Protectors of the Garden
By Justin Butts
By: Justin Butts
Ladybugs are lovely, but don’t let these little beauties fool you – they are fierce predators! Lucky for us, ladybugs have an insatiable appetite for the worst garden pests.
Ladybugs have sideways-facing jaws like tiny steel traps. They use their powerful jaws to devour hundreds of aphids each day. Aphids are a terrible garden-destroying pest. One ladybug can eat up to 5,000 aphids in its lifetime!
Ladybugs lay their eggs in yellow clusters on the undersides of leaves. When the eggs hatch, the babies look nothing like ladybugs, but more like tiny black and orange crocodiles that scurry across the leaves. These larval ladybugs eat their weight in aphids every day as they grow into adults.
When threatened, ladybugs emit a foul-smelling fluid from their leg joints. This toxic secretion, called hemolymph, repels predators. The fiery colors and black spots on a ladybug’s back are nature’s way of warning enemies that they are bad to eat. Even the eggs and larva of ladybugs are poisonous to predators.
The one thing that will definitely kill ladybugs is chemical pesticides – which can’t distinguish between good and bad bugs. Chemical applications typically kill ladybugs in their adult stage as well as their egg and larval stages, so one chemical application could destroy all the current and potential ladybugs in your garden.
Aphids, however, are much are more pesticide-resistant. Aphids reproduce a new generation every week while ladybugs require three-week long cycles. Without ladybugs there to control them, aphids can do enormous damage to your plants.
Purchase ladybugs from a local nursery or order them online. Release the ladybugs into the garden each evening at dusk over several days. Spray the garden with liquid molasses prior to the release. The liquid molasses gives the ladybugs a drink and an energy boost to start hunting.
If there is nothing to eat in your garden, such as liquid molasses or aphids, the ladybugs will swarm into the air and fly like homing pigeons back to the insectary where they were hatched—most likely somewhere in California! That’s why it’s best to release them over several days.
You will establish a native population of ladybugs once a cluster of eggs hatch in your garden. These newly hatched ladybugs will think of your garden as home. Then, when someone sings “ladybug, lady bug, fly away home,” it will be your garden they fly to!
Ladybugs are beautiful, but they are deadly to garden pests. Make a few nice ladybugs at home in your garden and they will sweetly go about their business of cleansing your plants of pests.