If you live anywhere from the Midwest to the East Coast and you’ve ever been outdoors in spring, chances are that you have heard the distinctive sound of the annual cicada. The tinny buzzing sound seems to go on forever, but it really only lasts for a few weeks in late spring. This year though, the love song of the cicada will become a deafening roar for people from North Carolina all the way up to New England when billions of the Brood II Magicicada species emerge from deep beneath the earth for their time in the sun – an event that only happens once every 17 years.
It’s natural for gardeners to worry anytime insects appear, especially en masse like this. The good news is that for most home gardens there is little cause for concern. We’ll break down the important facts so you will be prepared when the time comes.
Cicadas cannot emerge until soil temperatures reach 64°F, so a soil thermometer may come in handy for predicting their appearance in your area.
Cicadas emerge every year. There are well over 100 species of cicadas in North America, many of which emerge every 2 to 8 years. Because their life cycles are staggered, there are different cicadas emerging every year. 7 of these species emerge in cycles of 13 and 17 years.
The big news this year is the reemergence of Brood II, which last appeared in 1996 in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. They will not appear everywhere in these states, but where they do show up, they will do so in massive numbers.
While the sudden appearance of billions of big-eyed bugs may be scary, the truth is that the only real potential for damage is to young woody shrubs and trees.
Older trees may see some infestation in tender new growth but most won’t sustain any long-term damage. The damage occurs when the female cicada splits tender woody shoots to lay her eggs – hundreds of them. The photo above shows cicada damage to a tree branch.
If you are concerned about your trees and woody shrubs, the most effective protective measure is to wrap those with woody stalks of ½” or less in diameter in ¼” pest netting. Even if the cicadas have started to appear in your area, you still have time to net your plants if you get it done within 5 – 7 days of their appearance, before the females prepare to lay their eggs.
Your vegetables, herbs, and flowers will survive just fine without any protective measures. If you decide to use a pesticide, Sevin Ready to Spray Garden Insect Killer is one product rated to kill cicadas on contact.