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How to protect your smaller trees from cicadas

'Tree flagging' could turn tiny trees into swiss cheese
Cicadas: Why we hate 'em, love 'em, eat 'em
Posted at 5:09 PM, May 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-02 23:33:23-04

CINCINNATI — Millions of cicadas are expected to emerge from the ground in the coming weeks, but you might want to turn your eyes to your trees.

Sue Trusty is an associate professor in the horticulture program at UC. She said smaller trees with thin branches are prone to “tree flagging” during cicada season.

“If it's a very small tree and a lot of cicadas are laying all over it, then that can really damage the tree because it's, you know, it's damaging a lot of that live tissue on the tree,” Trusty said.

Trusty said the cicadas aren’t just hanging out on these trees.

“So the flagging is actually when, here's your normal branch and it just like locks down. This is where that lady cicada has laid her eggs and it just flops down and then the leaves turn all brown because they're, you know, they're not getting water and nutrients that they need,” she said.

Flagged trees can be spotted by the small holes made by the female cicadas.

“They may stab it, you know, a bunch of times and lay a bunch of eggs, a single cicada. So here you have this little twig that's pencil width, and it has all these little stabs in it,” Trusty said.

It’s most common with oak, maple and fruit trees but it can happen to any woody plant. If you just planted some trees or were planning on planting, there are ways to protect the branches from the swarm.

“There's no insecticide -- we don't recommend that. What we recommend is that, if you have a small trees, that you actually cover the tree with netting,” Trusty said. “So, after the cicadas have passed, we're going to see a lot of this kind of damage and you can just go in and prune that off.”

Or you can wait until next summer to plant those decorative trees.