Ladybugs are a Natural Approach to Pest Control in the Garden
I'm just gaga for the ladies. They're cute, colorful and, in some cultures, lucky. They also pack a huge appetite for aphids and other garden pests.
I recently bought a container of ladybugs (also known as lady beetles or ladybird beetles) in pursuit of an au natural route to my rosebush pest control efforts. Last year, I used an insecticide, and I've felt blue about my lack of green consciousness ever since.
Ladybugs are not the ultimate solution to pest control, but they do have many positive qualities.
Considered beneficial insects, they won't eat your plants or the other good insects in your garden, such as the praying mantis or the lacewing. Instead they chow down on the harmful ones, like aphids and mites.
What's more, researchers at the University of California found that ladybugs can "effectively control aphids in a limited landscape or garden area" if they are properly released, and in sufficient numbers. Per their research, one large, heavily aphid-infested rose bush required two applications one week apart of about 1,500 ladybugs.
In the following video, gardening Youtube channel, Project Diaries, lists some of the beneficial insects that can aid sustainable gardening efforts:
Fun Facts about ladybugs
- One ladybug can consume up to 50 to 60 aphids per day (up to 5,000 aphids in its lifetime) but will also eat other insects and larvae including scales, mealy bugs, leafhoppers, mites, and some soft-bodied insects. Read this article, for more information on friendly garden insects.
- According to reference website, ThoughtCo, ladybugs may resort to cannibalism if there is nothing else to eat.
- Additionally, ladybugs smell with their feet and antennae.
- You cannot tell how old a ladybug is by counting its spots. In fact, some don't have any spots at all.
- Ladybugs come in all different colors including red, yellow and black.
- Their average lifespan is two to three years, according to National Geographic.
In many cultures, lady bugs are considered to bring good fortune and prosperity. Looks like you found a good luck charm!
How do I release ladybugs?
Follow these tips (ranging from "expert" to "duh") for proper ladybug release:
- Don't shake the container. It's not a maraca.
- Keep the container refrigerated until ready for release, and spritz them with water regularly.
- Make it a family affair. The kiddos will love opening the container and seeing all the ladybugs fluttering about.
- Wait until the sun is setting or completely set. The ladybugs will be more likely to settle in for the night and call your garden home. They're even more likely to stay, if it's completely dark.
- Before you release them, spray down your plants so there are drops of water to keep them hydrated.
- Open the lid and let the ladybugs find their way out. Don't be surprised if some simply fly away (remember the fleeting baby spiders at the end of the book "Charlotte's Web?"). Others will stick around and get their grub on.
What happens after I release the ladybugs?
Some of the ladybugs will stay snug as a bug in a pest-covered rug as long as there is food (pollen, aphids and other insects). Others will fly off to greener, bug-covered pastures.
Keep in mind, when you open the container, it's possible these lady killers were mating inside before their release (there's not much else to do in there). They may go on to lay their tiny, yellow, oval eggs in your garden. If that's the case, your backyard will soon transform into a whole different kind of nursery: a nurturing home for baby ladybugs (which look like tiny black alligators with red spots). They eat aphids too.
As for the container, it's normal to find some dead ladybugs inside. That's the circle of life.
Are container ladybugs safe to release?
Many companies sell harvested ladybugs, but they aren't always safe for your garden. In an interview with Trehugger, an entomologist named Suzanne W noted research showing that 3-15% of these harvest ladybird beetles carry parasites, which can infect ladybugs native to your area.
She suggests trying to attract ladybugs naturally rather than introducing them from a container.
In addition to parasites, exotic ladybugs may also compete for food sources with native ladybugs. If you still want to purchase your ladybugs, the best course of action is to try and purchase native ones.
How can I attract ladybugs naturally?
Fortunately, there are some easy ways to convince ladybugs to stick around, and to attract more.
- Since ladybugs also eat pollen, planting certain herbs and flowers in your garden will help to naturally attract them. These include fennel, dill, cilantro, caraway, yarrow, cosmos, geranium and dandelions.
- Avoid using insecticides. Sure, they kill harmful bugs but they kill the harmless ones too. Neem oil is a good organic substitute.
- Mix a beneficial bug food containing sugar and yeast to spray on your plants.
- Make sure your garden includes plenty of water sources, such as bird baths and fountains.