Gary Rhodes, Southern States Cooperative Milford
Ladybugs are beneficial ahpid eaters. Not every garden insect is a pest. Gardeners who introduce beneficial insects to their plants soon discover the simplicity and effectiveness of natural pest control. In particular, ladybugs are natural enemies of many insect pests. While they eat mites, whitefly, scales, mealy bugs and other soft insects, they’re best known for controlling aphids.
Aphids are common garden insect pests that feed in colonies. Found on a plant’s twigs, branches and new growth, aphids descend on garden crops and ornamental plants. An infestation usually causes plant leaves to curl and dry out. As aphids feed, they also leave a residue on the plants that causes damaging mold. Wise gardeners encourage and protect ladybugs as a welcome natural predator of aphids.
Ladybugs also are known as lady beetles or ladybird beetles. They have distinct egg, larval, pupal and adult stages. After mating in the spring, ladybugs lay their eggs in circular clusters on the underside of leaves. The eggs take three to five days to hatch. The larvae live for about three weeks before pupating. After two to five days, adults emerge and continue to feed. Both the ladybug larvae and adults are aphid predators. Pollen and nectar can sustain adult ladybugs for a time, but eventually aphids or other insects are necessary for egg production to occur.
During the winter, ladybugs hibernate in swarms under vegetation, in logs or other places that protect them from winter’s cold temperatures. They emerge the following spring to feed and lay more eggs. It’s possible for five to six generations of ladybugs to be present in a single year, as it takes just three to four weeks for the egg to reach adulthood. Ladybugs are characterized by their round, spotted bodies that are less than a half-inch long. Most are shiny red, orange or yellow with black markings. Others are black with red or yellow markings. This bright coloration discourages other animals from eating them. Ladybugs’ smelly, bad tasting fluid makes them distasteful, too.
Every garden pest has a natural enemy. Successful natural pest control involves identifying not only your garden pests, but also their natural enemy. Releasing ladybugs into your garden is one means of organic pest control.Gardeners usually release beneficial insects into their garden early in the growing season and then let nature take its course. Discuss the proper release time for your plants and destructive insects with your local Southern States dealer. Given their small size, ladybugs are hearty eaters that consume large numbers of aphids. They can survive on other unwanted bugs when aphids are in short supply. Additionally, ladybugs feed on pollen. They’re particularly attracted to plants with umbrella shaped flowers or leaves, such as angelica, caraway, cilantro, dill, fennel, tansy, wild carrot and yarrow. Ladybugs also are drawn to cosmos, coreopsis, dandelions and scented geraniums.
Carefully choose when to release purchased ladybugs into your garden. Discourage them from flying away by releasing them on a cool evening or night. Scatter them gently where they can quickly find food. Water those areas ahead of time, as ladybugs like water drops and high humidity. Planting plants close together helps to maintain a humid environment. Don’t release ladybugs at the same time as praying mantises, though. While praying mantises are another beneficial insect, they eat ladybugs.
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