‘Tis the season for infestations

Simple steps for a pest-free holidays
Tuesday, November 20, 2018
by Alice Sinia, Ph.D.

Nothing adds holiday cheer to an apartment lobby like festive wreaths and Christmas trees. But delightful as they are, seasonal decorations can also attract unwanted pests, like aphids, mites, spiders, wood cockroaches and beetles.

That’s no reason to be a Grinch. Here are some easy steps property managers and landlords can take to help stop critters from hampering their holiday spirits.

Vigilance is key:

As a property manager, chances are plant-feeding insects are already on your radar and you may already have preventative measures in place to deal with these common pests. Those measures should be reinforced around the holidays in anticipation of added threats.

Aphids, for instance, can be a real nuisance.  Aphids are tiny insects, four to eight millimetres in length with soft, pear-shaped bodies, long legs and antennae. There are both wingless and winged forms of aphids, some capable of flying. They’re small (but not invisible to the naked eye) and tend to congregate on tree trunks or plant stems.

Although harmless to humans, in the wintertime fresh cut trees pose the biggest threat for indoor invasions. Once inside, the warmer temperatures provide optimal conditions for aphids to begin reproducing, which can quickly lead to a full-blown infestation if left unchecked.

Avoid an aphid fiasco:

Inspect tree branches for evidence of aphid activity, which can include mold growth from the thick, sugary liquid they produce when feeding. If the tree looks healthy, it’s still a good idea to vigorously shake the tree before loading it into your vehicle and again before bringing it inside. This best practice can help get rid of other hitchhiking pests that may be present as well.

Check the tree and other plants regularly when watering. If you see a few aphids or other insects, it’s not necessarily a reason to panic. They can be vacuumed immediately, and the situation should be monitored. If pests return, call your pest management professional for their opinion on next steps, which could include controlling the aphids using the least toxic methods, removing the tree completely and/or inspecting other areas to see if the pests have spread.

These tips also apply to other vegetation, like garlands and potted plants, which can all harbour cockroaches, spiders and other pests. Inspect poinsettias and Christmas cacti for white flies or fungus gnats and always check plant soil for ants before bringing plants inside from cold temperatures. Indoors, change out the water in vases regularly to prevent small flies from breeding.

Thoroughly inspect stored decorations:

These item-filled containers may go unchecked all year, leaving them vulnerable to pests, like cloth moths, Indian meal moths, fabric beetles and spiders. Unpack boxes in a well-lit, open and uncluttered space to help avoid pests scurrying into cracks and crevices. Check for any signs of pest activity while unloading the decorations, such as holes in fabrics, webbing on the surface of materials, frass or powdery build-up, as well as dead insects, cocoons or larval cases. To make this process easier in the future, consider ditching cardboard boxes and coloured containers for clear storage bins with tight-fitting lids.

Share tips with residents:

In apartment buildings, it’s easy for pests to spread from unit to unit, so it’s imperative everyone does their part. Use email, newsletters, web portals and message boards to share these tips with residents.

Prevention is the best way to ensure a pest-free holiday but knowing when and how to report an issue to management is equally important. If a pest is introduced, encourage residents to alert management immediately so that the appropriate steps can be taken to control and eliminate the pest with the help of a trusted pest management provider.

Other tips to share with residents to avoid inviting pests into their homes for the holidays include:

• Keep doors closed as much as possible when unloading trees and hosting holiday parties. An open door is the easiest way for both flying and crawling pests to get inside unnoticed.
• Whether baking or feasting, it’s important to clean up crumbs and spills immediately.
• Use trash bins with tight-fitting lids and take out the trash often to avoid pest-attracting odours.
• Put leftovers in tightly sealed containers and store in the refrigerator or freezer.
• Inspect spices and other ingredients if you haven’t used them in a while. Beetles and other stored product pests can infest and lay eggs inside. Even if you only find holes in the packaging, it’s best to discard and buy new ingredients.
• As you clean up after having guests over, check for signs of pest activity in coat closets and living areas. If you’re worried about hitchhiking pests, there are even discrete insect monitors that can be installed to intercept pests that could arrive along with guests.

These proactive measures lay the groundwork for a holiday season free from pests. However, a pest professional can address any other vulnerabilities unique to your property to help prevent pests from joining in on the festivities this year.

Alice Sinia, Ph.D. is Quality Assurance Manager – Regulatory/Lab Services for Orkin Canada focusing on government regulations pertaining to the pest control industry. With more than 20 years of experience, she manages the Quality Assurance Laboratory for Orkin Canada and performs analytical entomology as well as provides technical support in pest/insect identification to branch offices and clients. For more information, email Alice Sinia at or visit

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