In a hurry? Scroll down for a bullet-point summary of how to attract ladybirds into your garden this year.
Ladybirds. Beautiful little bugs that – for this insect-obsessed writer at least – bring back memories of summer holidays and rolling fields. Good times.
If you get the feeling that there are less of these red-jacket part-time-cuties part-time-terminators around these days, then you’d be right.
Scientists haven’t been able to determine an exact cause for the general decline in their numbers over the last few decades, however it’d come as no surprise that ‘Lack of habitat’ and ‘Overuse of pesticides’ rank near the top of this bleakly predictable list.
So, it seems logical that the next question would be – What can we average people do to arrest this decline? Well, thankfully, lots of things.
But before we get into just how to attract ladybirds into your back garden this year, let’s take a second to look at why exactly we should want to do this in the first place, outside of insect-centric horticultural philanthropy that is (Try saying that three times in a row).
What exactly is a Ladybird?
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A type of beetle, the Ladybird (Also known as Ladybug or Ladybeetle) derives its name from the virgin mary, when around the middle-ages it was named the ‘Beetle of our lady’.
Charming ey, makes me feel less good about my parents naming decisions.
There are around 5000 different types of ladybird dotted around the world, with many cultures associating them with goodluck (I’m sure their astonishing good-looks have nothing to do with this).
Colouring and spot-density varies from species to species, however yellow / red colouring is generally accepted as the most common variant.
They are relatively short-lived insects, with their life-cycle spanning roughly four weeks. Larvae pass through four stages of growth before pupating, after which they emerge as the red-jacketed aphid-destroyers we all know and love.
Although generally carnivorous creatures, some species of ladybird have been known to be quite destructive vegetarians, harming large swathes of crops when allowed to amass in large numbers.
For our purposes however, we will focus on the much more common carnivorous ladybird.
They are an incredibly useful resource for organic gardeners everywhere, due to their insatiable appetite for a range of common garden pests.
They may look cute to you and I, but put yourself in an aphid’s six shoes and you’ll think very differently.
Ladybirds do not mess about when it comes to dinnertime (which luckily for us organically minded gardeners, is basically all of the time).
So, get busy attracting yourself an organic army of pest-controllers today with our top tips below.
Benefits of attracting Ladybugs to your Garden?
Ladybirds make a terrific companion to all sorts of plants, but why not pop a few more pals in for your resident fruit and nut trees to natter away with? Check out our favourite 15 Companion Plants for Improved Fruit & Nut Tree Health & Yield for some cracking choices.
For anyone who’s tried to raise crops organically, you’ll know that effective pest management can at times be a frustrating experience.
Companion Planting certainly helps, repelling pests naturally while attracting beneficial pollinators and predators.
Organic repellents can be brewed up to protect fruit trees and the like, which cause far less damage to the local ecosystem than traditional pesticides (Dish soap based sprays are particularly popular).
Pests are tricky little things though. They breed quickly and don’t shirk when it comes to enacting their dastardly apple-eating-plans.
So, If we want to truly protect our precious crops we’d best take a holistic approach and cover all of the bases we can.
Into the horticultural saloon struts the Ladybird, cigarette hanging from its mouth, revolvers on each of its three waists. I think I may have gone a bit too deep here.
Anyhoo. Ladybirds are most definitely beneficial insects to have around your gardens, allotments and orchards. They are hungry little things, who breed quickly and readily.
Each ladybird will be responsible for eating thousands of aphids and similar plant-eating insects over its lifetime.
In addition to this, ladybirds like to lay their eggs within the nests of pests such as aphids. This means that as soon as their larvae hatch, the buffet is right on their doorstep – and they take full advantage.
So, it’s as simple as that really. More ladybugs = less crop-damaging pests. With the added bonus that they look great wandering around the garden. Unless you’re an aphid, that is ..
If you were a Ladybird: What would you want for dinner?
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Generally, ladybirds are best known for eating aphids. This is due to the aphid’s well-earned bad rep with gardeners world-wide, and is the main reason most of us are interested in attracting ladybirds into our garden in the first place.
Their list of culinary preferences is in reality however, much longer, containing a variety of insects such as: Mites, Scales, Small spiders, Whiteflies & Mealybugs.
And as if that wasn’t enough forage for our red-jacketed psychopaths, they also eat the eggs and larvae of a huge range of insects, including but far from exclusive to those mentioned above.
A lesser known fact – and a surprise to this long-time fan of the ladybug – ladybirds actually eat pollen, nectar and honeydew, on top of their otherwise carnivorous diet. Learn a new thing everyday ey.
So, I suppose the short answer would be – Lots of things. Don’t worry about providing these things (outside of their favourite plants of course), there’ll be more than enough around the average garden to attract ladybirds in for a nibble.
Setting the minutiae aside for a moment, I think the thing to keep in mind here is that for the majority of us, a strong ladybird presence in your garden, allotment or orchard will be a real net positive for both you and your crops.
Just so long as you aren’t the size of an aphid. In which case, seek help.
What are Ladybirds’ favourite plants?
The key to both attracting, and subsequently keeping your resident ladybirds happy undoubtedly lies in your choice of plants.
Your ladybirds are going to need access to the right selection of plants in order to satisfy their needs for forage, shelter and mating. Otherwise, well, they’ll go elsewhere.
So, if we want to turn our back garden into a veritable ladybird nirvana, what should we be picking up on our next trip to the garden centre?
Well, there are plenty of options to choose from. Most of which serve dual-purposes, while generally looking lovely in their own right and of course, helping to attract ladybirds into your garden and therefore, your life.
A classic win-win.
- Tithonia rotundifolia
Where do Ladybugs call home?
Luckily for us organically inclined gardeners – Ladybugs aren’t particularly picky when it comes to where they lay their head at night.
