Plants & Gardens Blog

Will the Cicadas Hurt Your Plants?

You’ve no doubt heard about the large brood of 17-year cicadas that will soon emerge in New York City and beyond. If you garden, you’ve probably wondered what these gigantic insects might do to your plants. The good news is that adult cicadas (Magicicada species), though large and noisy, do not tend to do much damage. The primary reason for their emergence is to mate! That deafening song is a mating call. Eating plants is probably one of the last things on a cicada’s mind.

Cicada grubs do eat plant roots and are a common underground pest, but they’re not too serious, and any harm that this brood has done was done in previous years. The only damage adult cicadas are likely to cause plants, even during a heavy emergence, is from ovipositing. The females cut small V-shaped slits into tree bark or plant stems to deposit their eggs. This can cause branches or stems to flag, but it’s generally not a major concern for healthy plants and trees.

Cicadas can’t bite or sting people, and they are not poisonous. They are mostly pesky only because of their loud singing, imposing presence, and conspicuous numbers. Please do not think about using pesticides on them. It’s unnecessary and not at all justified.

More: Cicadas are considered true bugs, but ants and bees aren't. Learn why.

Overall, the emergence of the 17-year cicadas should be an amazing phenomenon to observe. They are quite beautiful in their own right, and their song is among the loudest in the insect world. They are also one of the longest-lived insects on earth and are a symbol of good fortune and immortality in various cultures around the world. So instead of likening cicadas to a plague of locusts, try to enjoy their short visit and appreciate them in all their noisy glory. You can check out Radiolab’s citizen science–produced cicada-prediction map and read more about this Magicicada brood online at

Melanie Sifton is the vice president of Horticulture and Facilities at Brooklyn Botanic Garden.


  • [email protected] May 18, 2021

    Will they come up in your house plants?

  • JJ May 10, 2021

    Although cicadas ALMOST never bite, there have been scattered reports of it happening, probably because someone’s finger reminded a cicada of a twig and it tried to suck out some sap.

  • Sylvia Armes May 9, 2021

    They are so beautiful. Watching them crawl over tree trunks was fascinating. We always compared who had found the most carapaces. I feel sorry for city folks who miss this bit of nature.

  • Paul Kiru (PNG) April 6, 2016

    I think cicadas are beautiful insects. I enjoy their noises here in Papua New Guinea during evening hours.

  • Aunt Bonnie May 2, 2014

    To a child who spent many summer evenings listening to cicadas, then being lucky enough to find an empty intact “skeleton” and keeping it in a match box…. Memories….thank goodness some things never change.

  • Lori May 14, 2013

    I have heard the dead corpses can create an unpleasant smell. But just knowing that your piece of woods hasn’t been disturbed for generations (17 years how many times around) is a cause for celebration!

  • Mary Finn May 13, 2013

    Wherever you see them, it’s a good bet every square inch of ground hasn’t been cemented over, so they’re not all bad. It’s when you DON’T see them, you might have to worry.

  • Rx May 10, 2013

    I love the idea of thinking of cicadas as something beautiful rather than a nuisance.

  • Bonnie May 9, 2013

    I generally love the cicadas’ song, but it’ll be interesting to see if it’s all the more deafening this year with so many of them doing their 17-year gig. They are BIZARRE looking creatures…beautiful? Only to a true insect lover like you, Sue!

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