Cicada Emergence 2024: Protecting Your Garden and Plants

Cicada on a leaf with orange eyes

Cicadas are sound-producing insects known for their long underground dormancy and synchronized mass emergence. After spending years underground in their nymphal stage, they're poised to surface in many parts of the United States. This year's cicada brood 2024 will emerge in late spring when ground temperatures reach around 65 degrees Fahrenheit. While this event promises to be a fantastic spectacle, it also poses concerns for gardeners and plant enthusiasts whose trees may be impacted.

Understanding how to protect your plants from the impact of cicadas is vital for preventing damage and preserving your green spaces during the cicada emergence in 2024. Here's what you can expect for the 6-8 weeks they spend above ground participating in their periodical mating ritual. We’ll also cover common questions about when cicadas come out, how long they stay underground, how often they come out, and more.

What Are Cicadas?

Cicadas are arthropods with exoskeletons that serve as food for birds and other organisms. There are more than 3,000 cicada species, which can be classified as annual or periodical cicadas.

The annual variety emerges each summer at varying times, while the periodical group emerges after over a decade of dormancy. Periodical cicadas spend most of their life underground, only to emerge in their last year in a glorious mating ritual that ends with eggs in your tree branches. The newly hatched baby cicadas will crawl out of your tree and go back underground to spend their lifecycle underneath the soil, waiting either 13 or 17 years for their next emergence period.

Understanding Cicada Broods

A “brood” is a term that describes groups of cicadas based on their shared region and emergence schedule. Broods consist of many cicada species and populations. Because broods are regional, we can predict where they will emerge based on where they were last seen. It makes sense that 13 years later, we will see 13-year cicadas wherever they were previously sighted. However, where they hatch doesn’t necessarily mean that’s where they will spend all their time above ground, as they can fly and may travel. Watching 2024’s double emergence and determining if cicada regions will change brood-to-brood will be interesting.

For more info on cicada broods from the past, visit our 2021 Cicada Brood page.

Brood X cicada has emerged from its exoskeleton and its wings have expanded

When and What Do Cicadas Eat?

Cicadas usually eat during daytime hours. When they are below ground, they feed on things like sap and juices from tree saps, which can actually benefit your trees. When they are above ground and are molting or shedding their exoskeleton, they tend to eat twigs.

What Animals Eat Cicadas?

Birds, bats, spiders, and certain mammals tend to eat cicadas. During particularly large emergences, fish have even been known to change their behavior and feed on cicadas that land on the water. Dogs and cats might be curious about them but may not eat them. Some humans like cooking cicadas, and as they often emerge in the South, southerners sometimes deep-fry them.

Where Do Cicadas Live?

Cicadas spend their life underground, usually underneath trees. They like tree roots, and rather than damaging the root system, they promote a healthy soil food web. While it might seem concerning that cicadas live beneath your trees for 13 or 17 years, take comfort in the fact that they contribute to a healthy ecosystem!

Cicada Lifecycle

The sizeable chirping insect we see flying around is the final of five forms (technically known as instars) that make up the entire lifecycle of a cicada:

1 The first is a small, rice-shaped, nearly translucent egg.
2 The second is a first instar nymph. It’s small and delicate, almost made of jelly, and looks nothing like its adult form.
3 The next stages are second, third, and fourth instar nymphs, and with each stage of development, the adolescent looks closer to its final stage, known as the imago. Like crabs, they must shed their outer casing to grow.

Most phases of the cicada lifecycle are unseen as they develop underground. However, it’s possible to see cicada larvae as they are newly hatched and make their way underground. After that, you probably won't see a cicada until it returns after 13 or 17 years, living in its final form that is easily recognized.

What Is a Cicada Emergence?

cicadas emerging from shell

Cicada emergences are end-of-life mating rituals that climax in a new generation of cicadas. After spending most of their life underground, they crawl up and fly to the sky, seeking to reproduce. The males attract a suitable female cicada mate through loud chirping.

Understanding Periodical Cicada Emergences

During periodical emergences, the cicada brood will be noisy, and you'll likely find shells scattered across your garden as they molt and shed their exoskeleton. All this raucous chirping is to attract a mate and lay new cicada eggs that hatch the next generational brood.

