Cicadas and Your Garden: What to Expect and How to Protect Your Plants

This is not a drill! It is happening, people: the emergence of periodical cicadas. These fascinating insects, known for their loud chorus and unique life cycle, can have a noticeable impact on your garden. If you’re a gardener, you might be wondering how these insects will affect your plants and what steps you can take to protect your green oasis.

Understanding Cicadas and Their Life Cycle

Periodical cicadas spend most of their lives underground as nymphs, feeding on the sap from tree roots. When they emerge, it’s in massive numbers, primarily to mate. The emergence usually lasts about 4-6 weeks, during which the adult cicadas are highly active. While their presence can be overwhelming, it’s important to remember that they play a crucial role in the ecosystem.

Impact on Your Garden

While cicadas are not interested in your vegetables or flowers, they can still impact your garden in a few ways:

1. Tree Damage: The primary concern for gardeners is the potential damage to young trees. Female cicadas lay their eggs in small twigs and branches, creating slits in the wood. This can cause the twigs to split and even break off, a condition known as “flagging.”
2. Noise: The loud, persistent noise produced by male cicadas can be quite disruptive, especially if you enjoy peaceful time in your garden.
3. Physical Presence: With millions of cicadas emerging at once, their sheer numbers can be a nuisance. They might cover surfaces, plants, and outdoor furniture, making garden activities less enjoyable.

Protecting Your Garden

Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to mitigate the impact of cicadas on your garden:

1. Netting for Young Trees: Covering young or newly planted trees with fine mesh netting (¼ inch or smaller) can prevent female cicadas from laying eggs on them. Ensure the netting is tightly secured around the trunk to prevent cicadas from getting in underneath.
2. Delay Planting: If you know an emergence is coming, consider delaying the planting of new trees and shrubs until after the cicada season. This reduces the risk of damage to vulnerable young plants.
3. Pruning: Prune dead or weak branches from trees before the cicadas emerge. This not only makes the trees less attractive to egg-laying females but also reduces the amount of potential damage.
4. Watering and Care: Keep your plants healthy by ensuring they are well-watered and cared for. Healthy plants are more resilient and better able to recover from any damage.
5. Temporary Relocation: For particularly valuable or fragile plants in containers, consider moving them to a sheltered location during the height of cicada activity.

The Silver Lining

While cicadas can be a temporary nuisance, they also bring some benefits to your garden:

- Soil Aeration: As they tunnel out of the ground, cicadas help aerate the soil, which can benefit plant roots.
- Nutrient Boost: When cicadas die, their bodies decompose and provide a natural source of nutrients for your plants.
- Predator Support: The emergence of cicadas provides a feast for birds, mammals, and other wildlife, supporting the local ecosystem.

The emergence of cicadas is a natural and fascinating phenomenon, albeit one that can pose challenges for gardeners. By taking a few proactive steps, you can protect your garden and ensure that your plants come through cicada season healthy and strong. Embrace the opportunity to observe these unique insects and remember that their presence, while sometimes overwhelming, is a fleeting and essential part of nature’s cycle.