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July 5, 2015

How can I prevent cicadas from damaging my plants?

Filed under: FAQs | Magicicada | Ovipositing — Dan @ 7:17 pm

If you have serious concerns about your trees/plants, talk to an arborist or plant expert.

How can I prevent cicadas from damaging my plants? Assuming they actually will, there are several solutions I’ve heard people recommend. I did not test these methods.

  1. You can wrap netting, or insect exclusion screens, around small trees or individual tree limbs to keep the cicadas off them. You can get this netting from stores (in person or Online) that sell landscaping supplies.
  2. You can use insect barrier tape or a sticky solution like “Tanglefoot Pest Barrier”. Not my favorite idea, because it will probably pull their tarsal claws off.
  3. You can manually pick them off with your hand. Put your kids to work. A friend who lived in Italy told me she had to pick Cicada orni off vines at her family vineyard.
  4. You can spray them off with a hose. Just don’t spray the leaves of your trees in the process. Don’t use a power washer.
  5. See Green Methods for more ideas.

Here is an example of netting being used to contain cicadas, except in this case the cicadas are being kept next to the tree branch and not away from it:

As you might imagine, if the netting can keep them inside, it will also keep them outside.

Damage from cicadas occurs when the female cicada creates in the branch of a tree with her ovipositor (see video).
An illustraition of egg nests:

The ovipositor is sharp and able to carve into the bark and cambium of the branch. Damage from cicadas becomes visible in the form of “flagging” as branches die. This behavior is vital to cicada reproduction, and native species of trees have evolved to survive it. Weaker, petite, ornamental, and non-native fruit trees won’t fare as well. It seems counter-intuitive that cicadas would damage the very trees that they feed off of their entire lives (via root systems), but that is how they have co-evolved — with the cicada feeding on tree fluids & fertilizing trees when they die in return. Flagging can be positive for trees as well, as it prunes weaker branches. But again, weak, tiny, ornamental, fruit trees and non-native species aren’t adapted to this relationship with the cicadas.

We recommend that you don’t bother with pesticides for a number of reasons:

  1. New cicadas will continually fly onto your trees from neighbor’s yards, making pesticides futile.
  2. Your pets could become poisoned from ingesting too many treated cicadas.
  3. Collateral damage — you end up killing other insects like honey bees and butterflies. There is a lot of concern about the extinction of insects in general, as well as cicadas.

33 Comments »

  1. Linda Schaub says:

    Hello – the focal point of the front garden of my small house is a Lace-leaf Weeping Japanese Red Maple tree. I planted it in 1985 and it is healthy and it is surrounded by evergreens, a holly bush and two barberry bushes (yellow and red) all planted at the same time. I know cicadas don’t like evergreens, which is good, but do I need to cover my maple with a fine netting for the cicadas? I am racking my brain and don’t believe I covered it for the 2004 invasion. I live in Lincoln Park, Michigan (48146) – it appears the cicadas are destined to come to my part of SE Michigan. Any info you could give me is appreciated. – Linda

    1. Dan says:

      Not sure. I pass along the advice in terms of netting and tape, because that’s the advice I’ve heard. It might be time to call a local tree expert.

  2. Julia says:

    I planted a river birch on the west side of Cincinnati in 2017. It was about 8 ft tall then and is over 20 ft now. Netting the whole tree seems nearly impossible. Do I have to worry about cicadas doing too much damage to it? And does wrapping foil and tape around the trunks help? I LOVE MY TREE!

    1. Dan says:

      20ft is pretty big. Check with a local arborist to see if you should be concerned.

  3. Nicole says:

    Hello. Do cicadas attack Japanese maples? I’m in Arlington, Virginia, and have a red Japanese maple that’s probably about 20 years old and about 12ft task and two green Japanese maples that are about 15 years old (one of them only about 10ft and the other maybe twice that height). I also have a red dogwood that is about 15 years old (?) and about 12ft tall.
    I’m trying to get netting to put over the dogwood, as well as a newly planted Weeping Cherry tree that is about 10ft tall (a gift to memorialize the passing of loved one). Should I be concerned about the Japanese maples, too?

    1. Dan says:

      They’ll lay their eggs in its branches, for sure.

  4. Deborah Sheetz says:

    I keep many houseplants outside in the warm months. Will the cicadas damage them or burrow in the soil and still be there when I bring them back inside again in the Fall?

    1. Dan says:

      Normally they only damage trees, because that’s where they lay their eggs. Once out of the ground, cicadas don’t burrow back into the ground (they just mate and die). They will land and hang out on your plants. If this make you nervous, bring them inside.

  5. Mary says:

    Hi. I have new native trees that are small and need protecting. When should the netting go up? Now? Or should I wait until I hear them singing? There are holes, chimneys, and nymph shells already in my yard, so I know it’s just a matter of time. But I want to give my trees freedom from the netting as long as possible. Thanks for your help.

    1. Dan says:

      They’ll start mating soon after they start singing.

  6. Carol says:

    Hi — This is my second try at getting an answer; I hope you will reply. We had a lot of cicada damage in 2013. Does that mean we won’t get Brood X in 2021? We’re in Marshall, VA, near Warrenton. Thank you

    1. Dan says:

      Zoom in on this newer map. It does not look like your area will be affected.

