For the first time in 17 years, a brood of Cicada X will appear in late spring – early summer 2021. If you live in Pennsylvania or an area where these cicadas are expected to appear, you may be concerned about whether they will actually have a major impact on your garden and, in particular, your tomatoes.
Do cicadas like to eat vegetation?
One of the most common misconceptions about cicadas is that they strip the site of vegetation after they appear. This myth comes from the fact that many people assume that cicadas and locusts are the same thing. In fact, locusts are Acrididae family next to grasshoppers. Meanwhile the cicadas are members Cicadoidea families and represent a completely different species.
Locusts are large, long-bodied insects that eat leaves and other plant tissues, travel in large flocks, and usually die after the first year of life. Locusts do not discriminate between what vegetation they consume, and a large swarm can pose a serious threat to the local ecosystem. Most countries with locust populations are taking extensive measures to prevent serious damage, as locusts are one of the main causes of hunger in the Third World.
In contrast, cicadas have short bodies, they travel in medium-sized clouds and can live up to 17 years. Cicadas eat only tree sap and do not know how to seriously damage the plants they feed on. Cicadas do not pose nearly the same threat to the ecosystem as locusts, which means there should be no cause for concern when brood X finally arrives in your area.
What do cicadas actually eat?
Cicadas mainly feed on xylem, tree sap and other woody vegetation. Cicadas are eaten using the piercing part of the mouth, very similar to the rostrum of a mosquito. This rostrum is inserted into the trunk or root of a tree and used to suck out enough sap to satisfy the cicada throughout the day.
Unless your trees are very small and unhealthy, the likelihood that they will be damaged by the presence of a population of cicadas is very small. The special saliva produced by the cicadas is able to clog the holes after the rostrum is removed, ensuring that tree sap does not leak out of the root or stem. This means that trees that have been visited by cicadas will retain their internal sap system and will not drain easily, even if there are many cicadas in the area.
Cicada nymphs are smaller than a grain of rice and are often too small to drink real tree sap. Instead, these tiny insects will use their stands to drink from the roots of blades of grass and other small plants. The need for easy access to grass for nymphs is why you are more likely to find flocks of cicadas at the edge of the forest rather than in the middle of it.
Cicadas and your tomatoes
As a gardener, you will be relieved to know that the Cicada Brood X is not really going to feast on your tomatoes. Tomatoes do not produce the xylem that cicadas seek, and tomato juice is not a suitable substitute. Because of this, you are unlikely to find cicadas hanging out in your garden.
The only time cicadas can eat your vegetables is if there are nymphs underground who can eat the root system. However, due to the way cicadas feed, there is very little chance that they will do enough harm for you to even notice a difference in your tomatoes.
Although cicadas are not suitable for growing tomatoes, cicadas are known to feed on fruit trees, berry bushes, and other similar woody vegetation capable of producing xylem. Again, there is very little risk that the presence of cicadas could damage these plants; however, you can skip these if you don’t want cicadas in your garden.
How cicadas can damage your plants or garden
Cicadas do not damage plants by feeding on them, but they have a moderately destructive tendency that many gardeners complain about. When a female cicada lays eggs, she does so by carving a V-shaped gap in a tree branch or plant stem and laying the eggs inside. These cuts are larger than expected and could break the attached branch or stem.
As long as your plants and trees are healthy, egg cuts shouldn’t cause long-term damage. However, if the tree is particularly weak, it may not be able to withstand the simultaneous nesting of several cicadas. Keep an eye on your garden during the breeding season of cicadas, which occurs shortly after germination. If you notice that one of your plants is suffering, start looking for egg deposits. As always, check with local wildlife specialists before making any attempt to eradicate animals or pests. Depending on the size of the local cicada population, it may be best to let the plant die in order to maintain a large collection of eggs. It is also worth noting that if the plant is no longer painful, the presence of the cicada very rarely leads to the need to remove it.
Residents of the area where the Cicada Brood X is expected to emerge can rest comfortably in the knowledge that their precious gardens will not be affected by this exciting new insect presence. Start the season by making sure your current plants are healthy and not at risk of other parasites. Then sit back and enjoy the lovely cicada buzz that will soon fill the air.