Despite their intimidating size, cicadas cause surprisingly little damage to landscapes. If they haven’t already, your maintenance team will probably soon begin complaining, however. Every 17 years, an oversized generation of cicadas helps keep the species strong by overwhelming their predators with massive numbers. This is one of those years.
Trillions of cicadas, dubbed Brood X, are emerging out of the ground, stretching from North Georgia to New York. In some areas they may number an astonishing 1.5 million per acre. Since the insects are more annoying than problematic, a few tips can help your team weather the swarm.
Unfortunately, cicadas often mistake the sound of lawn equipment for a potential mate, so your team may inadvertently attract the amorous bugs while they work. Luckily, cicadas don’t bite or sting, although their feet may feel prickly when they land on bare skin.
For the next few weeks, your lawn maintenance teams may want to keep skin covered, wear hats, and possibly even drape netting over their face to prevent the cicadas from making unwanted contact.
If your crew doesn’t already wear ear plugs, they may want to start, especially when working in treed areas. A single cicada’s song can reach up to 100 decibels, louder than the average lawn mower. Imagine the sound from a million-insect choir.
Some saplings may need protection. Female cicadas can cause damage to the young trees when they dig V-shaped holes in the branches and lay 200 to 400 eggs—each. Protect trees under four feet with garden netting, securing at the trunk to prevent cicadas from flying up into the tree. Larger trees can tolerate the intrusion without suffering serious harm.
Once above ground, mature cicadas live only for four to six weeks. They make some noise, mate, lay eggs and die. In areas with especially large populations, the simultaneous decay of thousands of bugs can result in a rather unpleasant smell. The offending carcasses may need to be raked up and buried or discarded with yard waste. They can also be composted.
Believe it or not, there are actually a couple benefits to Brood X. The holes they leave behind when they emerge from the ground act as aeration for the lawn—particularly helpful for clay soils. Also, when this generation dies away in a few weeks, their remains will provide food in the form of nitrogen for grass and other plants. It’s the circle of life.