Cicadas and the Landscape

Cicadas cause little damage to your trees, but follow these tips to protect young trees and shrubs.

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Its roar is usually worse than its "bite." The cicada that punctuates the summer sky with its shrill call is not much of a threat to gardeners.

First off, cicadas don't bite or sting. Usually the first sign of a cicada is the loud mating call of the male.

The cicada is a wedge-shaped insect that holds its transparent wings tent-like over its back. Unlike the locust, with which it's incorrectly compared, the cicada doesn't feed voraciously on leaves, so the gardener doesn't have to worry about losing plants and flowers. Instead, what little damage there is comes from egg-laying: The female lays her eggs in the new wood of branch tips of trees and shrubs.

There are several types of cicadas, based on the interval between generations: annual cicadas (two- to five-year cycles, but the overlapping of the generations means that new ones appear every year), and the periodical cicadas (13-year or 17-year cycles).

There's usually no significant damage to mature trees — some experts just call it a natural pruning process — but you'll want to protect dwarf or newly planted young trees. If a particularly large brood of cicadas is expected in your area, taking the following precautions usually prevents any damage:

  • Cover young trees and shrubs with mosquito netting or cheese cloth, within six weeks after hearing the first mating calls. Tie the netting or cloth to the trunk below the branches to prevent the females from climbing up to the branch tips.

  • Delay planting new trees and shrubs until fall or the next spring.

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