How to Protect Plants from Cicadas in Bloomington Indiana
The cicadas are coming, the cicadas are coming! One if by land, two if by sea, and three if they are “boiling out of the ground”*?!
It’s true, if 2021 wasn’t crazy enough, it is also the year of the Brood X cicadas, also known as the 17 year cicadas. In an interview with Indy Star, Elizabeth Barnes, an entomologist with Purdue University, is quoted as saying “It makes the ground look like it’s bubbling or boiling”. When you picture this happening in your own backyard, it is a pretty graphic image. Read on to find out how to protect plants from cicadas in Bloomington, Indiana.
So all the sources and experts seem to agree – cicadas are coming by the millions to a yard near you if you live in the midwest, particularly in Southern Indiana. Once they start emerging, they will be impossible to miss.
Here at Wells Lawn Care and Landscaping, when we realized these little guys were coming, initially we weren’t sure what to do. So our office got to work doing a little research, contacting Purdue University, and figuring out how to best protect our plants and our clients from these buzzing insects.
Here are some quick facts that you need to know about cicadas:
- How they emerge: When the cicadas are ready, they will begin burrowing out of tiny holes in the ground. They will still be soft and have a milky white color. Each cicada must make it to the nearest tree in order to molt. (Think baby sea turtles making a mad dash to the ocean.) This usually occurs later in the evening and since they are all going at once, there is safety in numbers from predators. Once they have hardened, they will feed quietly for a few days before the craziness begins.
- Size: Cicadas will only reach a few inches long. Small enough to fit in the palm of your hand they are usually 1-2 inches in length. When their wings are hardened and fully extended, they may reach up to four inches across. Because of their leg placement, they can even balance on the tips of your fingers!
- Sounds: Here is where it gets interesting…and loud! After the cicadas have hardened and eaten, they begin to buzz around to attract a mate. The male cicadas will be making the loudest noises – and in a group setting can sound as loud as a lawn mower. The females will make more of a “clicking” noise.
- Do they bite? Well the short answer is that cicadas don’t bite…you. In fact their mouths aren’t even formed in the correct way to bite humans. Cicadas also do not have stingers. They do have tiny pointy legs, so if you are picking them up, you may feel them pinch you. So while they are safe for (most) humans to touch, you may feel a little poke.
- They do feast on plants. When cicadas emerge, they first feed on mature trees – or whatever tree is closest to them. Cicadas get their nutrients by drinking the sap from tree branches, roots, or even twigs.
So now that we’ve learned cicadas eat the sap from plants, what should you do about this? The quick answer is that it depends on the size and age of each plant.
- Shrubs: If you have mature, or large shrubs you won’t need to worry. However, if you have newly installed or transplanted plants – or plants that have small branches – then you may want to be prepared. One way to protect your shrubs is to place mesh netting around these shrubs. You can use insect netting, or even a type of cheese cloth. Ensure that the plant is still able to get adequate water and isn’t bundled up too tightly to restrict growth. The netting should just provide a barrier to prevent cicadas from crawling up and laying eggs in the small branches.
- Young trees: Similar to young, or small shrubs, young trees may need to be protected as well. When the cicadas emerge, mate, and find places to lay eggs, they may target younger trees. In particular, smaller branches that may be considered “twigs”. When they go to lay their eggs, they cut into the branches, which may cause a “scarring” effect. According to the USDA “The scarring is mostly superficial but can have a mild impact on the growth of individual host trees” For smaller branches, this can cause die-off of the branch. You can protect your young trees using the same netting that you would find for shrubs.
- Mature trees: Nothing to worry about here! In most cases, the branches of mature trees are thick enough to sustain the cicadas. You may have some branches that will have scarred marks, but once again, this will remain mostly superficial.
Overall, if you are worried about any trees, shrubs, or plants in particular, it won’t hurt to cover them with a netting to provide an extra layer of protection. This is the best way to protect plants from cicadas.
Sarah Bowman. “Cicadas turned into zombies and cicada killer wasps: 10 things to know about Brood X” Indianapolis Star. https://www.indystar.com/story/news/environment/2021/04/12/cicadas-2021-indiana-what-to-know-indiana-cicada-brood-x-emergence/7137442002/
Michael Bohne. “They’re Back! Count on the Cicada to be a Part of Your Springtime Experience” USDA U.S Department of Agriculture. https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2013/05/01/theyre-back-count-cicada-soon-be-part-your-springtime-experience