Ladybugs are small, round insects that grow no more than 3/8 of an inch long. These bugs are considered beneficial for a variety of reasons, from pollination to pest control. We’ll show you exactly how baby ladybugs help plants, how to spot their young, and how you can use these cute allies to improve your garden.
Ladybugs, also known as lady beetles or ladybirds, are usually depicted in children’s books as being red with black spots. This isn’t actually the case: they can also come in black and orange, and may not have any spots at all.
The larvae, however, look nothing like the adults. Their dark, narrow bodies have tiny spikes that make them appear more like alligators. In addition, these blue or black bugs covered in orange stripes may shock gardeners into thinking they may have a serious pest problem on their hands. If you see these beasties, don’t fret! These bugs are incredibly beneficial to gardens in a number of ways.
Ladybugs Eat Other Destructive Insects
Ladybugs and their larvae are infamous for controlling aphid populations in your garden, which is great. Aphids are harmful to many types of gardens and crops, so ladybugs are quite invaluable for keeping them in line. That said, our helpful beetle friends enjoy many other insects, including:
- Spider mites
- Tomato hornworms
- Cabbage moths
Ladybugs feast on other insects throughout their lives. In fact, the average ladybug can eat thousands of aphids during a standard lifetime. The babies are even more impressive! Just like human young, who eat in large quantities during growth spurts, a single baby ladybug will consume an average of 400 pests before they even reach adulthood.
Regardless of their age, these beetles also prey on other insects’ eggs. Some of their favorites include the Colorado Potato Beetle or the European Corn Borer. Ladybugs seem to focus on eating destructive insects that like to feed on your garden plants, thus protecting your crops.
You’ll find ladybugs and their offspring in locations where they have a sustainable food source. This is what makes them so great at controlling garden pests. Some of the pests that ladybugs enjoy eating often decimate plants such as:
- Cabbage (and other brassicas)
Where Ladybugs Live
Many species of these insects live throughout the United States, generally in agricultural fields, gardens, or orchards. This is where they find their favorite insects to prey on: aphids and mealybugs. During the autumn, vast numbers of ladybugs are found in locations where they’ll spend the colder winter months, such as under rocks, fallen trees, leaves, or any other sheltered place.
Sometimes they’ll aggregate on the outside of your house in warm weather, and they may venture into homes from time to time when the weather dips into colder temperatures. It’s important to remember that since homeowners don’t typically want bugs inside, it’s best to simply move ladybugs outside they intrude.
If you have large numbers of these beetles in your home, the easiest method to remove them without harming them is to vacuum them up and discard the bag outside. In addition, you can always seal cracks in caulking or near windows to prevent them from getting inside.
The Easiest Way to Take Advantage of Baby Ladybugs
The easiest method to increase the number of baby ladybugs in your garden is to purchase them from a nursery and release them directly into your garden. Just make sure that you haven’t treated your yard with pesticides, since those kill beneficial insects as well as harmful ones.
Ladybugs will gather on their own as long as you’ve created an ideal habitat for them, complete with food like aphids.
Those available for purchase at your local nursery are often collected from the wild and held in coolers or refrigerators until they’re sold. If you buy a package of these insects, keep it in a cool location indoors (never a freezer though) until you release them into your garden.
The cold slows down the insects’ metabolism, allowing them to live longer without a food source until you can release them. This dormant state is necessary, but only works under a short amount of time. Six to eight hours is long enough, as any more time in the cold may kill them.
Release the ladybugs at dusk, scattering them among the base of your plants. Twilight or right after sunset is the best time, as it encourages them to stay for the night and rest before waking to a readily available food source. Food, water, and shelter will convince them that your garden is the best place for them to stay and lay eggs, hatching the next generation of beneficial insect allies.
Scatter the ladybugs around plants that are suffering from aphid infestations or other pest control issues. The next day, you may notice that there are only a few ladybugs there, as the others will scatter around in your neighborhood to find food.
Releasing your insect friends in a place where they can easily find food and water will encourage them to stay close to home. Choose either an infested plant or a flowering plant the bugs enjoy, and gently water that plant so there’s a small amount of moisture on the leaves.
If everything goes according to plan, you should see the baby “alligators” in a few days. They’re about half an inch long, and are typically black or dark blue with orange stripes. The babies are especially voracious aphid eaters. Since the moms lay their eggs amongst their prey, emerging larvae have an immediate food source. You should see your pest problem improve exponentially within a few days.
Another method is to wash aphids and other harmful insects from your plants using a massive blast of water. A garden hose is ideal for this, as it will wash the bugs down to the soil where ground beetles hunt.
The trick to keeping ladybugs in your garden rather than watching them migrate to your neighbor’s yard is all about making your garden the most attractive spot in the area.
How to Attract Ladybugs to Your Garden
To keep a garden full of ladybugs, you’ll want to create a home that can sustain several generations of these beetles each year. The most important things for this include a proper source of food and water. As a rule, ladybugs eat two things: pesky insects, and pollen.
Get started by making your garden more appealing to them by planting these:
- Bronze fennel
- Sweet Alyssum
The nectar and pollen these plants provide will naturally attract ladybugs.
Many plants attract ladybugs due to their shape. Some have flat flowers that are perfect landing pads, while others boast bright yellow or white flowers. Favorite pollen plants that attract ladybugs include:
These insects are found in healthier numbers when plants high in nectar are nearby, and they even seek nectar from:
- Stone fruit trees
- Morning glories
Since insects get thirsty too, place a shallow plate of water in the garden for your ladybugs to drink from. A garden fountain can be a good water source as well. Just make sure to change the water often unless you want to attract mosquitoes too
For an added boost, you may also try helping out ladybugs by hindering their prey’s movement.
Commercial ladybug sources suggest misting nearby plants with a soda solution made from 1 part water and 1 part soda before releasing the ladybugs. This solution makes pesky insects’ wings stickier, so instead of flying away, they’ll crawl near the same spot for around a week. As such, they’ll be more vulnerable to the adult ladybugs you add while waiting for the eggs to hatch.
Finally, you can attract more ladybugs to your garden by eliminating insecticide use. You may attract a few more harmful insects, but you’ll also attract more beneficial pollinators and ladybugs that will kill the unwanted bugs.
You can also build ladybug houses to provide shelter to your friends during wintertime.
A Final Word
You’ll know you have a healthy level of baby ladybugs in your garden if you see eggs. The eggs these insects lay can range in size, and are usually either orange, yellow, or white in color, and oval shaped. You’ll find them arranged in clusters on the undersides of various plant leaves.
Understand that if your baby ladybug population doesn’t want to hang around your garden, you probably don’t have enough food for them to survive. This is good news for many gardeners, as it means your garden is ecologically balanced just right.
There are also different ladybug species, some of which enjoy eating certain plant pests more than others. You can encourage certain varieties based on the plants you have, or the type of pests you’re fighting off. Including a wide variety of different garden plants will help prevent pest infestations from getting out of hand.