This is the year for the Periodical Cicadas to emerge en masse from their 17 year stint underground as screaming, horny, adult bugs from hell in parts of North America. The "outbreak in 2004 will begin in mid-May, in Maryland and 14 other states, as periodical cicada brood X nymphs emerge."1 Yes, they are really annoying but they are not really a “plague”.

The best of the good news is they won't be eating mass quanities of plants and pets … in fact they don't eat much during the adult part of their life cycle (the 2 months of noisy torture we will endure). They are not true locusts and this is not a plague of locusts we are anticipating.

Some damage will occur. The females will cut slits in the new growth of deciduous woody plants. She will then lay her eggs in those slits. Those cuts may be numerous enough to kill the growth tips of heavily infested trees and bushes. In established plants it may be like a year when Mother Nature pruned all the new growth. Established trees and bushes will not suffer in the long run from this "natural pruning". Light pruning normally done by the gardener may not even be needed this year.

New and/or small deciduous tree and bush plantings will need protection with a barrier of some sort during May and June. There is no point in using insecticide, it is not only harmful to the environment, it is also futile by virtue of their sheer numbers. The best plan is to just screen the cicadas out with a fine mesh cloth. I will not be planting any new woody plants again until this fall, after the crazed bugs have died off for this cycle. New plantings done in the fall of 2004 can grow unmolested while the eggs and nymphs of the 2021 brood grow underground ... equally unmolested. There will be some eating of roots by nymphs but it isn't ususally deemed enough to be harmful.

While this will not be the year for an outdoor wedding, the damage to established and/or large woody, deciduous plants is temporary. Noise, mess, aggravation yes, damage ... not that much really.

It is also worth noting that evergreens and perennials, annuals and biennials will not be affected beyond being decorated with numerous ornaments of leftover, transparent chitin.

1 <== "Cicada Emerging From His Shell"