Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
May, 2001
Regional Report

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The most famous and easily the friendliest insect, ladybugs will help keep your garden aphid free.

All About Ladybugs

Warm weather has brought out the bugs. You may have noticed aphids on the new growth of your roses or swarms of white flies on your geraniums. Instead of reaching for the spray can, here are some alternative solutions that are more environmentally sound.

Good Bugs Eat Bad Bugs

One of those solutions is releasing good bugs in your garden to eat the bad bugs. Bad bugs such as slugs, scale, mealybugs, and aphids eat plant tissue or suck the vital juices from leaves and stems. In other words, the bad bugs are vegetarians. Good bugs, on the other hand, such as spiders, assassin bugs, ladybugs, and praying mantis, are carnivores, enjoying a meal of other bugs. A gardener can control insect infestations by introducing predatory insects instead of spraying toxic chemicals. But for it to work, you must choose a plan of attack and stick to your guns. If you release predators into your garden and then decide to spray, you will lose your investment, killing your helpers as well as problem bugs.

Aphid Controls

Probably the most common insects in the garden right now are aphids. Aphids are small sucking insects that usually gather in large clusters on new growth. They're attracted to new, soft and tender growth because it's easy for their mouthparts to penetrate. Aphids are easy to get rid of either by blasting them with a strong jet of water to wash them from the plant or introducing the most famous of all the predatory insects: ladybugs. Ladybug adults and larvae love to eat aphids. The larvae are tiny, dragon-like creatures that don't resemble their parents except in color. However, they eat more aphids than the adults.

Buying Ladybugs

Ladybugs are available for sale through the mail, through Web sites or at your local nursery. Once you receive your ladybugs, give them a drink by spraying water onto the surface of the net bag they come in. If you aren't ready to release them just yet, place them in the refrigerator to keep them cool. Before releasing ladybugs water your garden well. Ladybugs are thirsty after traveling in their bag for three or five days. If released in a dry garden, the ladybugs will simply fly off in search of a drink instead of sticking around to eat.

Releasing Ladybugs

It's also important to keep in mind the time of day you release your ladybugs. I set mine out in the late afternoon, after most of the birds have gone to bed. Birds love to eat ladybugs and their bright red color is an easy target. By waiting until the sun has almost set, you avoid the prime dining hours for most hungry birds. Release insects near infested plants. If you have more than one problem area, shake some of the ladybugs out in different areas. Once these tiny predators have had a refreshing drink and a good nights rest, they will wake up hungry and breakfast on those darned aphids.

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