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How to protect your garden from cicadas and other spring...

Lots of upsides to cicadas. For one, they aerate your soil for free. Our soils need aerating because as we trample or mow (on wet soil is especially bad!), we compact the soil particles tighter and tighter until soil becomes impenetrable to the rain and oxygen that roots need. So, cicada emergence tunnels act like a plug aeration of your landscape at no expense. Also, they die in vast numbers and their rotting bodies fertilize your plants. <br> Research shows that after a cicada visit, mature trees actually grow better! And, of course, cicadas are a boon to our wildlife, which gorge themselves on their nutritious snack-size bodies. Since cicadas don’t bite, sting, eat plants, carry disease, or try to move into our homes, let their brief appearance provide a distracting marvel. Go to cicadasafari.org for kid activities and fun facts for all ages.
(Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

How to protect your garden from cicadas and other spring gardening tips

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A collection of answers from Ellen Nibali, who writes about the practicalities of gardening for the Baltimore Sun.
(Ellen Nibali)
My neighbor said to burn these webs out of the crotches of my wild cherry tree. With what? A flame thrower? What do you suggest?
Oh, my — a big ‘No” to that. That cure could be much worse for the tree than the “disease”, i.e. Eastern tent caterpillars. We think of their webs as unsightly because we are taught to think that way, but these short-lived caterpillars have minimal overall impact. Eastern tent caterpillars are native and have coexisted with native trees for millennia. They are easy food for over 60 bird species, including orioles, as well as frogs, mice, bats, reptiles, squirrels, skunks — even bears.
Oh, my — a big ‘No” to that. That cure could be much worse for the tree than the “disease”, i.e. Eastern tent caterpillars. We think of their webs as unsightly because we are taught to think that way, but these short-lived caterpillars have minimal overall impact. Eastern tent caterpillars are native and have coexisted with native trees for millennia. They are easy food for over 60 bird species, including orioles, as well as frogs, mice, bats, reptiles, squirrels, skunks — even bears. (Ellen Nibali)
What are cicadas good for? I mean, is there any upside to going through this every 17 years?
Lots of upsides to cicadas. For one, they aerate your soil for free. Our soils need aerating because as we trample or mow (on wet soil is especially bad!), we compact the soil particles tighter and tighter until soil becomes impenetrable to the rain and oxygen that roots need. So, cicada emergence tunnels act like a plug aeration of your landscape at no expense. Also, they die in vast numbers and their rotting bodies fertilize your plants. <br> Research shows that after a cicada visit, mature trees actually grow better! And, of course, cicadas are a boon to our wildlife, which gorge themselves on their nutritious snack-size bodies. Since cicadas don’t bite, sting, eat plants, carry disease, or try to move into our homes, let their brief appearance provide a distracting marvel. Go to cicadasafari.org for kid activities and fun facts for all ages.
Lots of upsides to cicadas. For one, they aerate your soil for free. Our soils need aerating because as we trample or mow (on wet soil is especially bad!), we compact the soil particles tighter and tighter until soil becomes impenetrable to the rain and oxygen that roots need. So, cicada emergence tunnels act like a plug aeration of your landscape at no expense. Also, they die in vast numbers and their rotting bodies fertilize your plants.
Research shows that after a cicada visit, mature trees actually grow better! And, of course, cicadas are a boon to our wildlife, which gorge themselves on their nutritious snack-size bodies. Since cicadas don’t bite, sting, eat plants, carry disease, or try to move into our homes, let their brief appearance provide a distracting marvel. Go to cicadasafari.org for kid activities and fun facts for all ages. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)
My cherry laurels have been eaten up. I cannot find what’s eating them. Help!
