Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
May, 2004
Regional Report

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Abandoned cicada skins cling to a wall; nearby, empty skins already crowd the tips of every tree branch.

Invasion of the Cicadas

Can we talk? This week brought a revelation of sorts to my garden. Maybe it is coming to your garden soon, too. Or already there. I'm talking about the cyclical cicada thing. EEEUuuuuu.

Normally I think bugs are pretty cool but these are something else entirely. The outside of my garage is covered with empty cicada shells -- or would that be skins? Our hometown paper reported a local commercial orchard grower saying something along the lines of the only good thing about cicadas is they only come once every 17 years. Maybe he's right. Their creepy eyes are red! Did I say EEEUuuuuu?

Their noise is much louder this time than I remember from 17 years ago. Back then we lived in a Washington, DC, suburb built in the 1940s, and there the cicadas did not seem like an invasion. Maybe decades of lawn chemicals had diminished the population lurking underground, or maybe the relatively empty lawns of newer houses just were not the best feeding and breeding ground. I remember general panic, and then nothing really bad happened and we laughed about it.

But this time, we live by the woods: prime cicada territory. The noise sounds like we suddenly have dozens of close neighbors and they are all running power equipment outside at the same time. Cicada nirvana! So these cicadas are climbing up the garage and trees and shrieking and shedding all over the place, and the resident birds and foxes are wandering around with fat little bellies.

I have two seedling Japanese maples to protect. Most of their branches are smaller in diameter than a pencil and thus prime targets. The idea is to swathe them in protective netting for a couple of weeks, excluding the cicadas so they can't drill into the slender twigs to lay their eggs. Once they do that, the insects die, so it is just a short-term problem.

Cheesecloth is usually suggested, but my trees will sport white tulle, recycled from a decorative, mock mosquito net. I think I can roll and staple the fine netting into a tube, slip that over the little tree, staple the top shut, and then gently duct tape the bottom close around the trunk. I'll make it not too tight and not too loose, just right. And weight it down with rocks.

I can't decide if the veiled trees will look like ethereal little ghosts or lost little bridesmaids out there on the lawn. Either way I'm sure I'll have some explaining to do.

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