The delicate, elegant ladybug makes an innocent playmate for a child – as long as it consents to wander around a little open palm. Too soon, it will open its spotted wings and take off again. It has places to go and aphids to eat.
For while the ladybug looks so charming, it actually has the appetite of an ogre. During its life of two to three years, a ladybug will eat about 5,000 aphids and other insect eggs, making it a valuable ally for the organic gardener. Ladybugs are saving Israel’s iconic sabra plants, which invasive aphids have almost destroyed.
You have to know how to get along with ladybugs. Summer heat exhausts them. At the first sign of hot, dry weather, they migrate to cooler, usually hilly regions. They stay while autumn brings winter in its train, hibernating until spring. Come the perfect, warm/cool weather, they return to the gardens and fields where juicy aphids and mites abound, and where nutritious flower pollens are there for the taking. Gardeners may be happy to notice the ladybugs’ return, but know their little buddies will eventually fly away home.
How to attract ladybugs to your garden. Plant garlic, chives, calendula, sweet alyssum, as well as cosmos, scented geranium, cilantro and parsley. Ladybugs like to eat the pollen of these plants. Ladybugs also love nasturtiums.
You may decide to buy some hungry ladybugs from an organic supplier. Assuming you’ve got a jar full of nice, healthy ladybugs, give them a cooling-down session in the refrigerator for 6 hours. They won’t die, they like it, and it makes them drowsy, which helps prevent them flying around wildly when you open the jar.
Lightly spray the garden patch where you want them to be with plain water. It helps to keep an aphid-infested plant or three there, to tempt the bugs’ appetite and convince them to stay. Gently release the ladybugs around the area during the coolest part of the day; at twilight or just before dawn.
Now let them chow down, and hope they stay around a while. Keep your ladies happy with fresh water set out in a few shallow bowls. You might even consider building a shady shelter for them to retire to in the heat of the afternoon. Pamper your ladybugs, and they’ll reward you with clean garden plants that carry nary an aphid.