Cicadas love lawn mowers. (Photo: Reviewed / Tara Jacoby)
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Whether we’re ready or not, Brood X—the largest generation of periodical cicadas—is due for its long-anticipated emergence. After 17 years underground, what could be trillions of cicadas will rise up (quite literally) and begin their mating journey across several eastern states of the U.S.
Once they arrive in late May, you’ll notice their presence—these swarms of cicadas will be loud. Michael J. Raupp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of Maryland tells USA TODAY that these insects can emit sounds between 80 and 100 decibels, which is on par with the level of a low flying airplane or a lawn mower.
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In addition to the noise, residents in affected states will notice Brood X cicadas all over their yards. This certainly raises questions for homeowners about how to care for your lawn and plants without being swarmed.
Luckily, cicadas are generally harmless to humans and animals. Still, there are things you can do to keep the nuisances of this natural phenomenon at bay when it comes to your lawn maintenance routine. Here’s how to keep up your landscaping while Brood X emerges.
Mow your lawn at the right hours
Cicadas may gravitate towards you if you're using a loud, buzzy tool like a lawn mower—but they won't bite or harm you in any way. (Photo: Reviewed / Tara Jacoby)
Cicadas are expected to be present in Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. If you live in a potentially impacted area, it’s possible that you’ll witness swarms upon swarms of cicadas in your town and even your neighborhood. As they spend their weeks above ground, the males will make loud buzzing noises in an attempt to attract a female mate.
Because of this, cicadas love hearing that loud buzz back, and often mistake human-made sounds as a fellow mate. Lawn mowers, hedge trimmers, leaf blowers, and other loud and vibrating machinery will attract cicadas toward your yard. And while these incoming insects are generally harmless, it can be an overwhelming nuisance that makes completing yard work difficult.
For this reason, Josh Matta, senior biologist at Spectracide, recommends adjusting your lawn care activities accordingly. “Plan to perform yard maintenance in the early morning or at dusk when it’s cooler and cicadas are less active to avoid swarming,” says Matta.
For extra protection while mowing your lawn, you can even wear something like this pop-up mesh pod to protect your face and upper body from contact with those persistent cicadas.
Cover your trees, bushes, and flowers
Garden netting should fit securely on the tree, but not too tight. Make sure the branches are still in their natural position with the netting on. (Photo: Reviewed / Tara Jacoby)
Here’s the good news: Once cicadas emerge from the ground, they won’t come back to it. They may leave behind cicada emergence holes, which are about a half-inch wide and 3 inches deep, but don’t worry—these won’t damage your lawn in the long run.
While cicadas won’t snack on or intentionally destroy trees and plants, they can still cause some trouble.
The main concern for your yard is when the insects begin to lay their eggs up in the trees. While more mature trees can handle this, the smaller, weaker, or younger trees may experience some damage as eggs stay put until they eventually hatch approximately four to six weeks later.
Nicholas Martin, entomologist and founder of Pest Control Hacks, says you can cover up your smaller trees or saplings with a physical barrier like a garden net to protect them from cicada eggs and the flying chaos in general. Make sure it is properly secured around the trunk of the tree, ensuring no insect can fly its way up from the base.
Put off new plantings
Cicadas will make tiny slits in tree branches in order to lay their eggs. This won't damage most trees at all, but it may snap some branches on younger, weaker trees. (Photo: Reviewed / Tara Jacoby)
Since these insects can potentially damage young trees, experts recommend avoiding planting any new trees before the emergence of the cicadas.
This also goes for transplanting any small saplings—Raupp tells USA TODAY that you should wait until the fall to avoid any run-ins with cicadas and their eggs.
Avoid using pesticides
Save your money and time and avoid any attempt at insect control, as your efforts against the trillions of cicadas will most likely be futile. (Photo: Reviewed / Tara Jacoby)
You may be tempted to try to eliminate these loud bugs, whether it be through using a pesticide or other pest control methods. However, Martin says there isn’t much use in doing so as you may end up having to clean up dead cicada bodies from your yard. Not ideal.
Let’s remember the sheer amount of cicadas we’re dealing with—as many as 1.5 million cicadas per acre—so prevention and management of these insects isn’t necessarily a viable option.
While this may feel overwhelming, it’s not going to last for too long. Cicadas will spend two to four weeks in late May and early June flying and mating. Their lifespan is only four to six weeks, and they are expected to start to die off in late June and July.
Raupp tells USA TODAY that the use of pesticides could end up being more harmful to other species of insects. If the cicadas in your area are out of control, and it’s difficult to go outside, you may just want to limit your outdoor activities to those dawn and dusk hours rather than trying to fight back.
How to clean up after the cicadas
To help collect deceased cicadas, you may want to use a shovel, rake, or similar tool to help gather them into piles. (Photo: Reviewed / Tara Jacoby)
Unfortunately, you may run into some dead cicadas in or around your yard at some point. There is no harm in letting them decompose in your yard—they may even benefit your plants as they begin to emit nitrogen into the soil.
However, if you want to avoid an unsightly look to your landscaping and the possible stench of cicada carcasses, it’s best to clean them up as quickly as possible.
Matta says, “Depending on the amount of dead cicadas, you may have to use a dustpan and broom or a snow shovel for larger amounts.”
Begin to shovel up the dead cicadas that have fallen into your yard. You may also need to check your gutters and clear out any deceased insects there as well.
From there, Matta recommends burying the dead cicadas in a deep hole if possible. If you’re unable to dig a hole in your yard, you can collect them and add them to your outside garbage bin for pickup. You can even add the dead cicadas to your compost, if you’d like.
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