Good to Grow: Bugging out over ladybugs

Ladybugs eat aphids. Lots of aphids, both in the larvae stage and as adults. -

Lovebug, doodlebug, both terms of endearment we have all used many times. But can you really be cute as a bug?

Well, ladybugs are adorable. And, as it turns out, they are more than just a bunch of pretty faces. You want these bugs in your garden! We all know the familiar round bodies with red wings and spotted black dots. But did you know there are hundreds of ladybug species, and the number of spots helps identify the variety?

Before you tell these little insects to bug off, let’s take a minute to learn how they are beneficial to the garden. Ladybugs eat aphids. Lots of aphids, both in the larvae stage and as adults. And as they prepare for winter hibernation, they increase their feeding even more. The actual measurement of how many aphids a ladybug will eat in its lifetime fluctuates with species. Wonder whose job it is to track those numbers?!

What’s an aphid, you ask? A tiny insect that sucks sap from plant leaves. Yuck. If you notice your plant’s leaves beginning to wilt or turn yellow, flip the leaf over and look at the bottom. Aphids tend to gather on the underside of leaves and are easy to spot; they look like black dirt on the plant. They may not kill your plant but could eventually cause mold and affect the plant’s overall health.

Ladybugs do eat other unwanted insects such as lace bugs, mealybugs, spider mites and whiteflies. When the supply of these insects is low and to get other nutrients, the ladybugs will feast on pollen and nectar.

To make your garden ladybug friendly, provide them with plants that have small clusters of flowers. If the flower is white or yellow with flat spots for them to land on, even better. Consider planting bugleweed, butterfly weed, coreopsis, Queen Anne’s lace or yarrow. Cilantro, dill, fennel and chives will also attract these colorful bugs. Because they are voracious eaters, they will be thirsty. A saucer of water will aid in attracting them to the garden.

A sneaky way to attract ladybugs to an area is to plant what aphids love. More aphids, more ladybugs. These “decoy” plants include marigolds and nasturtiums. Remember to avoid pesticides. Chemicals kill both the good and bad bugs.

Most ladybugs will hibernate or be snug as a bug outside in piles of leaves or under tree bark. Of course, there are Asian lady beetles who love the warmth inside your house. They may release a liquid residue that will leave spots on your doors and windows. And, although rare, they can bite. They do not breed or eat houseplants while inside, so scoop them up and release them outside.

If someone puts a bug in your ear about buying ladybugs in bulk, you must realize there is no guarantee that they will stick around in your garden when released. It helps to set them out at night where there is a food source (lots of aphids) and plants that have been recently watered.

Don’t bug out. Just remember computer bugs are bad; ladybugs are good. Invite them into your garden and send a message to aphids and other pesky insects to bug off.