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Tom Tyler, who started his Extension career while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Niger immediately after college, is an expert on cicadas
Tom Tyler, who started his Extension career while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Niger immediately after college, is an expert on cicadas
Cicadas: In the Garden
Horticulture Extension Agent
Tuesday, May 4, 2004; 1:00 PM
Soon Washington area yards will be abuzz with the sound of cicadas who, after a 17-year stint underground, will surface to eat, mate and bring forth the next generation. With 100,000 to 1.5 million cicadas per acre, some area gardens may be affected -- cicadas feed on the tender leaves of young trees and female cicadas hide their larvae in slits they've made in young tree branches. What is the average homeowner to do?
Tom Tyler, horticulture extension agent at the Virginia Cooperative Extension, was online Tuesday, May 4 at 1 p.m. ET, to field questions and comments about how the arrival of the 17-year cicadas could affect our yards -- what to expect and how to prepare.
A specialist in urban gardening, Tyler develops and supervises community-based educational programs in sustainable gardening and landscape practices for residents and industry working Arlington County. Tyler co-authored the "Indiana Gardener's Guide," a 425-page practical gardening book dedicated to growing ornamental landscape plants. Tom earned a BS in Horticulture from Clemson University and a MS in Plant Genetics and Breeding from Purdue. Tom started his Extension career while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Niger immediately after college.
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Tom Tyler: Good afternoon cicada lovers! Thanks for tuning in. I hope you are as excited as I am about the blessed event of cicadas joining us real soon. I remember the last time they emerged...1987 in our area. I lived in the midwest but was visiting New Jersey at the time, and still have a photo of our family's maple tree that had some damage. I see there are lot's of questions so I will start. I'll try to answer as many as I can.
Bethesda, Md.: Is there anywhere we can go to get away from the infestation? It is not clear to me how far reaching the infestation is. For example, will Baltimore be "cicada-free," or do we have to go all the way to the ocean for quiet? Many thanks for your insight. I'm not really looking forward to this event, so any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated.
Tom Tyler: If you like to travel you can get away from them. We expect them to be in Baltimore but the E. shore of MD and the Va. beache areas should be cicada-free.
Falling Waters, W.Va.: Is there anything you can put, hang, etc. in your garden, on your trees, or other plants subject to damage that can help to deter cicadas? Thanks.
Tom Tyler: There are no real repellent products to keep the cicadas away from you OR your trees or garden plants. Some people have even asked about pesticides but we highly discourage this as well. About the only thing you can do is protect small trees with nylon netting. This will block them or keep them from getting to the tree.
Landover, Md.: I have heard that the invasion will kill young trees by eating all the leaves and that they don't eat as adutls. Which is it -- eat everything or nothing?
Tom Tyler: There does seem to be come confusing information out there and there isn't always an easy answer. However, small trees, that is, those planted within the past few years are more susceptible to them. Large trees are big enough to sustain some damage but not suffer long term problems. The adult cicadas lay their eggs in twigs that are around 3/8" in diameter....the adults are the ones with the wings and that fly around. The adults may very lightly feed on the leaves but this is not a serious problem.
It is the egg-laying that causes the damage to the twigs....not any feeding on the leaves. The nymphs, that is, the ones that come out of the ground and which we see first, don't cause any problems at all......
Arlington, Va.: What are the reasons you are discouraging spraying with pesticide?
Tom Tyler: Very good question. Pesticides are not that effective against them. Farmers with large orchards have tried to spray to protect fruit trees and found they can't control them very well. Large trees don't incur long term damage so we don't recommend spraying anything for them. The small trees are the most susceptible and they are easily protected with netting....with the netting you are sure
of good control.
Silver Spring, Md.: Hi Tom,
Exactly how long will they be harrasing us in the Metro D.C. area? I've heard that they'll be here from mid May till July and I've also heard that they're only here for four weeks so please advise.
Tom Tyler: All of the above is correct...sorry! We can't say for sure. The vast majority will be here from mid-may to mid-June. But there were likely be "hangers-on" for a little while after that. You know, they just can't face going back underground for 17-years...afterall, could you? (cicada humor, get it?)