  7. Carol Grunewald says:

    HI — I just want to make sure I’m reading your map correctly. Marshall and Warrenton in Fauquier County is NOT expecting Brood X in 2021 — because we had cicadas in 2013, right? I took lots of photos of the tree damage in 2013 so I remember it well. Thank you for your very informative site!

  8. Linda Evans says:

    we live in Alexandria, VA and we are expecting a lot of cicadas to emerge. We have one older Maple in our front yard. The tree dropped a lot of leaves a few years back but it survived and has been improving every year. I would like to protect the tree from the cicadas and hinder them from depositing eggs in the branches and then heading down into the roots. I was thinking about wrapping the lower trunk with vinyl wrap so they will not be able to crawl up the trunk, but they also fly — so am I wasting my time wrapping the trunk? Thank you for a better understanding of what they do.

    1. Dan says:

      “so am I wasting my time wrapping the trunk?” Maybe, but I’ve had people swear by it. But more for thin, wimpy, ornamental or fruit trees. I’ve never heard of someone talking precautions for native trees like maples or oaks.

      1. Bruce Remick says:

        Before the last two 17-year batches of cicadas that appeared, it became well known that wrapping about 6 inch tall band of duct tape around a tree trunk would stop a cicada from climbing past it. I guess it worked but I haven’t heard any experts suggesting it this time.

      2. Mandie Harrington says:

        The females can fly, wrapping the trunk will make no difference. They damage the tree by laying eggs in smaller (pencil sized or less) branches. Larger trees can usually handle that fine, young trees can’t.

  9. M. Feeney says:

    We planted five 5-foot-high river birch trees in 2017 in our yard in Jessup, Md. They’ve more than tripled in height. Should we put foil or tape on the lower trunks to protect them from cicadas? Would tape hurt the trees?
    Thanks so much for any advice you can provide.

    1. Dan says:

      Not sure if the tape will harm birches — they do have unusual bark. You could consult with a local arborist. Once they’re flying around netting works best.

  10. Terry says:

    I’ve read to use polyolefin netting to cover trees and shrubs. Is nylon netting from Hobby Lobby okay to use? Does it matter what color of netting I use? I planned to lightly prune our 4-year old oak trees this spring – okay to do before I cover them with some form of netting?
    We live in Martinsburg, Berkeley County, West Virginia – a hot spot for Brood X

    1. Dan says:

      So long as the holes are small enough to block the cicadas from getting in. Quarter inch maybe.

  11. Teri says:

    Hi – I have some young trees I want to protect from the coming cicadas (I live in Northern Virginia, next to DC). I plan to purchase mesh netting but not sure on the size. Is 1/4 sufficient? Or should it be 1/8″. And how do I handle shrubs with multiple ‘trunks’ leading into the ground – just wrap the mesh around these and anchor it?

    1. Dan says:

      Quarter-inch should suffice, but better safe than sorry. 1/8″ would work as well.

  12. Liam says:

    I have a lot of fruit trees that I put in last year, but they are still very young – what’s the minimum size branch we’re talking about for it to be be viable for ovipositing? I’m trying to gauge whether I need to protect everything, or just some things beyond a certain size. My trees are still like woody perennial shrub size.

    Thanks in advance!

    1. Dan says:

      I’d say that the right size where you should think about taking precautions. Periodical cicadas don’t appear everywhere, so if you purchase supplies to deal with them, make sure they’re returnable in case you don’t have to use them.

  13. Samuel Silverman says:

    Planning on planting 8-10 Green Giant Arborvitae next week in back yard as hedge. We live just north of Atlanta. Should we be concerned and wait until later in the year to transplant these trees?

    1. Dan says:

      You might be safe where you are. Take a look at the map on this page, and see if you fall in the area where there were cicada sightings in the past. You can always wait until July to plant.

  14. Dan G. says:

    Just found a Periodical Cicada in the backyard. It was in the grass and the Dog spotted it. I am located in the Bay Area, California. I have a recently pruned Dogwood Tree nearby, should I be concerned? Any steps I can take?

    1. Dan says:

      @Dan, being that you’re in California, it wouldn’t be a Periodical. More likely it’s an annual species like an Okanagana that shares similar colors. That said, you have little to fear from annual cicadas. Don’t be concerned.

  15. Will cicadas damage beans, corn, tomatoes, and other vegetable plants

    1. Dan says:

      @Mildred, fortunately they shouldn’t. They’re interested in trees and shrubs that have bark, not vegetables. They don’t have mouths that chew, so they can’t eat leaves or vegetables. The damage they cause happens when the females lay their eggs, and they do that mostly in tree branches.

  16. JIM GUIDAS says:

    WE FOUND A LARGE HILL OF WHAT APPEARED TO BE SAW DUST BESIDE OUR GARAGE AND WHEN WE CLEANED THE AREA THERE WERE TWO DEAD CICADAS IN THIS HILL.
    DID THE CICADAS EAT “possible wood chips to do this?????

    1. Dan says:

      Cicadas only drink sap from plant roots, so the saw dust would not be from cicadas. It might be from a carpenter bee or other insect that chews wood.

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