Arborists: Emerging cicadas may damage small trees

When cicadas lay their eggs, tree branches get heavy. This is known as \'flagging.\' (WTOP/Mike Moss)

WASHINGTON – If Brood II cicadas have popped out of the ground where you live, it is hard to miss them.

The distinctive burring sound of a dense brood fills the air and the sight of the winged, black bugs with the big red eyes is unmistakable.

The emerging bugs are mostly harmless, but arborists warn that small trees and shrubs could be damaged by female cicadas laying their eggs.

“Any branch the size of a pencil would be the size (of) branch or stem that the cicadas are trying to lay their eggs in,” says Josh Nadler, arborist at the University of Maryland at College Park.

Nadler says the small branches can be weakened by the egg deposits.

“The branch can break at that point during a windstorm or natural event that will come through,” Nadler says.

Most of the cicadas in the Washington region have emerged south and west of D.C., but Nadler says there are small colonies in Bowie, Md., and Annapolis, Md.

The Virginia Department of Forestry reports damage to oaks and other trees across much of the state’s Piedmont and Coastal Plain regions, but most medium to large trees will not suffer long-term damage.

There are ways to protect small ornamental shrubs and trees from the big-eyed bugs.

“Well, we could all run around with baseball bats and skewers trying to put them on the barbecue grill,” jokes Nadler.

On a more serious note, Nadler recommends netting.

“If there really is one particular plant or a few plants that you want to take extra measures for, there are some nets and products we can really use to mechanically keep the cicadas off the trees and shrubs,” he says.

But Nadler is circumspect about the potential damage from cicadas.

“I can say I haven’t seen any trees actually die from this, from the cicadas,” Nadler says.

He points out cicadas have been periodically popping out of the ground for a long time.

“The trees and shrubs in the area still continue to do well…so I don’t think it’s going to be an end-all to our ornamental plants,” he says.

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