LADYBUGS DINE ON "SOFT-BODIED" INSECTS
We all love to hang with our four-legged friends in the garden, but did you know we have friends in our garden with six, eight and even more legs. One of the most asked questions about managing an organic garden is, how to identify these friends? To answer this important question you must first answer “what is it”? and “what is its purpose”? Did you know that 97% of the insects found in your garden are either helpful or innocuous? Garden insects can be helpful in many ways. They eat the damaging insects, help fertilize our soil, help with pollination, and provide food for other animals such as birds and reptiles. So before you squash that bug, make sure you’re not killing off a friend.
This article is the first in a series introducing you to some of the most common beneficial insects you’ll find in your garden. We begin with the ladybug.
Ladybugs are everybody’s favorite insect and releasing them even makes a fun activity for kids. The dotted red ‘ladybug,’ or ‘ladybird beetle,’ that we all know so well, eats aphid and other small soft-bodied pests like whiteflies and leafhoppers. Every organic gardener should learn to identify the different stages the ladybug goes through so that you don’t confuse it with a pest. The eggs are usually found in small packs of 20 or 30 oval shaped yellow eggs on the underside of leaves or on tree bark.
The ladybug is most voracious while it is in the larval stage. Ladybug larvae look very different from their mature parents. They resemble micro black and orange alligators. It only takes the larva a couple of days before it begins to shed its skin. If you look closely at your leaves you can be sure to find the shells of outgrown larva.
If you keep them chilled, ladybugs will remain in a state of semi-hibernation, so keep them in the refrigerator until you are ready to release them. It’s best to set them out in your garden at sunset. Ladybugs can’t fly at night or when they are cold, so they will stay in your yard until the next morning when the sun comes up and their bodies are warm. If you release them during the day, they will immediately fly off in search of food. Help them get a good start by lightly spraying some fresh water around the garden. They will be thirsty when they wake up and will drink from the droplets of water. Another trick is to sprinkle some sugar water around the area where you release them. The sugar water will attract them because it’s like aphid juice. Remember that these insects will only stay around if they have something to eat.
Read more about releasing ladybug
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