Ornaments and bugs too?
December 10, 2012 12:29 PM   Subscribe

Need advice about buying a Christmas tree

Sorry if this is a stupid question, but I've never had or purchased a real (natural) Christmas tree before and I'd like to get one, but I was wondering whether they sometimes have bugs, and if they don't have bugs, is it because they are treated with pesticide, and if they are treated with pesticide, is a real Christmas tree something that a person who prefers not to have chemicals in his house should not get?

Thank you (and Merry Christmas!)
posted by Dansaman to Shopping (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Here's an article on pesticide use in the cultivation of christmas trees.

To be honest, I'd be more worried about the fire hazards and disposal problems rather than bugs or chemicals.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:32 PM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Depending on where you are, it may simply be too cold for bugs. I don't recall a single instance of bugs turning up in any tree we got, even when I was a kid - I did grow up in New England, though. Also, consider that any tree that's suffering an infestation is already not going to look all that great - it'll have missing branches, weird coloring, etc. - so you wouldn't have picked it anyway, I'd wager, even if it turned up at the tree place in the first place. (Mind you, one year we discovered that there was an abandoned bird's nest in the tree when I was a kid, and that was actually kind of cool.)

Another couple tips in general, for a new tree purchaser -

* Set the tree up in a place where you can easily get underneath it to water it. You are going to have to do that a lot - you know how often you have to change/replace the water in a vase? What a tree is, is basically the world's biggest cut flower in the world's weirdest-shaped vase. You'll have to water the tree every day.

* If you're going to a place where the trees were pre-cut - a good way to test the tree for hardiness is to grab the tree at the top, lift it up a half a foot and then bang the trunk back down on the ground again; check how many needles drop off. You want to get the tree that sheds the least number of needles. When you've picked your tree, have the tree guy cut a couple inches off the trunk (for the same reason you cut an inch off the stems of cut flowers when you get them home - it helps them stay fresher longer).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:42 PM on December 10, 2012

How "Green" is Your Tree?
posted by litnerd at 12:45 PM on December 10, 2012

Not really pesticide related BUT - if you live in a large metro area where trees are sold off the sidewalk as they are in NYC, do not buy them from outside of a restaurant or supermarket, as the rats that nom in the trash bins will curl up inside the trees for warmth.
posted by elizardbits at 12:47 PM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

I grew up with real trees and we never had a bug problem. I also managed to inhale a bunch of pesticide once (in an incident wholly unrelated to the topic at hand) and I can safely say that no tree we bought on a Brooklyn streetcorner ever had enough pesticide to be noticeable.

When you screw the bolts in on the bottom, make sure those fuckers are tight. Also prepare to have needles everywhere for the next, oh, three months.
posted by griphus at 12:48 PM on December 10, 2012

I live in the pacific northwest where lots of guys with a few acres to spare grow christmas trees and sell them informally at this time of year. (There are also huge industrial-scale tree farms, but they usually sell wholesale and not directly to the walk-in public).

Anyway, last year we bought a U-cut tree from one of these random growers and after about 2 weeks in our relatively warm house it turned out to be infested with mites (and/or spiders, couldn't tell). Thousands and thousands of tiny baby squishy black bugs covering every branch. We ended up hauling the tree outside and getting rid of it a week before christmas.

I've had natural trees for 30+ years and this was the first time this has ever happened. We have family that buys their trees from the same guy and they've never had a problem, although I think this particular grower doesn't use any pesticides. I'm now more careful to really wash the tree off with those hose outside before bringing it in.

1) pesticides probably aren't applied anytime near this time of year, so you're not going to get much "residue" if you're really worried about that. Personally I'd worry more about plasticizers offgassing from fake trees
2) Wash the thing off before you bring it inside :)
posted by frontmn23 at 12:50 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all the replies. We are located in Southern California, and the recent weather is fairly chilly at night (but not freezing) and warm to hot in the daytime.
posted by Dansaman at 12:59 PM on December 10, 2012

If you're buying a pre-cut tree, sap may have congealed over the original cut, inhibiting the tree's ability to take up water. A good seller will make a fresh cut for you at the bottom, just a couple of inches. Or you can do it yourself with a bow saw.

I've never had an issue with bugs of any kind in a real tree.
posted by usonian at 1:01 PM on December 10, 2012

I live in LA and I've never had a tree with bugs. I buy them at Home Depot, Target, various tree-lots and I think one year, the Boy Scouts. I like 8 feet tall, and fairly bushy--since most trees are cloned, it's practically impossible to get a Charlie Brown tree any more.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:25 PM on December 10, 2012

I'm in Oregon & the place we get our tree from (a cut-your-own farm) has a little platform they put the tree on that shakes it wildly and gets rid of all kinds of stuff. Plus, it is fun to watch a tree shimmy back and forth!

I would also recommend trying for a noble fir. The way the branches are spaced makes it easy to see if there are rats, smurfs, or other assorted beings living in the tree.
posted by haplesschild at 1:47 PM on December 10, 2012

I've never had a bug come out of any of our cut trees but one time we found an empty bird's nest. Tree farms that don't use pesticides tend to feature that in their advertising, if you're planning to go to a cut-your-own place.

When you lash your tree to the roof of your car, tie it down with the tree trunk end pointing forward. Tying the tree on backwards might damage the branches if you drive at speed and will cause no end of mirthful chortling if I see you.
posted by jamaro at 2:07 PM on December 10, 2012

We always cut our own trees out of the woods when I was a kid. I really don't remember bugs ever being a thing that we dealt with. One year there was a bird's nest. That was pretty cool.

In general, trees, especially conifers, are not usually covered with bugs. If they are, you would be able to see the bugs before you bought the tree.
posted by hydropsyche at 2:41 PM on December 10, 2012

When I was very young we got a tree that had a hornets nest. It took a couple days for us to notice. They must have been cold and inactive when we bought it but they sure got active after a couple days in our house. I don't think this is a likely situation though.
posted by Marinara at 4:01 PM on December 10, 2012

I found a single ladybug in my tree this year. her name is holly.
posted by changeling at 4:25 PM on December 10, 2012 [11 favorites]

Grew up in the northeast and we cut down our trees every year. No bugs.

Now live in Northern California and have purchased live trees from lots two years in a row, no bugs. A co-worker of mine did say her family cut down a tree one year (again, in northern California) and ended up with a bit of an infestation. So I would suggest not cutting your own if you live somewhere that doesn't get very cold, as you do. But you should be fine with trees from a lot.
posted by imalaowai at 9:24 PM on December 10, 2012

Even your fake plastic tree is made of chemicals so don't let the real tree being made of chemicals dissuade you from getting a real tree.
posted by koolkat at 2:47 AM on December 12, 2012

I always put down plastic under the tree, because I know I will spill when I water it. A trash bag will do. Once it's in position, make sure you have an easy opening to reach in to water it. I sometimes use a funnel to water the tree. A fresh/ well-watered tree will not spontaneously combust, but take this opportunity to get a smoke detector for the room it will be in, and check that all your smoke detectors have batteries. I live in Maine and have not had any bugs in a Christmas tree. am I the only person who has such a hard time watering the tree?
posted by theora55 at 6:16 AM on December 13, 2012

I'm in southern CA and have lived here most of my life and bugs have never been a problem in any of my family's trees. I think this is because they spray them, though. I'm allergic to something on the trees - either pollen or pesticide - and spent most of my life with "seasonal allergies" for much of December. Once I figured this out, I discovered I could spray down my tree with water and leave it outside to dry for a couple of days before I brought it in, which mitigated the problem considerably.
posted by town of cats at 11:11 PM on December 13, 2012

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