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Garden Hero: The Lovely Ladybug

July 16th, 2010

 

With their richly colored orange-red wings and distinct black spots, lovely ladybugs often conjure up childhood memories of placing one on your hand or arm then intently watching it with fantastical awe. This beautiful bug is adored by many children for its calm nature, but it’s also adored by gardeners for its beneficial pest control behavior.

Ladybugs have colossal appetites and not only consume aphids—lice that feed on plant juices—but also eat other insects and larvae, including leaf hoppers, mealybugs, mites, whiteflies, and the eggs of the Colorado potato beetle, just to name a few. One ladybug, in its lifetime, can consume more than 4,000 aphids, their preferred meal.

In addition to consuming aphids and other insects, ladybugs require pollen as a source of food, in order to mature and lay eggs. Some plants that attract ladybugs include basil, cilantro, dill, fennel, pepper, thyme, and tomatoes. If you want to be extra considerate of your little garden heroes, consider planting bell-shaped flowers, such as lilies or tulips, which capture drinking water for ladybugs and provide a cool, relaxing oasis for them to inhabit. With the garden protection that ladybugs provide, they deserve to be pampered!

If you’re interested in using the heroic ladybug to help combat the villains in your garden, it is important that you not use insecticides—which you should try to avoid regardless. Insecticides will not only eliminate most of their food source but also discourage ladybugs from laying their eggs in your garden.

If purchasing ladybugs for your garden, do not release them during the heat of the day. Keep them in a cool place, such as the refrigerator, before releasing them in the evening after the sun goes down. Placing your ladybugs in the refrigerator will not harm them but simply slow them down. Ladybugs do not fly when it’s dark, so this is your best chance at giving them the opportunity to get comfortable in their new living environment. Also, before releasing the ladybugs, water the areas that you will be placing them in so they have plenty of water to drink. Think of ladybugs as house guests; you want them to feel welcomed and comfortable. If your ladybugs are comfortable in their new home, chances are they’ll stick around. You can’t fence ladybugs in, but should they choose to stay and live in your garden they’ll be great heroes in combating those villainous aphids and their sidekicks.

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