Nothing is eating them. The holes were left from spots infected last year by a shot-hole disease, either fungal or bacterial. Shot-hole infections start mid-spring and are favored by cool wet springs, but they are not visible at first. <br> After cherry laurel (or any tree in the cherry family) flowers, brown spots appear on leaves. On your cherry laurel, over the winter, these dead spots fell out of the evergreen leaves and now look exactly like insect feeding. (On cherry trees, infected leaves yellow and fall off in spring and summer, sometimes completely defoliating trees. In most cases, trees recover.) Shot-hole diseases continue to infect leaves throughout the growing season if rainy weather persists. After leaves are infected, there is not much you can do. Space plants generously or prune for better air circulation to promote faster leaf drying. Remove fallen leaves in the fall to reduce overwintering pathogens. On high value plants, fungicides may be worthwhile but only provide preventative care or slow down the rate of disease; they will not cure already infected leaves. Thus, early sprays must start as new leaves expand and continue repeatedly while rainy periods persist. For trees infected every year, obviously this is not a satisfactory long-term solution. Replace weak and declining cherry laurels with disease-resistant plants.
Nothing is eating them. The holes were left from spots infected last year by a shot-hole disease, either fungal or bacterial. Shot-hole infections start mid-spring and are favored by cool wet springs, but they are not visible at first.
After cherry laurel (or any tree in the cherry family) flowers, brown spots appear on leaves. On your cherry laurel, over the winter, these dead spots fell out of the evergreen leaves and now look exactly like insect feeding. (On cherry trees, infected leaves yellow and fall off in spring and summer, sometimes completely defoliating trees. In most cases, trees recover.) Shot-hole diseases continue to infect leaves throughout the growing season if rainy weather persists. After leaves are infected, there is not much you can do. Space plants generously or prune for better air circulation to promote faster leaf drying. Remove fallen leaves in the fall to reduce overwintering pathogens. On high value plants, fungicides may be worthwhile but only provide preventative care or slow down the rate of disease; they will not cure already infected leaves. Thus, early sprays must start as new leaves expand and continue repeatedly while rainy periods persist. For trees infected every year, obviously this is not a satisfactory long-term solution. Replace weak and declining cherry laurels with disease-resistant plants. (Baltimore Sun)
Is this the dreaded artillery fungus in my mulch? My brother had it in his mulch and he never did get off the black spots it shot onto his house and car.
You dodged a bullet this time. This is bird’s nest fungi which also sometimes grows in wood mulch but are not a problem. The nest “eggs” are masses of spores that splash out when hit by rain. Spores occasionally stick to surfaces, as do the spores of artillery fungus, but they are easily removed and do not leave a stain like artillery fungus. Bird’s nest fungi are natural and decompose organic matter. Fun to show children. On the other hand, when artillery fungus grow in mulch, it is best to remove the mulch completely. Apply fresh mulch or leave the area unmulched and plant with a groundcover or shrubs, or allow other natural soil cover, such as moss and leaves. Wood mulch was originally intended as a temporary cover for bare soil and does not need to be an annual chore.
You dodged a bullet this time. This is bird’s nest fungi which also sometimes grows in wood mulch but are not a problem. The nest “eggs” are masses of spores that splash out when hit by rain. Spores occasionally stick to surfaces, as do the spores of artillery fungus, but they are easily removed and do not leave a stain like artillery fungus. Bird’s nest fungi are natural and decompose organic matter. Fun to show children. On the other hand, when artillery fungus grow in mulch, it is best to remove the mulch completely. Apply fresh mulch or leave the area unmulched and plant with a groundcover or shrubs, or allow other natural soil cover, such as moss and leaves. Wood mulch was originally intended as a temporary cover for bare soil and does not need to be an annual chore. (Baltimore Sun)
Is “clumping” bamboo not invasive like “running” bamboo?
Calling it “clumping” bamboo was a good marketing idea to sell bamboo. Instead of spreading many feet in one year like running bamboo, it spreads from an inch to up to a foot. This is still not sustainable in most yards. After a few years, a formidable stand can develop and grow under your fence into the neighbor’s yard, just like running bamboo but slower. Think of it as “creeping” bamboo —as in, it creeps up on you. Controlling or eliminating it is the same as for running bamboo. Search ‘bamboo’ on the HGIC website. We cannot recommend planting bamboo as it is a non-native invasive in Maryland, and there are many preferable alternatives, especially native ones.
