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Tips to make sure your holiday is hazard free with a real tree

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    The Christmas tree is beloved staple of the holiday season, but make sure to take some precautions to ensure a safe and happy holiday for yourself and your loved ones. PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY KRYS SANSONE

Published December 06. 2017 12:36PM

The Christmas tree is the quintessential holiday decoration, serving as a hallmark of the season.

Who doesn’t have fond memories of presents under a beautifully decorated evergreen?

Just be warned, that tree could be harboring something besides the presents and ornaments — thousands upon thousands of bugs. The tree itself is a fire hazard. On top of that, the needles and decorations can be a threat to pets.

But before you toss your real tree out on the lawn and throw down hundreds of dollars for a fake one, relax and address each issue one at a time.

Infestations

First and foremost, let’s talk about insects.

According to alternative lawn and garden products company Safer Brand, depending upon where you live, the local flora will play host to a variety of bugs. Some of the more common critters to set up shop in Christmas trees include adelgids, aphids, bark beetles, mites, praying mantises, psocids, scale insects, spiders, moths, sawflies, weevils, bark lice and webworms.

Most of these bugs will die out rather quickly, as the inside of your home isn’t very hospitable to them. Of course, there is always a chance that some creepy crawlies could piggyback their way into your cozy Christmas den, but they are generally harmless.

One of the best solutions to prevent a plague of pests is rather simple — a little patience.

“Leave it bundled up outside for maybe a day or two, and if you see any bugs, leave it out again for a few days, and the cold weather does them in,” Lee Walker of Walker’s Tree Farm said.

Remember that shaker that they use to clear debris from the tree at the farm? It helps to flush out some of the stowaways, too.

“We shake every tree before it leaves the farm,” Walker said. “It helps to get rid of the bugs, mice and birds.”

Before you take the tree inside, prune any branches that look like they have any egg cases or bird nests. When you are ready to bring it in, shake the tree vigorously over a white sheet to dispel anything that might be hiding on the branches, and thoroughly vacuum the area.

For a little extra protection, you can dust the tree with Diatomaceous Earth or spray it with neem oil to kill off any other bugs.

Just don’t use any aerosol sprays, as these are fire hazards.

Fire hazards

A relatively dry piece of wood surrounded by electrical wiring is, unsurprisingly, a fire hazard. So what can you do to keep the fire relegated to the fireplace this holiday season?

The American Christmas Tree Association says to pick a tree that appears green and robust, with needles that should be difficult to pluck. Look out for trees that are shedding excessively, as they are most likely dried out.

Make sure that you distance the tree from any heat sources, including the fireplace, radiators, baseboard heaters or other such appliances.

“Be careful about exposing the tree to any heaters. Radiating heat may cause trees to catch fire,” Slatington Fire Department Chief Jason A. Nicholas said.

If you are decking the tree out with lights, ensure that they have been tested by an agency like UL or ETL/ITSNA. Throw out any light strings that aren’t working properly. Perhaps most importantly, don’t overload your power strips with lights and other devices.

“That’s probably the biggest problem. It can backfeed and catch the lights on fire, and then the tree,” Nicholas said.

As charming as a lit tree can be, switch it off when you aren’t at home, or when you go to bed for the night.

And, of course, always make sure to check the level of water in your tree stand.

“Keep it watered, so it won’t dry out and become even more combustible,” Nicholas said.

Keeping pets safe

With the water sitting in the tree stand all day, it seems like an open invitation to thirsty cats and dogs. However, it can be a serious health hazard, as the water may very contain some chemicals that aren’t pet friendly.

“With the water, the presence of sap and preservatives can cause some gastrointestinal upset in pets,” veterinarian Carl Fortna of Highland Animal Hospital said. “You have to limit access to it.”

Fixing a tree skirt tightly around the stand should ensure that your pets can’t get to the tainted water.

If you can manage it, try to keep pets away from the tree, as the needles are not easily digestible and can also cause gastrointestinal issues when consumed. Pine needles in particular are highly toxic for cats, so if you happen to have a curious kitty, you may want to invest in a spruce or fir.

As for ornaments, keep easily breakable pieces firmly attached to the tree, and preferably out of reach from cats and dogs, lest they fall and shatter, which could lead to lacerations. If your pet tends to snatch things from the tree, try to keep the decorations and lights relegated to a height where they aren’t easily accessible. Fortna also recommends avoiding tinsel if you happen to have a cat, since they tend to be attracted to it, and it can cause stomach issues.

And if you happen to decorate your tree with any chocolates, try to place them up high, as Fortna pointed out that chocolate toxicity for pets is a major holiday concern.

“A lot of people leave it under the tree,” Fortna said. “It’s best to store things like that up high.”

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