Brood X: How You Can Keep Your Garden Protected from Cicadas

As they do every 17 years, cicadas are coming. Even though there is nothing we can do to minimize or stop this natural process, we can be as prepared for this event as possible. Cicadas are a common bug that you see every once in a while during the summer months, or you more commonly have heard them hissing in the trees during the warm months. However, this year, 2021, billions of cicadas are emerging from the ground all across the eastern United States.

What is Brood X?

Brood X, or the Great Eastern Brood, is set to return in May 2021 and continue for 5 to 6 weeks. During this time, billions of cicadas (Magicicada cassinii) will emerge from the ground all across the mid-Atlantic and Midwest, filling the air with their unforgettable mating hum that can reach as loud as 100 decibels. What do 100 decibels sound like? A jet flying 1000 feet in the air reaches 103 decibels; in other words, they are extremely loud. Cicadas emerge from the ground every year, but once every 17 years, a massive brood of cicadas arrive to mate, lay eggs, and die. These eggs will settle into the ground and wait another 17 years to emerge again.

The good news is that humans and animals are not in any danger. Cicadas don’t bite and are not poisonous. There is no worry if your dog or cat eats one; just be careful they don’t gorge themselves, as cicada’s hard exoskeletons and wings can be choking hazards. Cicadas are even safe for people to eat if you’re feeling adventurous, that is. There is no special equipment necessary to endure Brood X. Do be cautious of smells because cicada parts can emit a stink after a while, so you might want to keep an outdoor broom and dustpan handy for daily patio sweeps. However, if you can stomach the sight and scent of them, leave them be and let them decompose; their bodies make great composting material. Also, if your home has a rooftop gutter, pay close attention to them as it can get clogged with cicada parts.

Is My Garden in Danger?

Unfortunately, there isn’t much we can do to avoid this giant mass of cicadas if you live in one of the affected areas. However, the good thing is that cicadas are not here to destroy your plants; they are here to mate and end their life cycle. There are two criteria by which cicadas require to emerge:

-Deep soil temperature reaches 64 degrees (about 12 to 18 inches deep).

-A wave of light rain often triggers their emergence.

If you have begun preparing your garden soil, you may end up digging up some cicadas that haven’t emerged yet. But you’ll know when they are about to invade by looking for small holes about 1/2 to 1 inch wide under your trees.

Now, let’s clear up one common misconception: Cicadas do NOT eat garden plants! Cicadas are often mistaken for locusts, which are very destructive to your garden. In contrast, cicadas do not eat at all. The only eating they could do is sip sap from trees just to stay hydrated. Healthy trees will withstand any damage caused by eggs being laid. These eggs have the potential to cut small slits in pencil-sized twigs of deciduous trees such as:

-Dogwood

-Hickory

-Oak

-Apple

If you notice your plant’s leaves turning brown at the tips of branches, this can be pruned away in winter or will naturally fall. However, if you have new, young trees or saplings, they will run the risk of twig damage.

How Do I Protect Young Trees in My Garden?

The best way to avoid any damage to new plantings is to avoid planting altogether. We recommend holding off on any new tree planting this spring and waiting to do so until the fall or spring after emergence. If you have already planted young trees or shrubs and are concerned about potential damage, cover your plant with finely woven netting and attach it to the trunk. Attaching netting to the trunk of your tree will prevent cicadas from climbing up to the branches. If you have a tree that is less than 5-years-old, we recommend waiting until winter to prune away any damage caused by the cicadas.

It is crucial to remember not to spray insecticides when preparing for the cicada emergence. Insecticides are not effective at removing or reducing the number of cicadas and will actually poison the wildlife that eats the cicadas. Insecticides can also cause damage to your healthy plants or pollinators that are keeping your garden healthy.