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Hallelujah Chorus

We’re beginning the traditional month when brides are busiest, so it’s no wonder that it’s the time when June bugs are buggiest.

We’ve managed to come through another on-again, off-again Kentucky spring with some days wetter than others, some days more dew-draped than others, here a pleasant breeze, there an aggravating snow spate. But it is what it is and there’s nothing to do about it but get up and move if the problem becomes too much trouble to resolve.

It’s Kentucky, a state of mind, and we here on Plum Lick cast our vote in favor of it.

The hosta lilies from Pleasant Valley plantation and the magnolia transplant from Mississippi are making their annual resurgence, and for that we say, “Thank y’all.” We know you’d rather be down there in the land of the live oak and the Spanish moss, but we do appreciate your generous accommodation to our need for you to be here with us. We’d be happy to send to your friends a little planting or two from up here. One thing’s for sure: we don’t want your fire ants.

Our water maples—the old-timers and the new sprigs—are celebrating the arrival of another Kentucky summer, and to give thanks for it we get down on our popping knees and sing a hallelujah chorus.

If the June bugs want to join in, they’ll do it at their own peril. We put them in the same general category as the 17-year cicada, those voracious critters born hungry to die hungry in a noisy, crackling brown condition.

As most of you know, this is the year of the 17-year cicada, and it could be considerably off-putting if not scary to contemplate. However, we have it on good authority that whatever buggy thing happens in the summer of 2004, it definitely could be a whole lot worse.

The Department of Entomology (study of insects, a.k.a. bugs) at the University of Kentucky has sent out good news.

According to entomologist Lee Townsend: “Cicadas neither bite nor sting so they pose no threat to people or animals. They may be attracted to vibrations from equipment—mowers, weed eaters, etc., but are not swarming to attack the operator. This may not appear to be the case to the operator at the time, however. Cicadas generally will try to escape if approached and males will emit a loud alarm buzz if handled, but that is the best that they can do. Males are responsible for the ‘din’ associated with cicadas as they join sound in a chorus of calling songs that attract both males and females on high sunlit branches of trees.”

I spoke on the last day of March with Professor Townsend to get a better understanding about where we Kentuckians and the 17-year cicada will be by June, and he said a lot of the action will have wound down by late April. Some activity would still be going on in May over much of the Commonwealth, but northern Kentucky would still be having some problems in June, especially along the edges of wooded areas.

The female cicada likes to lay her eggs in bark split by “blade-like ovipositors.” Young trees could become deformed by it, but in the main it’s a case of “noisy curiosity.”

“Twigs weakened by egg-laying slits will break, causing ‘flagging’ or browning of the tips of the branches. Pruning may be needed to compensate for damage to branch architecture on small landscape trees,” says Townsend.

You might want to check with your county agent concerning control— to decide whether to cover, spray, or prune.

We’ve given the matter a certain amount of thought, but not too much. Although it may hurt their feelings, we’ve decided to go on with our hallelujah chorus and let the 17-year cicada go hang.

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