Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
May, 2009
Regional Report

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Gray aphids on these iris leaves are a favorite food for lady bugs and their larvae.

Welcome Those Friendly Critters to Your Garden

Not everything that creeps, crawls, and flutters into your yard and garden is an unwelcome pest or enemy. There is a lot of life in the garden and many creatures that come to visit help to keep pest populations in check. As temperatures begin to rise and insect eggs are hatching, now is a good time to learn more about the life in your garden and make friends with the many insects and other critters. You will soon learn to appreciate their contributions to a healthy lawn and garden. One of my favorite insects to appear as the aphids start their feeding frenzy is the orange-and-black spotted beetle.

Better known as ladybugs, lady beetles are among the most widely recognized beneficial insects. Visit some of your local garden outlets and you will find convergent lady beetles for sale in packets of 500 or more. These are the classic reddish-orange beetles with bright black spots.

Lady beetles are voracious eaters and will consume large quantities of soft-bodied insects including aphids, small caterpillars, and scales. If you've ever wondered why your iris is not blooming or appears weakened, it's likely due to an infestation of aphids.

Some gardeners ask me to identify samples of what they believe to be insect pests they found on their irises and evergreens, then are dismayed that they have been killiing these "ugly creatures," which are actually the larval stages of the lady beetles.

The immature or larval stage of the lady beetle is very much unlike the adult. One-quarter to one-half inch long, the black and orange larvae resemble miniature Gila monsters. You'll want these tiny larvae around to eat hundreds of aphids per day.

The moral to this scenario: Don't reach for the bug killer until you've identified the creature in your garden. Pesticides kill lots more than you think and will upset the natural balance in your garden.

TIP: If you purchase lady beetles, open the container and sprinkle a little water over them. Then close the container back up and keep them in the refrigerator until you're ready to release them. The best time to turn them loose is late evening, preferably after a rainstorm. Find a spot where there is a food source, preferably aphids, but pollen and nectar from flowers will work temporarily.

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