysis. Nevertheless, I was rendered nearly speechless when I crawled under the Christmas tree to add water, and I found the floor underneath the tree littered with what appeared to be ticks. There were dozens of them. Meandering around, looking bewildered and hungry, slowly spreading out across the living room. Ticks . . . you gotta be kidding me!

I wish I had a photo to show you, but frankly I pulled out the vacuum cleaner faster than Wyatt Earp at the OK Corral. And then I reached for the tick spray and gave that tree the dose of a lifetime. In a couple of days, my house would be full-to-bursting with houseguests, and my organic sensibilities were overrun by the fear of spreading a little Lyme Disease with my Christmas cheer!

The next day—after one more pass with the vacuum—the problem seemed to be under control, but it was quite a while before I found the time to face (and to learn about) what had happened. I’d never heard of ticks being in a Christmas tree, but, as my life has proved over and over, anything’s possible.

Meet the Cinara Aphid

Before you become infected with my panic and throw your Christmas tree on the curb, I’d better hurry up and clue you in on the punch line – it turns out they weren’t ticks at all. In fact:

  • Ticks don’t live in trees, and they don’t lay eggs in trees. They dehydrate too easily, so they stay closer to the moist ground. They aren’t found in Christmas trees, period.
  • Ticks need live animal hosts, so it would be impossible for them to multiply and infest a tree without a food source. It doesn’t fit with their life cycle or habitat.
  • Ticks spread by clinging to and falling off hosts – they don’t swarm or form colonies.

While tree growers look for infestation, it can be difficult to spot on a large farm.

So what CAN multiply and infest a tree? Cinara aphids, also known as Conifer aphids, that’s what. Here are a few facts about the little critters:

  • They’re harmless. That’s right, harmless. They feed on trees, not animals, and they don’t bite or carry diseases. For us humans, they’re nothing more than a nuisance.
  • As I can testify, they look almost exactly like ticks, with their brownish-black, flat, round bodies and short legs. The dead giveaway, though, is that Cinara aphids have only six legs, while ticks have eight. You can see what they look like at BugGuide.net.
  • They even leave a purple-red smear when you smush them (believe me, I smushed plenty of them).
  • They feed on trees and infest pines, firs, and other conifers, making Christmas trees vulnerable.
  • They can infest only one tree in a large area, so the tree grower may not know about them.

Aphids are no match for the vacuum – just be sure to throw away the bag.

What If My Tree Has Aphids?

If you’re like me and unknowingly bought a Christmas tree infested with aphids, not to worry! It really isn’t that difficult to deal with them. Try these tips:

  • Shake your tree before bringing it inside, to dislodge as many as possible. You can also rinse your tree with mild soapy water and allow it to dry outdoors. Aphids are soft-bodied insects that are easily washed away.
  • If your tree is badly infested, don’t be afraid to take it back to the tree lot. The grower should identify and understand aphid infestation and exchange it for a healthy tree.
  • Inspect trees before you buy them. Look along the tips of branches and also deep within the tree – the aphids move to more protected branches as the weather gets colder.
  • Vacuum up any critters that make it onto your floor. I only found them right under the tree – they didn’t travel far, and most of them were dead or barely moving. They really were easy to control – my only panic was because I thought they were ticks!
  • Don’t squish them – they’ll stain your carpet or floors.
  • You can treat your tree using a room fogger or insecticidal soap, if you wish.

Further Information

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11 Comments on “’Tis the Season for . . . Ticks?”

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  1. Tia Says:
    October 12th, 2012 at 1:16 am

    Ticks CAN and DO live in trees, they can burrow into loose bark, etc. And there have been cases of lyme contracted from trees brought in for the holidays. I know of two people who got lyme this way. One in Oregon, one in Iowa.

    Ticks are active all year long, even in the snow. It would have to get to -17F (17 below zero)to kill a tick but they can still survive that temp if they are burrowed in. As with Christmas trees, once inside, they warm up and come out.

    I’m not trying to ruin anyone’s bright holiday but be aware. Lyme is a terrible, terrible disease that has taken decades of my life before finally getting diagnosed. Ticks also carry other infections.

    More detail, search for these sites: ILADS; LymeDisease.org

  2. Claire Says:
    November 3rd, 2012 at 9:04 am

    We had a major infestation last Christmas, first dozens of the big fat ones came off the tree, followed by hundreds and hundreds of tiny ones, I’ve never vacuumed so much in my life!

  3. Lynne Says:
    December 6th, 2012 at 7:56 am

    I do not advise ever “smushing” a tick in an attempt to kill the pest. Dr Cecile Jadin, Johannesburg South Africa, her husband Dr Gerin and her father before her (also Dr Jadin) are the worlds best Rickettsial Research Physicians. A person can contract Rickettsia (blood borne pathogen found in ticks, causative agent for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever) from the blood of “squished” ticks…Never risk this … EVER… Rickettsia, as with ALL Tick Borne Diseases, does not have a cure…

  4. Leslie g Says:
    December 8th, 2012 at 7:18 am

    Oh my !!! This exact thing happened to me. Last night i layer down under the tree to water it and i notice the bugs everywhere!!! I panicked . Ran and swept it up and sprayed everywhere. I definitely think they are ticks but now im not sure. I have an infant in the home and am so worried. Weird thing is I’ve had to tree for 2weeks and now is when these critters come out…

  5. Liz M Says:
    December 18th, 2012 at 11:35 am

    Our elderly dog goes outside only a few minutes a day, but lately we have found several ticks on her. She loves to stick her head in the Christmas tree. We got the tree in late November, and before that, no ticks on dog. How do we dispose of tree safely or get rid of ticks on tree? Thanks

  6. Sharon Says:
    February 12th, 2013 at 10:15 am

    We had a huge infestation of those little black bugs on the Christmas tree and they all hatched at the same time. Special! In trying to clean them out of the carpet, many were squished in. After three shampoo treatments, plus various spot-treatment with Simple Green, Spot-Shot and Follmers, the stains are still there. Help, please!!

  7. Prof Says:
    July 19th, 2014 at 3:33 am

    Very misleading and untrue article. Tree ticks are very real and a health danger. Use Google to verify.

  8. joe Says:
    July 19th, 2014 at 5:13 am

    ticks live on woody plants, under bark, etc. To state that ticks do not live on trees is misleading.

  9. Linda Lane Says:
    November 26th, 2014 at 8:04 am

    Yes they do what do you think happens when a tick lays its 2000 eggs tbey hat and have to go somewhere they climb trees shrubbery, grass bushes lying in wait for theirvfirst host. It is not just animal host but humans.

  10. su carpenter Says:
    December 18th, 2014 at 8:25 am

    Think I had ticks on a tree, now worried about the big tree I bought from a tree farm.

  11. sharon davis Says:
    May 28th, 2015 at 11:40 am

    We have lived in lake villa Il for 25 years and never had such a problem with ticks. Its epidemic. I keep grass mowed and bagged. Dogs are toy dogs and are essentially house dog’s. We shampoo with flea tick stuff. And resorted to keeping their walls on gravel drive. Check daily. Does washer dryer kill them from dog bedding. Use dyson on rugs and floors. Any further suggestions.

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