Cicadas—How to Protect Your Yard During Bug Attack

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Net the Young Trees

The Brood X cicada population is one of the more far-flung populations. Gardeners in regions of Maryland, southern Pennsylvania, northern Virginia, New Jersey, Delaware, small parts of West Virginia, North Carolina and northern Georgia, southern Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, and Illinois can expect to be inundated.

The sheer volume of the emergence can be staggering.

"Southwest Ohio can expect five billion, and that's probably a lowball estimate," said Gene Kritsky, a biologist and cicada expert at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, Ohio. "Seventeen years ago we estimated that there were 50 to 100 per square yard [0.8 square meter] in parts of Cincinnati."

With each female laying up to 400 eggs, homeowners in these regions with young trees might consider netting them.

"If people are worried about their young dogwoods or cherry trees, pond netting, or any kind of netting where the holes are small enough [so that] a cicada can't get through, should work," said Abbundi. "But we really don't feel people need to panic about it."

American Plant Food nursery recommends two products to clients concerned about young trees in the six- to ten-foot tall (two- to three-meter-tall) range.

"Pond netting, which is black and fades somewhat into the background, and spun poly-olefin, which is white and typically used as a row-crop cover, will both work. You don't have to wrap until the cicadas have emerged," Baker said. "There's a five- to ten-day lag before the females start laying their eggs."

Wrap the trees like a giant lollipop, covering the canopy and securing the netting beneath the lowest branches and securing it to the trunk.

To wrap or not to wrap is really a judgment call, Baker emphasizes. "You are going to see evidence of their activity, and if seeing the damage is going to bother you, wrap them."

"I have two peach trees at home that we planted several years ago, and now they're about six feet [two meters] across and ten feet [three meters] high, and I wouldn't worry about them," Shauff said. "But a couple of years ago, at 5 feet [1.5 meters] high and 2 feet [0.6 meters] wide, I would have netted them."

Unless you own a fruit orchard or a tree nursery, spraying is not recommended.

"Chemical control for adult cicadas is difficult, not 100 percent effective, and typically winds up killing good bugs in the process," advises Natorp, an Ohio-based nursery, in a brochure prepared for the 2004 emergence.

Don't prune your trees until the cicadas have come and gone; think of them as nature's own pruning shears. Some nurseries suggest holding off on planting young hardwood and fruit trees until the end of June.

Cicada Benefits

Gene Kritsky, who is about to publish a book on cicadas, wants people to welcome them with open arms.

"There are all sorts of benefits to cicadas," he said. "When they emerge the holes they create provide a natural aeration of the soil, moving more dirt than earthworms will. The holes persist, allowing more water to get to the roots, which is good if you're in a drought. [Dead cicadas are] a great fertilizer, providing nitrogen and potassium, putting a big chunk of nutrients back into the soil. And [cicadas] provide a natural pruning, so that the following year you get a greater yield of acorns, blossoms, or fruit, depending on the tree."

On the down side, when billions of cicadas die, the smell can "get quite funky for a while; kind of like bad limburger cheese," Kritsky said.

If you have a tiller to help turn the ground, or even a rake, to help bury dead cicadas, your garden will reap the benefits in the following year. Also, if you're in an area likely to be hit hard, you might want to keep your snow shovel handy to assist in removing them.

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