As the cicadas molt and leave their old skeletons around your yard and garden, you might hesitate to touch the discarded cicada shells. But remember, this casing is not the cicada itself; the remaining exoskeleton is like a shed skin. There is nothing dangerous about these cicada shells. If you are feeling adventurous, they are safe to eat. However, cicada casings are not nutrient-dense and will only contribute to the fiber in your diet.

Read about 2021’s 17-year cicada emergence (Brood X) to understand what to expect from a periodical emergence.

Periodical vs. Annual Cicada Emergences

It's worth mentioning that periodical cicada emergences differ from annual ones.

Annual cicada emergences: Some species of cicadas emerge every year; their lifecycle is much shorter, and they live, reproduce, and die on a year-to-year basis.

Periodical cicada emergences: Periodical cicadas live much longer and only reproduce every 13 or 17 years. These cicadas are more mysterious to scientists and researchers in 2024, especially as there is a double-brood emergence of both 13-year and 17-year cicadas. Scientists are not entirely sure why these insects behave this way, but the theory is that an internal clock keeps track of the mating cycle.

Don’t be fooled into thinking cicadas will return only after 13 or 17 years. While it's true that one particular brood won't come back for 13 or 17 years, many different broods are lined up, ready to emerge. The clock is ticking, and the periodical cicadas are ready to come out. Find an active brood map to determine where and when cicadas will come back.

What to Expect From the Upcoming Cicada Emergence in 2024

When Will the Double-Emergence Happen, and How Long Will It Last? 

The 2024 double-brood emergence is a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle for the cross-over between 13-year and 17-year cicada broods (XIII & XIX). So, when are the cicadas coming back? If you live in the region where the cicadas are expected to emerge, you’ll probably begin to see them when ground temperatures thaw to around 65 degrees Fahrenheit. The mating ritual will last for 6-8 weeks. 

The cicadas will be gone before the end of summer, and we won't see these particular broods together again until 2245. Even if you don’t like bugs, try to find some pleasure and wonder in witnessing 2024’s double-brood emergence.

What Will Happen After the Cicada Emergence in 2024? 

Come late summer, keep an eye out for flagged tree branches. After eggs have been laid and newborn baby cicadas hatch, weak limbs of trees can die. The leaves will sag, and the branch could dangle downward and eventually break off. In most cases, this is natural and healthy for the tree. You can think of cicadas as doing free yardwork and shaping your canopy. 

In some cases, it may make sense to get involved and knock off flagging branches that haven't fully separated. However, we suggest letting nature do its thing and not getting involved unless you feel like you should.

The Impact of Cicadas on Gardens and Plants — Is My Garden Safe?

Understanding the impact of cicadas on gardens and plants is essential for minimizing potential damage during the emergence of these insects. Ultimately, your garden is mostly safe from cicadas. Unlike locusts, adult cicadas will not eat your plants. Young cicada nymphs, on the other hand, may sometimes feed by piercing plant roots and branches with their sharp mouthparts, causing damage to the vascular tissues and stunting growth. Fortunately, products like Dalen’s Pop-Net Protective Pest Screen can help keep cicada nymphs from feeding on your prized plants.

The real threat cicadas pose to your garden is when they “flag” your tree branches or, on rare occasions, bushes. During the mating ritual, females create cracks in weaker tree branches to lay eggs. The leaves die, and the branch hangs like a flag, hence the name “flagging.” If enough eggs are laid, the tree branch can naturally be pruned. Generally, cicada eggs aren’t something to worry about, but they can damage and kill your trees in extreme cases. While it's perfectly acceptable to let cicadas naturally select the weakest branches and prune your trees for you, there may be certain trees you want to protect.

What Plants Are Most at Risk?

Some plants and trees are particularly vulnerable to cicada damage. Fruit tree varieties, including apple, cherry, and peach trees, are at risk, as cicadas can cause deformities in the fruit and damage young branches. Ornamental flowering plants like roses and hydrangeas may also suffer, with cicada nymphs feeding on their tender stems and buds. Deciduous trees such as oak and maple are prime targets for egg-laying females, leading to potential dieback and decline in tree health.

How Do I Protect My Plants?

If you have a tree you especially love or have already newly planted trees that are more delicate and prone to damage, it makes some sense to use Dalen’s Cicada-X Protective Netting to prevent females from getting your tree limbs. Hold off on planting new trees until autumn after the emergence. 

