UNIVERSITY PARK — Folks worried that the spotted lanternfly will put a “bah humbug” into their holiday by taking up residence in their live Christmas tree should toss those concerns to the side like used wrapping paper, according to Penn State Extension experts.
“Real trees are part of an outdoor ecosystem, and there is always a chance that insects may be brought indoors with a tree, and the spotted lanternfly is no exception,” said Tanner Delvalle, a horticulture extension educator based in Berks and Schuylkill counties. “However, Christmas trees are not a preferred host for spotted lanternflies, so the probability of finding a spotted lanternfly or an egg mass on Christmas trees is low and should not be a reason for anyone to forego having a live holiday tree.”
To further quell concerns, Delvalle said that Christmas tree growers follow integrated pest management practices to minimize such risks. And, in the case of spotted lanternfly, growers in the quarantine zone of Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Chester, Dauphin, Delaware, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia and Schuylkill counties work with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture to meet the spotted lanternfly quarantine requirements prior to the sale of Christmas trees.
Still, if consumers are concerned, they should inspect a tree for spotted lanternfly egg masses prior to purchase. Egg masses, which resemble gray mud splatters, can be scraped easily from tree bark, noted Heather Leach, spotted lanternfly extension associate in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.
She recommends destroying removed egg masses by placing them in a container filled with rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer. While this is the most effective way to kill the eggs, she pointed out that they also can be smashed or burned. And, if by small chance, an egg mass is present on a tree and eggs hatch indoors, the nymphs pose no threat to people, animals or structures and will die quickly.
After the holidays are over, Delvalle advises, those living in the quarantine zone should take their trees to recycling programs where they will be chipped and composted or burned and not transported out of the quarantine zone.
“Overall, the benefits of having a live tree outweigh any risks associated with pests,” said Delvalle, who pointed out that Pennsylvania is the fourth largest Christmas tree-producing state with annual sales of more than $22 million. “Purchasing real Christmas trees benefits local growers and the local economy.”
He added that live trees also are an environmentally friendly choice as they are a renewable resource and can be recycled easily, unlike artificial trees.
Tips on how to choose and care for a Christmas tree can be found on the Penn State Extension website at https://extension.psu.edu/master-gardener-tips-for-christmas-trees.