Anytime you bring materials from the great outdoors into your home, you may be importing hitchhikers. Firewood, pine cones, seedpods and other natural items often host insects and arthropods. The majority of these pests don’t pose a real threat to your home, furnishings or family, but it’s nice to avoid the surprise – or even scare – their presence can produce.
Beetles, bees, bark lice, pillbugs, centipedes, ants and more – firewood forms a virtual convention center for insects and pests. Some creatures settle into wood while it’s still a tree, living or dead. Other critters move in after firewood is cut and stacked. Still others simply crawl into wood or beneath bark to hibernate through winter.
The best way to avoid scurrying insects and panicked people is to store wood outdoors – away from the house – until you need it. Only keep enough wood indoors to fuel the fire for the moment. It takes several days for insects in wood to warm up and wake up, so keeping the majority of your wood pile outside should eliminate huge influxes of wood-borne critters.
Other ways to minimize wood insects and eliminate indoor pests include:
- Dry quickly. Drying wood quickly after cutting provides the least inviting environment for insects. Cutting wood into smaller pieces immediately after cutting hastens drying.
- Time cutting. Harvest firewood during seasons when insects are least active (usually from November to March in colder regions).
- Don’t spray. Avoid applying pesticides to cut wood. Chemicals often just encourage insects to burrow deeper into wood. Also, you run the risk of creating fumes as you burn pesticide-soaked wood.
If insects do emerge from wood, catch, vacuum or squish them.
Natural Dried Materials
Natural items such as pinecones, seedpods, acorns or husks, are great for enhancing fall and holiday seasonal decor. Typically insects don’t pose a large threat when you gather materials after a hard frost, but there’s no guarantee.
How can you be sure that items you gather aren’t housing pests? To be safe, treat materials after you bring them inside. Florists recommend several methods to eliminate insects.
Freeze. Stash materials in an airtight bag or container and freeze for a day or two. Insect pests should freeze solid and fall out of materials. Flash freeze individual flowers on trays. When thawing materials, remove from containers and spread on cooling racks to limit moisture exposure.
Seal and spray. Place items in a box or trash bag, spray with insecticide, and seal overnight.
Bake. Spread woody items such as pinecones, seedpods or branches on a baking sheet. Bake at the lowest oven setting for an hour. Check materials every 15 minutes to avoid overbaking. If pinecones have sap, line baking sheets with foil. Sap should melt off in five minutes. Never bake natural materials you have sprayed with any kind of preservative.
Boil. You can boil pinecones to remove resident critters. Place cones into boiling water for five minutes. Lay on newspaper to dry. Cones close in the water, but re-open upon drying. Turn drying cones throughout the day to ensure even drying. Cones may require several days to dry completely.