What to Do With Cicada Shells

Let Brood X make up for their noisy appearance—use their buggy remains to feed your lawn and garden.

They've been buried underground—billions of them—for 17 years, waiting patiently for the perfect moment to claw their way up through the soil, scuttle across lawns, shed their hardened bodies, create a fleeting romance in the branches of trees, and then die a few weeks later. Is it a zombie apocalypse? Nope, it's just the astonishing life cycle of periodical cicadas, like Brood X. Their sudden above-ground existence is exciting, but cleaning up cicada shells is not. Unless, that is, you know how to make the most of the nutritious mess cicadas leave behind.

Once the soil reaches 64°F, cicada nymphs take their cue to start tunneling upward. You may be worried about the half-inch holes this process adds to your lawn, but consider it free groundskeeping: The "chimneys'' that cicadas create en route to fresh air can help aerate your soil, improve drainage, and promote root growth. As it turns out, cicadas can also help your lawn at the end of their journey, too. Their nutrient-rich remains can be broken down and used as gardening gold.

Here are some natural ways to get rid of cicadas and their shells. Just know that you'll want to get to work as quickly as possible, since big quantities of decaying cicadas can smell like a meat market during a power outage.

• Add them to compost. You can mix dead cicadas and their empty shells into your compost pile or bin, where their potassium- and nitrogen-rich exoskeletons can improve organic matter. Toss a dry material, such as sawdust, straw, or newspaper, in with the cicadas to balance out all the nitrogen and help keep the odor down.

• Turn them into mulch. Add the shells—whole or crushed—to your mulch. (Unless you don't mind smelly mulch, use the exoskeletons only.) To crush them, gather the shells into a medium-sized bin and use a string trimmer to shred them like you would with fall leaves. Make sure the trimmer is inside the bin before turning it on, and then turn it off before pulling it back out.

• Bury them in a hole. If you've overwhelmed by the sheer number of cicadas you've collected, you can dig a large hole and bury them. This will speed up decomposition and contain their smell, while getting rid of cicadas in a nice, natural way.

• Let them decompose on your lawn. You can let cicadas naturally break down where they land—A.K.A. your lawn—though you and your neighbors may not appreciate the look or smell.

7 Easy Steps to Cicada Clean-Up

Now that you have a sense of what you can do with cicadas' buggy remains, make the process easier by keeping up with the shells and smells as they accumulate. Here are the steps to take. Just do your nose a favor and don't wait too long!


1. Gather your gear. With up to 1.5 million cicadas emerging per acre (that's around 170,000 in a 5,000-sq-ft suburban yard), you're going to have some extra duties. Keep a broom, rake, leaf blower, and shovel handy, as well as gardening or work gloves, and a composter or trash can with a tight-fitting lid. If you have a pool, hot tub, or pond, lucky you, but you'll also need a skimmer.


2. Clean up high-traffic areas. Sweep your sidewalks, patio, and driveway every day so you don't end up crushing cicadas as you move about. Open up awnings or patio umbrellas to shake off any stowaways. You don't want dinner outside to include a surprise helping of cicada shells.


3. Check your lawn, garden beds, and container plants. Use a rake to get cicadas and their shells out of your grass. Remove them from garden beds or container plants with a trowel, and gently run your gloved hands over the foliage to knock down any shells or dead cicadas still holding on.


4. Inspect and empty your gutters. Check your gutters and remove cicadas to avoid clogging. If you don't have the equipment to reach yours safely, or you just have a totally rational fear of heights, hire an experienced gutter-cleaning service to help.


5. Clean out your pool, hot tub, and filters. Cicada shells and dead cicadas in your pool or hot tub water—or trapped in the filter—should be removed with a skimmer or by hand. These cicadas need to go into the trash since they've been in contact with pool chemicals. Gather them into a heavy-duty bag and tie it tightly to prevent odors.


6. Start scrubbing. Bug guts are probably going happen, so if you notice any surface stains remove them with an outdoor cleaning product like Scotts® Outdoor Cleaner Patio & Deck with ZeroScrub™ Technology Concentrate or Scotts® Outdoor Cleaner Multi Purpose Formula, which is safe for use on multiple surfaces like patio furniture, umbrellas, and awnings.


7. Plug the holes. Finally, if your lawn looks like Swiss cheese thanks to tunneling cicadas, simply rake the soil back into place and spread some grass seed, like Scotts® EZ Seed® Patch & Repair Sun and Shade, to fill in any bare spots. Just follow the label directions.

Keeping up with periodical cicadas can seem like extra work, but remember: For just a few weeks, you have a front-row seat to a natural phenomenon that won't happen again for another 13 to 17 years. Take some time to enjoy nature's weird and wonderful show. And once they've taken their final bow, consider the shells they leave behind their grand finale, a parting gift to make up for their raucous appearance. Cue the "Circle of Life" and it's curtains for another generation of periodical cicadas.

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