Cicadas and Your Lawn

The cicadas are coming. Are your lawn and garden ready for the swarm?

For some, summer is synonymous with the song of cicadas. For others, cicadas are a tolerated nuisance. In 2024 two large broods of periodical cicadas—13-year Brood XIX cicadas and 17-year Brood XIII cicadas—are set to emerge in a rare natural event. With billions of cicadas expected across the Eastern and Southern US this summer, now is the time to learn how to identify periodical cicadas and prevent potential damage to your lawn and garden.

Identifying Cicadas

Cicadas fall into two groups: annual cicadas that emerge every year and periodical cicadas which emerge in 13- or 17-year cycles. Annual cicadas, or “dog-day” cicadas, are slightly larger and have patterned or solid shades of green, black and brown coloring with dark eyes typically. Periodical cicadas are black with translucent red-orange wings and bright red eyes.

Cicadas start emerging when soil temperatures reach 64ºF. Before cicadas emerge, you may see tiny holes popping up in your lawn. Some cicada nymphs will even build mud chimneys over their emergence holes if it’s been raining or the ground is muddy.

After emergence, you’ll notice molts on your trees and other high areas. The real telltale sign of a cicada is its song: the male mating call is distinctive—and loud.

How to Protect Your Lawn and Garden

It’s important to note that cicadas generally aren’t harmful to people. Pets also are safe around cicadas, though eating too many may give pets indigestion. Cicadas are an important part of various ecosystems, naturally aerating soil when they emerge and replenishing nitrogen in the soil when they die. While it’s best to leave cicadas alone as much as possible, there are a few steps you can take to maintain your lawn and garden during the coming swarm:

1. Do Yard Work Early or Late

Keep maintaining your lawn as usual, with a few extra precautions. Consider mowing in the early morning hours or at dusk when temperatures are cooler and cicadas are less active. Cicadas may mistake your mower or other loud tools for a mating call and flock to you.

You may also want to cover your head if you’re going outside where there’s a cicada swarm. Cicadas like to get high up to lay eggs and eat tree sap, and they aren’t too particular about waste disposal. Wear a hat and other protective clothing to keep cicada droppings off your head.

2. Protect Young Trees and Bushes

While cicadas typically leave leaves, flowers, and fruit alone, they do enjoy tree sap as a tasty snack, and females lay their eggs under tree bark. Older, established trees will be just fine, and this process can actually help them shed a few dead branches. Younger and smaller plants, however, may become victims of cicada damage. There are several ways to help keep cicadas off your plants and your yard:

  • Trim your trees and shrubs before cicada season. This gives cicadas fewer hiding places and egg-laying spots in your plants.
  • Cover your bushes and young trees with netting - make sure the holes are too small for cicadas to poke through - or cheesecloth.
  • Wrap trunks in foil barrier tape to prevent nymphs from climbing.
  • Spray cicadas away with a low-pressure water hose.

If you have plans to plant new trees or shrubs, consider waiting until after cicada season. Your new tree has a better chance of growing healthy and strong without cicada damage.

3. Clean-Up the Mess

After the swarm, you may find yourself with a pile of dead cicadas and molts. Aside from being unpleasant, dead cicadas leave a stench you don’t want around your home.

Clean-up is as simple as sweeping, shoveling, or picking up any cicada remains and burying them in an inconspicuous part of your yard. Lighten your clean-up work by keeping your pool covered, and consider putting away or covering patio furniture during cicada season. If you compost, you can add the remains to your composting pile as long as you haven’t used any pest control products.

4. Pest Control: A Last Resort

While periodical cicadas may be loud and a nuisance, they’re also short-lived. Pest control products aren’t the best option against cicadas’ large numbers and staggered emergence. Creating a barrier with a product such as Ortho® Bugclear™ Insect Killer for Lawns and Landscapes or Ortho® Bug B-Gon™ Lawn and Landscape Insect Killer might help keep cicadas away from your home or certain parts of your yard, but this should be a preventative measure only. Check with local sources to confirm when cicadas are expected in your area, and apply a barrier one month prior to emergence.

Recommended Articles

Learn More