Can ladybugs really help with aphid control in your garden? You bet! Here’s how to do it, and spring is the perfect time to get started!!
Every spring, as the blossoms on the apple trees begin to open, the green shoots of the garden are getting tall, an invasion happens. It’s the aphid invasion. These tiny little green creatures can wreak havoc on new, tender, green shoots and leaves.
But there is a mighty warrior that can fight these insidious eating machines. It’s the……. ladybug.
That’s right. The cute little black and red bug (well, technically, they’re really a beetle) that is on your 2 year old’s jumper, on all those cutesy garden knick knacks that lady across the street piles in her yard, and the mascot of the third grade soccer team.
•READ MORE: If you’d like a natural bug repellent in a spray form, try this recipe for garlic pepper tea spray. Just remember, when it repels the bad bugs, it will also repel the good bugs, so don’t use it if you’re good bugs are really active!)
Why Ladybugs are great for the garden
Ladybugs are actually ferocious when it comes to eating aphids and other soft bodied insects. They are tasty treats for the seemingly gentle bug. Not only are the adult beetle great fighters against aphids, the babies are, too. Ladybugs tend to lay thousands of eggs in aphid colonies, and when the larvae hatch, they’ve got ready-made meals in the aphids.
Where to get Ladybugs
If you’re in a region where ladybugs love to hibernate over the winter, you might be able to walk up to any protected space and scoop up bucketfuls. But if you’re like most of America, you’ll have to purchase your ladybugs from a local company ( I don’t generally suggest purchasing online). Many organic nurseries or farm stores carry them. You’ll find them in the cooler in a container with what look like wood shavings.
How to store your Ladybugs
Until you are ready to release your ladybugs, keep them in your refrigerator in the original container. They’re still in hibernation mode, and you don’t want to awaken them only to not be able to provide them with what they’re going to desperately need. Coffee. No, not really, but they’re going to want water, badly.
How to release Ladybugs into your garden
1. Choose a time
Pick a good evening when it is not terribly windy nor are you expecting heavy rains throughout the next day.
2. Mist your release area generously.
You don’t have to water for an hour, but take your hose and give a good spray of the trees and foliage in the immediate area. The ladybugs are going to want something to drink before anything else they do, and you want to make sure there’s plenty of water available for them all over the yard.
Open the container and begin to shake the ladybugs out on tree limbs and established plants in your garden.
4. Be patient
Let them wake up, smell the ‘coffee’ and get settled in for a nightcap. They need to wake up from their slumber, and may take a little while to get up and moving, so be patient. They’ll soon be looking for something to drink and become incredibly active.
Fun for kids!
This is a really great activity to do with the kids. My boys LOVE ladybug release night. We release a chunk into the trees and then let them crawl on the boys as well.
Here’s a quick video that would be great to show your kids to teach them the lifecycle of a ladybug.
What to feed Ladybugs to keep them happy?
Bugs ..lots and lots of bugs and flowering plants. But if your aphids have come to stay before your flowers have all bloomed on your trees or in your garden, try this trick suggested by Howard Garrett, The Dirt Doctor:
For ladybugs to thrive and reproduce, they need flowering plants for a nectar and pollen source. Legumes such as peas, beans, clover, and alfalfa are especially good, but all flowering plants can help. Temporary artificial food can be made by diluting a little honey with a small amount of water and mixing in a little brewer’s yeast or bee pollen. Smear small amounts of this mixture on small pieces of waxed paper and fasten these to plants. Replace these every five or six days or when they become moldy. Keep any extra food refrigerated between feedings. Discontinue when a ladybug population is established. Aphids are the ladybug’s favorite real food. (Source)
What are the drawbacks to introducing Ladybugs to your garden
While we’ve never had a problem with the ladybugs we’ve released, there are small concerns that you can read here. There are no guarantees that ladybugs will stay in your area. They may decide to fly off even if you have a ton of aphids in the garden. We’ve not found this to be an issue for us, however. They stay for weeks and then move on once the food supply has dwindled. As long as they have flowering plants for pollen and nectar, lots of juicy soft bodied bugs to eat, they love hanging out! And when they’re done, they move on to the next aphid infested area to eat some more!
• Read more – Square Foot Gardening – learn from my mistakes
What is an alternative to Ladybugs in the garden for natural pest control?
As the above article mentions, green lacewings are also great for natural pest control. They can be purchased at the same gardening supply stores you can get ladybugs from. They are much more likely to stay around to control your population and don’t post the same risk a ladybug might to the indigenous population if it is a factor for you. But you have to admit, they’re just not as cute 😉
- Texas Organic Vegetable Gardening — even though it’s written from a Texas perspective, it’s one of the best guides on general organic gardening I’ve read.
- Garrett Juice – while we make this on our own, you can purchase it at local gardening centers or online. Our favorite!
- Square Foot Gardening – my favorite book on square foot gardening to make the most of your small space!
- Ladybug habitat – for the kids! Grow a ladybug larvae and release to the wild once done.
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