How to Get Rid of Cicadas

Cicadas have elaborate, veiny, translucent wings.

Think crickets are annoying? Cicadas produce a dirge-like song that can go on for hours. How to get rid of cicadas (the annual variety) is easy, but hordes of these bugs come up from the ground and plague regions of the country every 13 or 17 years.

These periodic cicadas are referred to as broods, and their reoccurrences are forecast complete with the regions where they will be a major bother for residents.

How bad can these periodic cicada plagues be? In 2020, more than 1.5 million cicadas from Brood IX are emerging per acre in Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina.

Getting rid of a few cicadas is small potatoes. Battling swarms of these pests requires a lot more pesticide and wear a hat outside when dealing with the onslaught (we’ll explain why later) or just running under trees to the car or mailbox.

What is a Cicada?

Photo illustration shows three cicadas: 17-year periodical cicadas A: Magicicada septendecim female B:Magicicada cassini female C: Magicicada septendecula male
A closer look at 17-year periodical cicadas: A: Magicicada septendecim female from Brood X; B: Magicicada cassini female from Brood X; and C: Magicicada septendecula male from Brood IX. Photo Credit: Fontaine K, Cooley J, Simon C (2007) / CC 2.5

Adult cicadas vary in size depending on the species but are usually 2-3 inches long with large and clear veiny wings. Their eyes can be reddish or black.

There are two basic groups: the ones that come once a year like Santa Claus and the once-every-13-or-17-years visitors. Both come up from the soil in warmer months. The reason for the cicadas rise up from the ground? To mate and breed.

Though maps show where the broods of periodic cicadas will cause havoc, these invasions sometimes come years early or late.

Cicadas aren’t harmful to people and serve as a food source for the local birds. But during their month-long lifespan, they can damage trees and plants.

How to Protect Your Trees

How to prevent cicadas from harming your trees? Spray your trees often with a strong hose or wrap smaller trees with landscape netting. When it comes to protecting grapevines and other climbing plants, you may need to pluck off cicadas one-by-one. (This is a great chore for the kids!)

Trees at risk

  • Apple
  • Ash
  • Cherry
  • Chestnut
  • Dogwood
  • Elm
  • Hickory
  • Maple
  • Oak
  • Peach
  • Pear

The young cicadas won’t eat the leaves of these trees, but they will go after the roots and suck out the sap of fruit trees. The females will cut into the bark of branches to lay their eggs. Older trees will survive, but young ones may not.

Use Insecticides to Get Rid of Cicadas

Man spraying pesticide into his garden bed.
Some insecticides repel or get rid of cicadas / Pixnio

If the noise and nuisance of cicadas are too much to handle, several products will help. Sevin Insect Killer comes in a dust, concentrate or ready to spray bottles. You can attach the garden spray to a hose and treat the perimeter of your yard. The dust and pump spray applications must be applied directly to your plants.

To kill and repel cicadas, you also can apply Reclaim IT to your trees and shrubs.

Keep in mind: It’s not just the live cicadas that pose a problem. Adults die shortly after coming out to mate. That leaves you with millions of rotting, stinking bugs in the yard. You can either bury them, burn them or add them to your compost bin.

Limiting the Damage

You can’t prevent them from coming, but you can limit the damage to your yard and your hearing.

  • Invest in earplugs or noise-canceling headphones. Cicadas are not quiet insects and will even put airplanes to shame.
  • Cover all pools and hot tubs. Cicadas tend to fly into them and can clog the drain.
  • Complete all lawn chores in the early morning or at dusk, when cicadas are less active. Why? The vibrations from your lawn equipment can attract cicadas. Cicadas come up for mating season and the males make their sounds through vibrations. You may be making a date without knowing it.
  • Wear a hat when working under trees or in your yard. Cicadas don’t have the best bathroom manners and like to pee after filling up on tree sap.

How to Predict and Prevent Cicadas

A killer wasp grips a cicada. Killer wasps are a natural predator of cicadas.
A killer wasp grips a dead cicada / Pixnio

Since we know when the every-17-years cicadas will make their appearance, it’s easy to pre-treat the yard and limit their damage. You can go the DIY route and spray a repellant or hire a pest control pro to hang out the “not welcome” sign by spraying your yard before the invasion.

A word of warning: Some insecticides will kill beneficial insects such as wasps that will feed on cicadas.

Preventive maintenance will also help. Trim and prune your trees and shrubs so the cicadas don’t have as many options to lay their eggs. You also should avoid planting young trees in the years of a cicada invasion. Your older trees and you will survive the periodic cicadas’ onslaught, but you may want to invest in a good set of headphones.

Writer Phillip Forsgren contributed to this report.

Main Image Credit: Pixabay

Brenda Ryan

Brenda Ryan

Brenda Ryan is a former radio newscaster and journalist who writes for LawnStarter’s blog pages. In her free time she enjoys traveling, gardening, visiting wineries, and running 5K and 10K races in her home state of Colorado.