A Gardener’s Best Friends

Learn why ladybugs are a treasure to have in your backyard!

Ladybugs are found around the world, in nursery rhymes, folklore, toys, art and windowsills. They’re considered to be good luck charms, and gardeners know just how lucky they can be! Female ladybugs lay tiny eggs on the undersides of leaves, usually near aphid colonies. Once the larvae hatch, they can eat over 350 aphids during the two weeks it takes them to reach their full growth. An adult ladybug can eat up to 75 aphids in a day. Good luck for gardeners, but not so much for aphids and other garden pests like fruit flies, thrips and mites.

There are about 5,000 different species around the world, and around 400 found in the US. You can’t tell a ladybug’s age from the number of spots on the wings, but it can help you figure out which species it is. The number of spots vary by species. So does the color; both the wings and the spots come in a rainbow of different colors and combinations. Sometimes they have stripes instead of spots! And guess what – their spots don’t fade with age, as many of us think.

I bet you didn’t know this: ladybugs make good astronauts. Ladybugs will climb up a plant to capture aphids, but when the aphids sense them coming, the little pests will just drop off the plant to escape. Scientists were curious how this would work in a zero gravity environment, so in 1999, NASA sent four ladybugs and some aphids into space to learn about the effects of low gravity on predator-prey relationships. Good news for the gardeners of the future – ladybugs hunt aphids in space!

If you’re still gardening here on earth, you might like a few tips for attracting these cute and helpful little beetles to your garden:

  • Ladybugs don’t just eat insects – they also eat pollen. Make sure your plantings include plants with shallow flowers, like cosmos, marigolds, calendula, dill, coriander and Sweet Alyssum.
  • Ladybugs spend about half of their lives searching for water. Make their lives easier by putting out a few very shallow basins of water for them, and they’ll be happy to stick around! Overturned jar lids, or shallow bird baths with a few rocks to land on work well.
  • Offer shelter, like our adorable Eco-Ladybug House. Hang it in your garden so the ladybugs have a warm, dry place to spend cooler nights. They may even use it for their winter hibernation, ensuring that our favorite beetles will be back again next year.
  • How about a ladybug feeder? Find a piece of tubing (think PVC pipe or even bamboo) about 1-1/2 to 2 inches in diameter, and about 10 inches long. Thread a piece of twine through it and knot the ends to create a hanger. A couple of raisins or crumbs of cheese will help keep the ladybugs happy when the aphids are in short supply.

Whether you call them ladybugs, ladybirds, or lady beetles, these helpful (and cute) little insects will help keep your garden free of nasty pests. I hope they’ll also bring you a few smiles and plenty of good luck.

Happy Gardening!

Heidi Babb

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