The Really “Stinky” Christmas Tree

By Marcia Anderson

Last year, my husband and son went on their annual Christmas tree hunt. They came home with a lovely tree that was home to our lights, ornaments and garland, and it filled our home with the fresh scent of spruce.  Christmas came and went, and the tree dried out. While taking off the lights and ornaments, I found a few “shield shaped” bugs on the branches. For the next four months my house was overrun with the most putrid smelling bugs that I ever encountered.

When my husband brought the tree in from the cold outdoors, the stink bugs awoke from their winter slumber. As long as the tree was fresh, the stink bugs blissfully drank its sap.  However, as the tree dried, the sap was no longer available, so the stink bugs migrated all over the house looking for another meal. They targeted bathrooms and the kitchen which have ready water sources, and rooms with houseplants. They even swam in the dogs’ water dish. All winter long I battled stink bugs. They made the vacuum smell. The dog stank. I soon found the easiest way to get rid of them was to give them an eternal swim in the porcelain whirlpool.

Want to avoid a winter long battle? Bring a strong flashlight with you when you are selecting your tree. Check carefully on the trunk and undersides of the branches for the brown, ugly bugs. If you squeeze them you will quickly learn where they get their name.

Advice: Find them? Then find a different tree.

Stink bugs got their name from the rotting smell they give off when threatened or crushed. Since nobody wants their home to smell like rotting food, it’s very important to have a stink bug control plan in place if you begin noticing them around your home.

The best plan for stink bug control inside your home is exclusion and prevention. The bugs flatten their bodies and squeeze through windows, cracks or other openings within the walls. Make sure all your window screens fit securely and tightly. Other major points of entry are fireplaces, firewood and chimneys. Close your flue when the fireplace is not in use.  Caulking around doors and windows, baseboards, and areas where cables and wires enter your home will help keep stink bugs out. Expandable foam caulk can be used for large gaps.

I discovered that Diatomaceous earth can be used for stink bug control outdoors around foundations; fumigation doesn’t work, and if you try to squash them…well, just say I warned you. I found out that dish washing liquid mixed in a 50/50 concentration with water will kill stink bugs.  You can fill a container ½ full with this mixture and let it sit out.  The bugs will be attracted to the moisture and drown. I drowned many in the kitchen sink while my pots soaked overnight.

Vacuum cleaners can sweep up both live and dead stink bugs, however, it may permanently infuse the stink into your vacuum. Remove the dead bugs as the rotting carrion smell will attract more stink bugs and other insects.

The good news: This pest poses no substantial risk to structures or people, but is it is a horrid nuisance. This year my husband will be a lot more careful selecting a tree. Happy Holidays!

About the author: Marcia is the bed bug and vector management specialist for the Pesticides Program in Edison. She has a BS in Biology from Monmouth, second degree in Environmental Design-Landscape Architecture from Rutgers, Masters in Instruction and Curriculum from Kean, and is a PhD in Environmental Management candidate from Montclair – specializing in Integrated Pest Management and Environmental Communications. Prior to EPA, and concurrently, she has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology and Oceanography at Kean University for 14 years.

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