As with anything though, it’s always wise to have somewhere in mind before setting up all of the other pre-requisites required to attract ladybirds into your life.
Any wild areas of the garden: At the base of shrubs and bushes, between gaps in brickwork, within tree hollows – If it provides shelter, a ladybird will happily call it home.
Of course for many of us, we simply don’t have the space available to leave an area completely wild. If that describes your situation the fear not – Bug hotels make for a terrific space-saving alternative.
They don’t take up much space, but offer concentrated living quarters for the local populations to use as and when needed.
Y’know, the essentials.
On the other hand, while there is certainly nothing wrong with investing time & money in buying or building any of the numerous types of ‘Bug Hotels’ available on the market, if you have the space to spare then leaving an area of your garden to remain at least partially wild is undoubtedly the best way to provide natural habitat for local ladybug populations.
How can I breed my own batch of Ladybirds?
Easy Peasy. Who needs to attract ladybirds when you can breed yourself a population instead!
If you’re looking for the most streamlined solution, there are a range of Ladybird Breeding Kits online which make this process incredibly straightforward.
We’ve used them ourselves in the past. They’re a great activity to keep the family occupied on a rainy day, with the not-so-shabby by-product of a box of organic-pest-repelling-machines to release into the garden once you’re finished.
Alternatively – if you’re more of a DIY type – a plastic container, water-soaked cotton wool, aphid-infested stalk and a few ladybugs found in the wild will also make for a more than functional breeding kit.
Simply allow your ‘seed’ ladybirds a couple of weeks to produce larvae, then release into the wild and wait for your larvae to reach maturity. Rinse and repeat.
And before you know it you’ll have a pest-free garden, without having to attract ladybirds at all – You’ll be actively breeding them!
How can I make sure my Ladybirds stick around?
Simple – Provide the correct habitat and you will attract ladybirds. I’m sure there’s a more pithy way to put that .. ‘Build it and they will, arrive and destory your aphid infestation?’. Not quite but we’re getting close.
Firstly, make sure to plant as many of the ladybird attracting plants we’ve listed above (there are plenty more out there which weren’t included on our list, those are just our favourites) in order to provide the forage they’re on the hunt for.
Secondly, make sure that there is an easily accessible water-source year round. Here in sunny South Wales, we rarely have to worry about this. If things have dried up, we can wait for the four or five minutes it takes for the month-long drizzle to return.
If however you’re in a drier area of the world (lucky you), this doesn’t have to be anything more than a few shallow dishes of water dotted around the garden. Or perhaps a small water-feature such as a pond tucked away in a forgotten corner?
Whatever you choose, having a reliable water source is key to not only attracting ladybugs to your garden, but keeping them healthy once they arrive.
Lastly, as mentioned earlier – somewhere for your soon to be ladybug population to call home. Whether that’s wild patches left around the place or bug-hotels strategically placed – a little thought here goes a long way in a ladybird’s eyes.
And there we have it. Three simple things to make sure that you not only attract ladybirds, but that all of those hard earned ladybirds stick around for the long haul.
It really is a wonderful world.
As much as we’d love to give you every morsel of ladybird related knowledge you could ever need on this here page, I’m nowhere near smart enough.
So! Second best option – A collection of our favourite ladybird themed books to polish up your red-spotted knowledge banks.
- Ladybirds (Coccinellidae) of Britain and Ireland – A lovely book for any fellow British Entomology nerds, packed with great pictures and put together by some very well informed researchers in the field.
- Extraordinary Insects: Weird. Wonderful. Indispensable. The ones who run our world. – A truly fascinating read packed full of rich information, but an easy read nonetheless. One of my personal favourites.
- Innumerable Insects: The Story of the Most Diverse and Myriad Animals on Earth (Natural Histories) – Another beautiful book, chock full of information and some lovely illustrations. Not specifically focused on Ladybirds but well worth the cost for any Entomology-obsessed bookworms.
Summarising our Ladybird cheatsheet
So there we have it – All you’ll ever need to attract these delightful, unpaid-pest-exterminators into your garden this year.
As a quick recap, let’s run over the key takeaways:
- Plant ladybird attracting plants – Ladybirds will happily feed on nectar and pollen in addition to their carnivorous exploits. Pollinator plants such as Marigold, Cosmos and Yarrow will help to bring your garden alive, not only for your prospective ladybug population, but for a whole range of beautiful wildlife.
- Allow nature to create suitable habitat – Wild areas if at all possible are great. Tree-hollows, overgrown shrubs, the gaps between garden walls – Anywhere which provides cover from the elements is a prospective ladybugs bachelor pad. If space is at a premium however, Bug-Hotels can work wonders in even the smallest of outdoor spaces, whether purchased or homemade. Either way – Create the right habitat and you will attract ladybirds to your garden.
- Access to water – Not an issue for many of us, however if you’re a resident of one of the Earth’s drier areas, topping up some small dishes scattered around the garden is more than enough to sustain a happy and healthy population of ladybirds. Alternatively, if you have the space and feel like creating a real treat for the natural world – Small ponds are absolute breeding grounds for wildlife, and will have a profound effect on the amount of activity you welcome into your garden in no time at all.
And that’s about that. If you’re looking to focus on attracting ladybirds to your garden, the above essentials will be more than enough to stand you in good stead.
If you’d like to jump start that process – The breeding options listed above are a great way to do just that, without it having to cost you more than an afternoons work and a couple of pounds in materials.
As always, I hope this guide has been useful for you. Thanks a bunch for making it this far (You’re a trooper!) and please feel free to subscribe to our mailing list below to be the first to know of any new ramblings from us here at the EcoGeeks.
Have a great day & happy ladybird attracting.