Monday, 28 May 2007


Photo: Fennel

Probably the most familiar of our beetles, ladybirds are one of the few insects widely regarded with respect and even affection. This friendship is an old one. Ladybirds have long been connected with good fortune in myths and legends, and from an early age children still learn to treasure them through storybooks and rhymes. Such high regard is well-earned. Most ladybirds and their young (larvae) are carnivorous, feeding on and helping to control large numbers of insect pests, particularly greenfly. They can also eat mites, scale insects, mealy bugs and small caterpillars

As one of the major natural predators of greenfly, ladybirds have a special place in the garden. Here are some ways you can make your garden ladybird-friendly.

Cultivate a patch of nettles (Urtica dioica): The nettle aphid (not a garden pest) is one of the earliest to appear in the spring. It is a favourite food of hungry ladybirds coming out of hibernation and looking for somewhere to lay their eggs. The nettles should be in a sunny spot. Cut them back in summer to encourage ladybirds to move onto other plants.

Don't panic and spray as soon as you see greenfly: Give natural predators, including ladybirds, a chance. Be patient! Ladybirds and other predators will only settle in if there is a plentiful supply of food i.e. greenfly.

Avoid pesticide sprays: Even approved organic sprays can harm beneficial insects. Both derris and pyrethrum have been shown to be harmful to adult ladybirds, their eggs and larvae. If you get desperate use soft soap or insecticidal soap to spot spray pest colonies. Try to avoid directly spraying ladybirds or their larvae, removing them first whenever possible. The organically approved fungicide sprays - Bordeaux mixture and sulphur are relatively safe for ladybirds (but sulphur can harm other beneficial insects).

Rescue lost ladybird larvae: Ladybirds do not always lay their eggs near a food source and the larvae are not very efficient at finding their prey. They do not use sight or smell - just move up the plant hoping to bump into a tasty morsel. If you find them wandering aimlessly move them to an aphid colony.

Leave hibernation sites for ladybirds: Hibernating ladybirds shelter in dying vegetation/plant debris, so delay cutting back or clearing up borders until spring. Dead-head plants with hollow stems to give ladybirds easier access, or cut stems back then stack them in a dryish sheltered spot. The hollow stems of plants such as angelica and fennel (Umbellifer family) make favourite hibernation sites.


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