Mt. Vernon, Va.: Hello and thank you for taking my question. I have some lovely rose, lilac and azalea plants... should I cover them?
Tom Tyler: These may get damaged just a little bit. If you have some prized plants of this category you might want to protect with netting. Even if you don't protect them they should grow out of any damage they get.
Golf impacts?: How will the cicadas affect people who play golf? I mean, are these things literally going to be swarming around during the day?
Tom Tyler: I'm not really a golfer but they might make good tee practice.
Arlington, Va.: So, when exactly are the cicadas supposed to be coming out? Our street is planning a block party for May 22nd, should we wait until the cicadas are gone?
Tom Tyler: We have had lot's of questions about outdoor events. I think it is more important to have fun then to worry about cicadas! You should call it a cicada party. The kids will love it.
Arlinton, Va.: How small is "small" when it comes to protecting young trees. How do we know if our young dogwoods are big enough to sustain any cicada damage that may occur?
Tom Tyler: Trees planted less than 3-4 years ago are most susceptible to damage, mainly because they are not as established as large trees. The cicadas will use both large and small trees with branches around 3/8 of an inch but it is the small ones that will suffer the most long term problems. If you ahve prized or new young dogwoods you can net them with nylong netting. Drape it over the plant and fasten at the bottom so the critters don't fly in from underneath.
Arlington, Va.: So do I rake up the dead guys or leave them to decompose in the yard?
Tom Tyler: Why not let them decompose in the yard? It will remind you of what fun you had for a few short weeks in early summer....and they'll be great for the soil.
Manassas, Va.: I'm getting married in my back yard in mid-June so I'm quite nervous about the impact these creatures will have. Is there any way to find out how hard the Manassas area is likely to get hit and for how long the cicadas can be expected to stay?
Tom Tyler: The MOST cicada-prone areas are those with an extensive mature tree canopy....unless you are in a subdivision that was farmland for many many years, that is quite a lot of the DC metro area. Those with fewer trees will probalby have fewer cicadas.
College Park, Md.: I love cicadas. Is there any other in-your-face biological event at this massive scale on a similarly regular basis?
Tom Tyler: Commuting in DC traffic every morning...? It is probably more annoying and caused by biological organisms...In all honesty, I am not sure!
Rockville, Md.: I have six 30' leyland cypress trees in my backyard -- about 10' apart from one another. Out of the blue, one of the trees has died, seemingly overnight -- the others are fine. These trees were professionaly planted and are about 12 years old.
Any chance that emerging cicadas nymphs are attacking the one tree?
Tom Tyler: Very doubtful. It is doubtful they can cause enough damage to the roots of trees to cause problems above ground. Probably the usual leland problems of being too close together and not handling the stress!
Sterling, Va.: I have heard two things about these pesky bugs: That they are harmful to pets and that they if they land on you they stick because they have sticky feet. Are these two things true?
Tom Tyler: I can't wait for the cicadas to land on me! They are not sticky but their feet may FEEL like they are sticky. They don't carry sap of glue. Pets love to chase them. Our cats will be amused for six weeks without us having to buy any cat toys! Pets MIGHT overeat though, so keep your eyes on them.
Herndon, Va.: When do you expect them to start to emerge from the ground?
Tom Tyler: Should be in the next two weeks or so. Many folks have called to say they see the nymphs close to the surface fo the soil.
Hagerstown, Md.: I have some young trees, Japanese Maple, Magnolia, and Hollies, planted less than 2 years. Do they need to be netted? If so, how do I go about doing that properly?
Tom Tyler: In order of priority I would net the Japanese maple, then the magnolia. I wouldn't worry about the holly. Get some netting at your local garden center or hardware store. It should have holes about 3/8" or smaller. Drape it over the tree, or wrap it around and fasten on the top and bottom if you can.Try and use a large enough peice so that the branches don't bend or get "wrapped" too tight.
Salisbury, Md.: I'm down far away from the D.C. area, bordering Delaware. Will the cicadas be as bad down that way, too?
Tom Tyler: This brood does not appear to be common in the E. Shore of MD, so you will have to miss them this year. Sorry.