Calling it “clumping” bamboo was a good marketing idea to sell bamboo. Instead of spreading many feet in one year like running bamboo, it spreads from an inch to up to a foot. This is still not sustainable in most yards. After a few years, a formidable stand can develop and grow under your fence into the neighbor’s yard, just like running bamboo but slower. Think of it as “creeping” bamboo —as in, it creeps up on you. Controlling or eliminating it is the same as for running bamboo. Search ‘bamboo’ on the HGIC website. We cannot recommend planting bamboo as it is a non-native invasive in Maryland, and there are many preferable alternatives, especially native ones. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)
Why is English ivy still being sold? It’s invasive!
The Maryland Department of Agriculture has a two tier system for non-native invasive plants, with lists online. Tier 1 plants cannot be sold. Tier 2 plants must be labeled invasive. (Sometimes labels fall off!) More plants are under consideration. Meanwhile, invasive plants available for sale include: shrubs and trees — Callery pear (Bradford), barberry, sawtooth oak, Oregon grape holly (mahonia); grasses — miscanthus, bamboo; and groundcovers —- ajuga, pachysandra, periwinkle. (The last two can be planted under inescapable circumstances away from wilds or parks.) Any invasive plant that forms seeds, berries or nuts easily escapes, such as your English ivy which produces berries when it grows up a tree. At least it’s possible to kill English ivy, but your neighbor’s chameleon plant (Houttuynia cordata) spreads by underground rhizomes that are virtually impossible to eliminate. Save yourself gardening grief by familiarizing yourself with non-native invasive plants in your area. Search ‘invasive’ on the HGIC website.
The Maryland Department of Agriculture has a two tier system for non-native invasive plants, with lists online. Tier 1 plants cannot be sold. Tier 2 plants must be labeled invasive. (Sometimes labels fall off!) More plants are under consideration. Meanwhile, invasive plants available for sale include: shrubs and trees — Callery pear (Bradford), barberry, sawtooth oak, Oregon grape holly (mahonia); grasses — miscanthus, bamboo; and groundcovers —- ajuga, pachysandra, periwinkle. (The last two can be planted under inescapable circumstances away from wilds or parks.) Any invasive plant that forms seeds, berries or nuts easily escapes, such as your English ivy which produces berries when it grows up a tree. At least it’s possible to kill English ivy, but your neighbor’s chameleon plant (Houttuynia cordata) spreads by underground rhizomes that are virtually impossible to eliminate. Save yourself gardening grief by familiarizing yourself with non-native invasive plants in your area. Search ‘invasive’ on the HGIC website. (Baltimore Sun)
What’s the difference between beetles and bugs? Does it make any difference?
In everyday speech, the words “bug” and “beetle” get thrown around interchangeably, but, yes, the scientific difference does, well, make a difference. Both are insects with six legs, yet on different branches of a family tree. When using “bug” scientifically, people often refer to “true bugs” (so not to confuse it with a beetle or a Volkswagon.) Beetles have hardened forewings that cover their back, so they may look as if they have a straight line down their back. Beetles also have chewing mouthparts with mandibles (jaws). True bugs, on the other hand, have forewings hardened at the base but membranous at the ends. This creates an easy-to-see triangular shape on their back. True bugs have piercing-sucking mouthparts (a sort of elongated beak). So, whereas beetles will chomp their way through your plants, true bugs will suck out the life juices of plants — or other insects!
In everyday speech, the words “bug” and “beetle” get thrown around interchangeably, but, yes, the scientific difference does, well, make a difference. Both are insects with six legs, yet on different branches of a family tree. When using “bug” scientifically, people often refer to “true bugs” (so not to confuse it with a beetle or a Volkswagon.) Beetles have hardened forewings that cover their back, so they may look as if they have a straight line down their back. Beetles also have chewing mouthparts with mandibles (jaws). True bugs, on the other hand, have forewings hardened at the base but membranous at the ends. This creates an easy-to-see triangular shape on their back. True bugs have piercing-sucking mouthparts (a sort of elongated beak). So, whereas beetles will chomp their way through your plants, true bugs will suck out the life juices of plants — or other insects! (AP)
What's the best way to protect gardens from cicadas?
