The Secret Life of Ladybugs

    • Plant the vegetable garden this month, but remember that late frosts can still nip tender young plants.
    • Beautiful African Violets will decorate your indoor spaces with their masses of flowers in all shades of purple, blue and pink.
    • Feed roses to encourage a beautiful display of color later this month. Treat plants to prevent insect and disease problems.
    • Azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons provide lots of beautiful flowers for the shady spring garden. Choose now.
    • Petunias can be planted now. Their bright flowers will bloom all summer in hot, sunny locations and they will take a light frost.

The Secret Life of Ladybugs

Ladybugs, also called lady beetles or ladybird beetles, are magnificent creatures. They are predators and are natural enemies of many insects, especially aphids and other sap feeders. A single lady beetle may eat as many as 5,000 aphids in its lifetime. In addition to aphids, ladybugs eat a variety of other insects and larvae including white flies, mealy bugs, spider mites, and other types of soft-bodied insects.

In California we are familiar with Convergent Lady Beetles. They are dome-shaped and have red wings with the usual 13 spots, or sometimes none. One or two generations occur each year before the adults go into hibernation, usually in mountain valleys far from food sources.

Adult females usually lay clusters of eggs on plants in the vicinity of aphid, scale, or mealybug colonies. Females may lay from 200 to more than 1,000 eggs over the summer. In two to five days, the eggs hatch and alligator-like larvae appear. They are spiny and black with bright orange spots on their backs and, although they look dangerous, they are quite harmless to humans. They are excellent predators and, while adult ladybugs tend to move on once pests get scarce, the larvae remain and search for more prey. They have a voracious appetite for aphids and feed for 3 to 4 weeks before they pupate and turn into young adult ladybugs.

You can purchase ladybugs from most nurseries in the spring and early summer. Before releasing them into your garden, here are a few tips to help ensure that the ladybugs stay where you want them:

1. Release ladybugs near infested plants after sun down or before sun up. They navigate by the sun and are most likely to stay put in the evenings and early mornings.

2. Water the area where you are going to release the ladybugs. They will appreciate the drink and the moisture on the leaves will help the ladybugs to “stick” on the plants. If released in a dry garden, the ladybugs will most likely fly off in search of a drink instead of sticking around to eat.

3. In warm weather, chill the ladybugs in the refrigerator before releasing them. This will not harm the ladybugs and they tend to crawl more in colder temperatures rather than fly away.

Do not release too many Ladybugs at one time. Try to keep a balance of pests and Ladybugs so that they have something to eat. Release a few at a time each night when leaves are young, tender and attractive to aphids.

Greenhouses often attract aphids and other pests due to warm humid conditions and abundant food. Releasing ladybugs into a greenhouse with screened doors and openings will keep them inside where you need them.

As winter approaches, lady beetles migrate to the Sierra Nevada Mountains where they congregate in large numbers before moving off to hibernate under nearby pine needles and leaf litter.

Throughout the world ladybugs are a symbol of good luck. And they will bring “good luck” to your garden by keeping it clean of undesirable pests.

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