Silver Spring, Md.: FYI, I have seen my first cicada, but it was dead.
Tom Tyler: Wow. Hopefully you'll get to see more soon
Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: I want to plant herbs in pots for the first time this year -- are the cicadas going to mess with my plans?
Tom Tyler: Your flowers, veggies and herbs should be fine. Plant away, but don't forget to give them the right amount of water, good soil and sunlight. Sometimes WE can be worse for our plants than cicadas.
Southern Maryland: Alas, down in Calvert County, I'm out of the Brood X zone.
WHY OH WHY are people so freaked about this? I am absolutely amazed by the vast majority of the public's seeming inability to stop, take a deep breath, and make a minimal effort to inform themselves about how truly benign these critters are. The damage they might do to twiggy branches of some trees and shrubs is minimal -- squirrels regularly nip off branches too. If you have a valuable smaller specimen tree, by all means, net it, but otherwise CHILL PEOPLE.
I was in New Jersey at the time and experienced the last Brood X hatch. Really no big deal. Yeah, they were loud and yeah, they crunched a bit underfoot at times and yeah, you occasionally had to dodge one of the clumsy flyers, but that was it. REALLY.
Brood X cicadas are cool and you should be, too.
Tom Tyler: You bring up a good point. This is a natural phenomenon and will likely not damage too many plants. Although this doesn't apply to me, I have to sympathize with those with phobias about insects. I spoke to someone once who had a few boxelder bugs in her living room and I thought I would have to call 911 for her. Some people are truly afraid of these things.
On the Mall: If everyone says they are just going to be around trees, do we have to worry about them in places not around trees; i.e. a porch, sitting outside at a restaurant.
Also, should they land on our food, is it still safe to eat?
Tom Tyler: The farther away from trees you are the fewer you will likely see. However, they are really clumsy and will probably get "into your space" to some extent even if you don't have trees immediately nearby
There are evidenlty some delicious recipes floating around the internet.
Alexandria, Va.: I have a few houseplants that I move outside for the summer -- hibiscus, geraniums, jasmine -- should I bring them inside till the cicadas are gone? I've had the jasmine for a few years and don't want to risk it! Thanks.
Tom Tyler: Keep them outside and they will be fine.
Beltsville, Md.: Can I plug up the holes they are about to emerge from? I don't want to sound anti-cicada, but I've developed such a phobia about them since they came out last time when I was pregnant and running away from them!
Tom Tyler: I chuckled at this one! It sounds logical but there will be so many your attempts will be futile...unless of course, you could plug the holes in all of Beltsville.
Arlington, Va.: Trying to understand the cycle. Adults come out of the ground. They mate, females lay eggs, eggs hatch, they shed shells, then head underground? Do the adults die after they mate?
Tom Tyler: Ok, not that we are entomologists, but the nymphs come out of the ground. They shed their skin (the orangy -red skeleton we'll see). The adults emerge and fly around, mate, lay eggs (in the case of females) and die. Very yound and small nymphs hatch from the eggs and drop to the ground, then burrow into the soil again to wait 17 more years (sigh)
Shenandoah Valley, Va.: I have apple trees approximately nine years old but they still have tender branches, I also feed my birds, and as they take turns at the feeder they perch in the apple trees. Would they feed on the cicadas that might be there, thereby keeping them in check? Another thought, isn't this natures way of pruning?
Tom Tyler: The birds may definitely feed on the cicadas but there are too many to make a dent. The cicadas may help help prune trees a little, like wind and lightening!
Cheverly, Md.: Hi Tom, Will hosing down our plants and trees with water help knock the bugs and eggs off? Also, we want to get a backyard grill, should we wait until the cicadas are gone so we aren't smoking them for years to come? Thanks!
Tom Tyler: That's a lot of wasted water! The eggs will not wash off because they are inserted into the branch itself. I would definitely fire up that grill as soon as possible. I like my chicken bar-b-qued.
Tom Tyler: Thanks so much for all your questions today. I wish we had time to answer more. If you need local help, don't forget to call the county extension office in your community. The number is usually in the blue pages in your telephone directory. Have a great time with cicadas this year.
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