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Wreath pests

Elongate hemlock scale, or EHS, attacks more than 40 species of conifers, feeding on the underside of their needles and sapping them of nutrients. They secrete a brown, hard, waxy covering that protects them and spreads as other generations hatch. 

State inspectors are warning residents to burn their wreaths and other evergreen holiday decorations after an invasive insect was found in many of the items purchased at large Wisconsin chain stores.

The state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection said Wednesday that wreaths and other evergreen decorations from this holiday season should be burned or put into a bag before dumping them into the trash.

The holiday decorations shouldn’t be composted or set aside for brush collection to prevent spreading the invasive species.

The warning comes after state inspectors found elongate hemlock scale — invasive insects native to Asia that steal nutrients from conifers when they feed on the underside of their needles — on many decorations like wreaths, swags, boughs, evergreen bough arrangements, hanging baskets, porch pots, mugs and sleighs in chain stores across Wisconsin, according to the department.

“It’s fine to keep your decorations up for the holiday season, but when it’s time to dispose of them ... burn them if you can. If you can’t do that, bag them and send them to the landfill,” said Brian Kuhn, director of DATCP’s Plant Industry Bureau. “If you compost this material, the insects may well attack conifers in your yard or neighborhood, and spread from there.”

Winter weather won’t kill the pests, he said.

After hatching, elongate hemlock scale, or EHS, sap their hosts of nutrients as they feed on the undersides of the needles of more than 40 conifer species. The pests secrete a hard, waxy cover around themselves as they grow, creating brown spots or “scale” that can be seen on the needles.

The insects are hard to kill with pesticides because they produce multiple generations throughout the year, the department said.

Hemlock, spruce and fir trees are the most prone to infestations, DATCP said.

The insect has been found in Michigan and many in states in the eastern U.S., according to the department.

But state inspectors have also been finding isolated cases of EHS in Christmas tree lots and other places selling wreaths and trees over the last five years.

Stores, all part of major chains, that had infected products received them from suppliers in North Carolina, the department said.

Inspectors also intercepted infested shipments from Virginia before they reached stores in Wisconsin.

Stores have cooperated and destroyed any affected products, according to DATCP. It’s unclear if other chain or independent stores have sold or received infested products, the department said.

For more information on elongate hemlock scale: Go to go.madison.com/holiday-pests.

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