Here are some other tips for protecting your garden and plants leading up to and during a cicada emergence:

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Cover Plants With Netting or Mesh: Invest in garden netting or mesh covers or a pop-up greenhouse to create a cover that prevents cicadas from reaching your plants. Dalen offers a range of netting options to defend your crops.

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Use Physical Barriers Like Row Covers: Insect guards and row covers provide another effective method of shielding your plants from cicadas. These covers create a barrier while allowing sunlight and water to reach your plants so they remain healthy and protected.

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Prune and Maintain Your Garden: Regularly prune and maintain your garden to reduce its attractiveness to cicadas. Removing dead or damaged branches and weeds can minimize these insects' hiding spots and breeding grounds.

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Apply Organic Insect Repellents: Consider applying organic insect repellents to deter cicadas from landing or feeding on your plants. Organic options are safer for edible crops, but follow application instructions carefully.

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Monitor Your Garden for Signs of Damage: Keep a close eye on your garden for signs of cicada damage, such as chewed leaves or wilted plants. Early detection allows you to protect vulnerable plants and prevent further damage.

Visit Dalen’s Pest Control page to find protective products ahead of the 2024 emergence.

Post-Emergence Plant Care

After the 2024 cicada emergence has ended, you should assess and address any plant damage. Here's how you can care for your garden after a cicada emergence:

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Assess Damage: Take stock of the damage caused by cicadas. Check for signs of feeding, such as chewed leaves, wilted foliage, or broken branches. Assess the overall health of your plants to determine the best course of action.

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Prune Damaged Branches: Prune any damaged branches or stems to prevent further plant stress. Aim for clean cuts above healthy buds or branches using sharp pruning shears. Removing damaged foliage helps redirect energy to growth.

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Remove Egg-Laying Sites: Inspect your garden for cicada egg-laying sites, such as slits in tree branches or stems of woody plants. Remove any egg masses you find to prevent nymphs from hatching and causing further damage to your plants.

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Promote Recovery and Growth: Help plants recover from cicada damage by providing optimal growing conditions, including adequate water, sunlight, and nutrients to support new growth. Consider applying organic fertilizers or compost to provide nutrients and promote plant vitality.

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Monitor for Signs of Recovery: Watch your plants over the next weeks after the cicada emergence. Watch for signs of growth, like shoots or budding leaves. Monitor for any signs of stress or disease and take prompt action to address any issues that arise.

These post-emergence care tips can help your garden recover from cicada damage and sustain healthy plant growth.

How Else Do Cicadas Contribute to a Healthy Ecosystem?

It's worth reiterating that although cicadas may seem scary, they do not threaten anything besides a weak tree branch. They might annoy you with loud chirping, and their molted skeletons scattered around your home may be slightly disturbing. Otherwise, they are important to our ecosystem. Their emergence provides food for wildlife, including birds, mammals, and predatory insects. Cicada nymphs also contribute to soil aeration and nutrient cycling when they burrow underground. They can even do your trees a favor by breaking off the weakest limbs that ought to go. 

You can be outside during the 2024 cicada emergence, as these insects don’t bite or sting. But if you’d rather avoid insect encounters, you might want to stay inside for the 2024 double emergence!

a close up of cicada bugs

Additional Considerations

If you or someone you live with has allergies, asthma, or sensitivity to noise, be mindful and plan for the 2024 cicada emergence, using a cicada brood map to know where and when to expect them. While cicadas are generally harmless to humans, some people may experience allergic reactions to their shed exoskeletons or overstimulation from vocalizations. It’s also wise to take precautions and protect pets from consuming cicadas, as their exoskeletons can be hard to digest.

Be Proactive About Cicadas. Shop Dalen Ahead of the 2024 Emergence.

the cicada molt on the black twig

This year’s double-emergence requires you to be proactive and informed. By implementing protective measures such as covering plants, pruning damaged foliage, and monitoring for signs of cicada activity, you can mitigate potential damage to your gardens, flowers, and plants.

It's important to strike a balance between cicada control efforts and environmental considerations, recognizing the ecological significance of these periodic insect phenomena. By respecting the role of cicadas in ecosystems and taking steps to protect both gardens and natural habitats, homeowners can coexist harmoniously with these fascinating insects. Stay vigilant, stay informed, and embrace the unique challenges and opportunities that cicada emergences present.