Organic gardening is wonderful. The only problem is that aphids like to eat organic veggies too! Having a squad of ladybugs on patrol in the garden can do wonders to get rid of common garden pests. This guide will tell you everything you need to attract and keep ladybugs in your garden and why you need to.
Why Attract Ladybugs?
Ladybugs are pest-eating superheroes! They eat aphids, mealybugs, mites, scale, and other bad bugs. In fact, one ladybug can eat 5,000 aphids over the course of its life!
Ladybug Life Cycle
In order to best attract ladybugs to your garden, it’s important to understand their life cycle and what they need in each stage of it. Here is a brief overview of how ladybugs hatch and mature.
Female ladybugs will lay a clutch of 10-50 bright yellow eggs on the underside of a leaf. They are careful to choose a location for their eggs that is in close proximity to a large amount of food for the larvae to eat when they hatch. Often, ladybugs will choose areas close to large aphid populations to lay their eggs, as the aphids are a good source of food. A female ladybug will lay several egg clutches per season, and can lay up to 1,000 eggs in one year!
A few days after the eggs are laid, they hatch into larvae. Ladybug larvae are not quite as cute looking as the mature beetles. They have oblong bodies with spiny bumps all over them. Their bodies are mostly dark gray or black, with some bright orange or red spots or bands. Familiarize yourself with the way ladybug larvae look so that you can recognize them when you see them in the garden. Larvae need to eat a lot as they go through four different larval stages to reach maturity and, lucky for us, most of what they feed on is aphids, scale, mites, and other common garden pests, so if you see a ladybug larva in your garden be happy! They are already doing good work for you this early in their life.
When a larva is big enough (see: has eaten enough pests), it is ready to pupate. At this time, the larva attaches itself to a leaf somewhere safe and its body undergoes a massive transformation over the course of 3-12 days. By the end of this process, the pupae’s body has formed into a mature ladybug.
You can recognize a newly mature ladybug by the color of its body. They are usually yellow or orange when they have recently finished the pupa stage, and will turn bright red as they age.
How to Attract Ladybugs
Calendula, dill, marigold, cilantro, chives, cosmos, and yarrow are all attractive to ladybugs, so pick your favorites and plant them around the garden this year.
Low-growing groundcovers give ladybugs protection by sheltering them from predators such as birds and other insects. Oregano and thyme are both good options.
Let Weeds Stay
Ladybugs love dandelions! Embrace these golden-flowered “weeds” and let a few grow. Bonus: dandelions are edible and have a ton of health benefits.
Give Them Water
Leave a shallow dish of water near some of your ladybug-attracting plants so they can have a drink when they need one. Add a few river stones or marbles to the dish to give ladybugs a place to sit as they drink. Refresh the water regularly so it doesn’t run out or become a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
Keep it Organic
Pesticides are not ladybug friendly. Stick to natural growing techniques and everyone will be happier.
Plant some nasturtiums specifically for aphids. It will distract aphids from munching on your vegetables, and the aphids on the nasturtiums will, in turn, attract ladybugs who will eat them up along with all sorts of other pests in your garden. Ladybugs will lay their eggs in an area with lots of aphids because they know their young will have a food source, so allowing a few aphids in your garden can bring you a lot more ladybugs who will grow up to patrol your whole garden and keep it safe.