Cicadas are, indeed, native and a huge food benefit to birds and wildlife. There should be plenty to go around, especially in areas with old trees. No need to delay your pollinator garden. When cicada nymphs first emerge from the soil, they climb up plants, including perennials, but they merely need something to hold onto while they pop out of their exoskeleton as adults. They may suck a tiny bit of fluid, but not enough to damage plants. Then they fly away. (Bad eyesight, though — cicadas bang into things sometimes.) Though later cicada egg-laying can kill twigs, it’s no problem for mature trees. The resulting “tip-pruning” may even be beneficial. However young saplings can’t afford to lose a lot of branch mass. Netting (1/4-1/2″) is the most effective way to protect young trees or larger shrubs. (Not spraying pesticides!) Cicadas tend to ignore low bushy shrubs and evergreens. Net the leaf canopy, not the trunk. Netting can be draped and secured at ground level with weights, such as bricks. For small trees, roll net edges, then staple or lace up to leave no entry. Monitor for break-ins. Mid-May is the time to net, no earlier. Cicadas are active for 4-6 weeks, after which remove netting. <br> Since bees must be able to pollinate blueberries, use larger gauge 1/2″ netting to let them in. Or keep close watch and don’t overprune this spring, realizing cicadas may “prune” too. Search ‘cicadas’ on our website for many more answers and excellent links. <br> Meanwhile, enjoy and keep it all in perspective, like Benjamin Banneker, Baltimore County mathematician and astronomer, who observed inof 1749: “I then imagined they came to eat and destroy the fruit of the Earth, and would occasion a famine in the land. I therefore began to kill and destroy them, but soon saw that my labor was in vain...Seventeen years after their first appearance, they made a second...I then...had more sense than to endeavour to destroy them, knowing they were not so pernicious to the fruit of the earth as I had imagined...” On the contrary, Banneker noted, cicadas “like the comets, make but a short stay with us. ...if their lives are short they are merry, they begin to Sing ...from the first they come out of Earth till they die, the hindermost part rots off, and it does not appear to be any pain to them for they still continue on Singing till they die.”
Cicadas are, indeed, native and a huge food benefit to birds and wildlife. There should be plenty to go around, especially in areas with old trees. No need to delay your pollinator garden. When cicada nymphs first emerge from the soil, they climb up plants, including perennials, but they merely need something to hold onto while they pop out of their exoskeleton as adults. They may suck a tiny bit of fluid, but not enough to damage plants. Then they fly away. (Bad eyesight, though — cicadas bang into things sometimes.) Though later cicada egg-laying can kill twigs, it’s no problem for mature trees. The resulting “tip-pruning” may even be beneficial. However young saplings can’t afford to lose a lot of branch mass. Netting (1/4-1/2″) is the most effective way to protect young trees or larger shrubs. (Not spraying pesticides!) Cicadas tend to ignore low bushy shrubs and evergreens. Net the leaf canopy, not the trunk. Netting can be draped and secured at ground level with weights, such as bricks. For small trees, roll net edges, then staple or lace up to leave no entry. Monitor for break-ins. Mid-May is the time to net, no earlier. Cicadas are active for 4-6 weeks, after which remove netting.
Since bees must be able to pollinate blueberries, use larger gauge 1/2″ netting to let them in. Or keep close watch and don’t overprune this spring, realizing cicadas may “prune” too. Search ‘cicadas’ on our website for many more answers and excellent links.
Meanwhile, enjoy and keep it all in perspective, like Benjamin Banneker, Baltimore County mathematician and astronomer, who observed inof 1749: “I then imagined they came to eat and destroy the fruit of the Earth, and would occasion a famine in the land. I therefore began to kill and destroy them, but soon saw that my labor was in vain...Seventeen years after their first appearance, they made a second...I then...had more sense than to endeavour to destroy them, knowing they were not so pernicious to the fruit of the earth as I had imagined...” On the contrary, Banneker noted, cicadas “like the comets, make but a short stay with us. ...if their lives are short they are merry, they begin to Sing ...from the first they come out of Earth till they die, the hindermost part rots off, and it does not appear to be any pain to them for they still continue on Singing till they die.” (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)
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