17 years sure did fly by

As you have been living the last 17 years of your life, maybe you had several new beginnings, some endings or have crossed off one or two major stepping stones. What you may have forgotten, is what lies beneath those stepping stones, and I mean that literally. What has been lying in the roots of the earth beneath your feet, especially if you live in the greater Baltimore / Washington D.C. area: Brood X Cicadas. 

Some of us may have flashbacks of the last cicada emergence in 2004 with awe and admiration and others with fear or disgust. Regardless of what the feeling was, it is going to return soon, right about when the grass has started growing. Cicadas are one of the things we will be facing in the landscaping world and beyond this Spring. Continue reading to see what that will mean! 

Fourteen states will be the host of this great cicada emergence, with DC, MD and VA predicted to face the highest numbers. That’s right, we are right in the eye of the cicada storm. Cicada numbers are forecasted to peak in mid to late May. There will be hot spots throughout our region too, such as the banks of the Potomac. Females, which can lay up to 600 eggs, will spread in millions. This information may or may not be a horror to you, but at least you can say it's unique, as the Eastern U.S. is the only place in the world where this happens. 

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Do cicadas affect plant life?

The great quantities at which cicadas emerge through trees does pose questions regarding their effect on plant life. If you’re wondering whether or not they damage trees throughout their life cycle, keep reading. 

Firstly, cicadas entirely depend on trees and their roots to survive. So it would not be beneficial for them to cause tree death. Trees and cicadas have evolved in such a way that cicadas are able to feed off of the nutrients of a tree without threatening its life.

So it is possible to experience a full cicada emergence without witnessing tree damage, but minor harm to trees is possible depending on the tree species. Sometimes, damage from cicadas occurs during oviposition, since this process breaks into the structure of branches. In some extreme cases, damage to a tree occurs due to a mishap when they feed on its roots, but this is very rare. 

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At the end of April or beginning of May, Brood X cicadas, one of the world’s largest swarms of insects will emerge from the ground through the trees. To be exact, 64 degree soil about 8 inches below the surface will give these little critters the cue to rise up and greet us. As soon as these temps hit, they will part ways from the roots that they have been gnawing on beneath the steps of the last 17 years of your life. They will come out to congratulate you for those big accomplishments or changes that have happened, including making it through 2020.

Brood X will pay their visit in the form of three species: Magicicada septendecim, Magicicada cassani and Magicicada septendecula. These three species will travel through the underground and upwards through the ground then burst through their exoskeleton with proportionately massive eyes and delicate wings. As they emerge, numerous species of  small animals will be in great delight, treating themselves to the nutritious crunch of the abundant insects (they will not be toxic to your dog, only dangerous when eaten too much).

The cicadas will then spend their time singing their songs at very high volume, mating, ovipositing (laying eggs) into trees and dying. After the parent cicadas do their duty and keel over and die, about six weeks will pass until the eggs hatch then fall to the ground and make their way into the roots where they will grow and thrive beneath your footsteps for the next 17 years. 

What gets damaged? Oftentimes, it is just the weakest limbs of a tree. This is known as “flagging” because it causes the dead branch to hang in the same fashion that a flag would. If you notice this mishap on one of your trees, don't hesitate to reach out to us. Careful pruning or trimming of dead branches can ensure the recovery and appearance of the tree. Overall though, flagging branches that are weak are usually the extent of the damage done to trees by cicadas. 

Cicadas will use several different species of deciduous trees such as elm, chestnut and ash as hosts. These trees are able to compensate for the minor structure changes caused by the cicadas. In a sense, the cicadas may sometimes be doing the trees a favor by pruning their weakest branches. Cicadas may emerge by the millions, but the longevity and strength of deciduous trees is not to be underestimated.

However, others such as fruit trees will not tolerate cicadas. Their structure and nutrients are not built or evolved to host cicadas, especially considering many of them including apple trees are not native to North America, while cicadas are. 

Cicadas will choose to oviposit on shrubs, flowers and vegetables with long stems as a last resort during a season of heavy emergence, but these plants are not as dependable as grown deciduous trees. 

Ornamental trees or small deciduous trees are threatened by cicadas, because they provide the correct nutrients but can’t afford to lose branches. 

If you notice damage from cicadas on any of your fruit trees, shrubs or ornamental trees, reach out to us. We would love to help you find a resolution through tree care or planting.