Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What to Watch for - The cicadas are coming! What does this mean for berry crops?

I received an email yesterday from a relatively new blueberry grower in Tennessee which asked an intriguing question: "...Tennessee is expecting the 13-year cicadas in a couple of months. We planted our first planting of blueberries in the spring of last year (2010) so they are coming into their second year of growth. Will the cicadas damage them and if so is there anything preventative we can do?"

For those of you who haven't heard the news, this summer, much of the eastern United States will experience the emergence of Brood XIX (also known as "The Great Southern Brood"), the 19th Brood for this population of 13-year periodic cicadas.  Cicada adults are large, stout insects that feed on plant xylem.  Immature cicadas (nymphs) live underground and feed on roots.  Periodic cicadas, members of the evocatively named genus Magicicada, synchronize their life cycle so that the adults all emerge together over a short period of time.  This adaptation is presumed to be a defense against predation by overwhelming possibly predators.  In addition to the 13-year cicadas that will be emerging in 2011, there are also 17-year periodic cicadas and many non-periodic cicadas that do not synchronize their emergence.  There are also non-periodic species of cicadas, often called "dog day" cicadas because the adults emerge during the hottest part of the summer.

Adult periodic cicada. Photo: Bruce Marlin, Wikipedia.

Adult cicada emerging from nymphal exoskeleton.  Photo: Joseph O'Brien, BugWood.
The first part of the question above is relatively easy to answer.  Yes, cicadas may potentially damage blueberries and other woody perennials such as grapes and caneberries. Young plants, like the recently planted blueberries at our Tennessee grower's farm are likely at greater risk than established plantings.  Strawberries are not at risk of cicada injury because they only lay eggs in woody perennials.  Of course, in order for periodic cicadas to damage plants, they need to be present in large numbers.  While Brood XIX is expected to emerge over a wide area of the southeastern United States, mass emergence will not occur everywhere.  See here for a map of where Brood XIX is expected to emerge, and check here to see if they have been recorded from your town. Chances are good that you will experience Brood XIX this summer if periodic cicadas emerged in your area 13 years ago, and you are in the zone where they are expected.  Cicada Mania is an excellent online compendium of all things cicada-related.  Adult cicada emergence begins when soil temperatures reach 64F.  For those of you without soil probes, Cicada Mania has posted an emergence calculator based on air temperature.

Damage to plants from adult cicada feeding is typically minimal, even for large, periodic emergences. Of greater concern is the damage that females cause through egg laying.  Adult cicadas lay their eggs in woody tissue, under the bark.  From the outside, these oviposition scars look like ragged cuts. 
The leaves beyond oviposition scars wilt and are referred to as "flags".  

Periodic cicada eggs inside a twig.  Photo: John Ghent, BugWood.

The second part of the question is a bit trickier.  Preventative treatments may be tempting, and soil treatments of insecticides have show promise in reducing the number of egg laying attempts by female cicadas.  However, preventative treatments must be made before insects are present.  This means that they may not end up being beneficial if large numbers of cicadas do not appear.  Some foliar insecticides may also repel adult cicadas.  For small plantings, netting is very effective at reducing or eliminating egg laying.  In locations with young plantings a high likelihood of emergence, preventative treatment may be a good choice.  For specific recommendations, contact your county cooperative extension agent.  If you are in North Carolina, see here to find your county extension office.  If you are in another state, you can find your location extension resources here (select your location at the top of the page).

Periodic Cicadas - Clemson University


  1. Thank you for this information.

    We don't have any fruit trees, but our three sugar maple trees have been dropping leaves for the past three springs. With the emergence of the cicada this year we wondered if the large number nymphs feeding on the roots could possibly be the cause of spring leaf drop.

    In an attempt to reduce the number of nymphs feeding on our tree roots, we have been picking up the branches with egg slits and we wondered if their was something we could apply to the soil to diminish the number of eggs.

    Any thoughts on this?

  2. The fact that the maples have been dropping leaves for the last 3 springs makes it unlikely that cicadas are the culprit. Lots of different problems can cause leaf drop, and the best folks to determine problems specific to your area are your local (county) cooperative extension agents. You can find information about your local extension agents here: (see the banner at the top of the page).

  3. Can you recommend specific types/names of netting for protecting woody plants from cicadas? Thanks!

  4. Floating row covers (also called remay) are an option for protecting plants as are outdoor fabrics like "no see um mesh". You can find multiple vendors for these materials by searching.