Expert: Risk of spotted lanternfly on Christmas trees is minimal

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — 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.”

Pest management practices

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.

Recycle your tree

After the holidays are over, Delvalle advises, people 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.

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.

To learn more about the spotted lanternfly, permitting regulations, management techniques and how to report a sighting, visit the Penn State Extension website at https://extension.psu.edu/spotted-lanternfly.

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