When you think of ladybugs, you think of these cute, tiny little creatures that perk up your garden space. In cartoons they’re sweet ladies baking pies and dancing jigs. But those cute little bugs aren’t just bringing whimsy and color to your garden, they’re also mercenaries regulating the undesirable bug population feasting on your prize plants. That’s why I call the ladybug nature’s cutest assassin.
Now before I get too far, I better appease any entomologists reading this and tell you that ladybugs aren’t actually bugs, they are beetles. There are thousands of different types of beetles, many of which perform important functions in your yard. The “ladybugs” comprise several thousand in their own right, and include varying sizes and colors. The one most gardeners know here in the U.S. is the Hippodamia convergens. So the next time you are perusing the garden with that annoying neighbor of yours who knows everything and they shout, “oh look at that ladybug,” you can smugly chime in, “well, its not actually a bug at all” and proceed to demonstrate your superior garden knowledge.
The Ladybug’s Hit List
The ladybug takes care of a number of pests we don’t want in our garden. Typically ladybugs simply eat the little buggers. Just like my kids/human garbage disposals, most of the eating is done by the growing larvae and not by the adults in the family. Ladybug larvae look more like alligators, or some describe them as dragons, and are often mistaken for bad bugs. We all went through our horrid, awkward teen phase too, so don’t hold it against them that they don’t represent the garden supermodel version of their adult selves.
Whether as awkward teens or elegant adults, ladybugs feast on a number of annoying critters including:
- Spider Mites
- Chinch Bugs
- Mealy bugs
- And more!!
Doesn’t it just make you love them more? A healthy ladybug population can keep your “bad bug” population in check without the need for carcinogenic pesticides, or even organic interventions like insecticidal soap. That makes them even better!
Bringing Ladybugs into Your Yard
So by now, you’re convinced you want more ladybugs in your yard. Not only are they cute (and therefore bugs you can live with) they’re also little ninja warriors unleashing carnage on invaders. So what can you do to get more ladybugs in your yard?
#1 Stop spraying carcinogenic pesticides
Commercial pesticides are non-discriminatory poisons that kill good and bad bugs alike, so stop using them. Organic methods allow a natural ecosystem to flourish and do its job. Because pesticides kill good and bad bugs a like, when the icky poison has worn out, the bad bugs will move back in first and proliferate without the good bugs there to keep them in check. So you end up with a bigger infestation and attack again. And then they mutate and you suddenly find yourself stuck in a SyFy movie defending yourself against an aphid seven feet high. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating, but you are starting a vicious cycle of spray and repeat that will cost you more money in the long run and that is causing serious disruptions to the natural processes that are good for your yard.
#2 Create an ecosystem
If you build it they will come. A diverse, healthy, natural garden will attract all kinds of bugs and their natural predators, including beautiful birds and frogs and other critters that make a garden magical. So think beyond the standard out of the box garden of lawn, boxwood hedge, and one tree, and instead bring in native flowers, shrubs, ornamental grasses, etc. Not only will it attract more beneficial insects, its also a more beautiful. And if you use native and adapted species, its also a low maintenance way to add beauty and interest.
Of course, we live in a world of instant gratification and luckily there is a way to get an instant ladybug population and that is to simply buy them. Most independent garden centers carry ladybugs and they are really inexpensive. Usually they are kept in a refrigerator near the registers, or in some cases you can order them online. Refrigerated? Yes, ladybugs are kept refrigerated to keep them dormant. They just can’t freeze or dry out. Its perfectly safe and in line with earth friendly garden practices. You release them in your garden in the evening in a wet garden with an existing infestation. If they don’t have water and food nearby, your newly purchased assassins will take their skills to your neighbor’s yard. And we don’t want that guy to have our secret weapon!
So the next time you see a ladybug, smile knowing that this unassuming poster child of gardening is dismembering aphids and sending spider mites to an early grave. You dark, vicious little person you!