Save The Good Bugs, Blast the Bad Bugs
A friend recently called to say she noticed hundreds of ladybugs crawling on her sunny windowpanes. The odd thing was that the ladybugs were on the INSIDE of the windows. What’s that about? Well, these are slightly confused critters. These nonnative but beneficial insects were introduced by the Washington State Department of Agriculture in the late 1970s to control field pests. These useful bugs can’t figure out how to reach their ancestral hibernation grounds, so they sleep over at your house. As spring arrives and the air warms up, Korean ladybugs wake up.
If your home is similarly ladybugged, you might reasonably be tempted to try to get rid of them. However, please remember that hungry ladybugs eat their weight daily in pests like aphids and whitefly eggs. These little ladybirds can be of great service to you and yours. Don’t try to put them in the garden yet, though; if tossed outside in chilly weather, they’ll die from lack of food. To take advantage of these free beneficials, tuck them away for a sunny day.
Pickin’ Up Ladybugs, Put ‘Em in Your Reefer…
To collect ladybugs safely (for them), sweep them up gently with a dustpan or use a clean and empty hand-held vacuum cleaner. Gently shake your ladybugs into a clean glass jar with a tightly fitting lid (canning jars work great). Add a small piece of damp (not soaking wet) paper towel, loosely screw on the jar lid and refrigerate the jar. When garden aphids arrive in late April or early May, you’re ready for them.
These Koreans are not the same as commercially sold ladybugs, but will be just as effective in your garden. The dormant native ladybugs sold at garden centers are shoveled out of high-altitude mountain caves (their traditional hibernation grounds). Whether home collected or store bought, these sleeping beauties need a wake up call when pests arrive. So will your Korean ladybugs, so give them the same treatment when it’s garden time.
Oh Won’t You Stay, Just A Little Bit Longer?
Dormant and/or chilly ladybugs tend to fly away before they get around to eating any garden pests. There are good ways to keep them nearby, but please do not spray dormant ladybugs with sweet drinks (such as fizzy pop) to glue their wings shut for a week or so. This is hard on the ladybugs, which may die without mating (not at all what you or they would prefer, I’m sure).
To release newly awakened ladybugs without losing them, sprinkle the garden with the garden hose, or pick a rainy, warm release day. Emerging ladybugs are very thirsty and if water is available, they will fly away to find it. After a drink, they want to mate (sound familiar?). Soon, fuzzy orange ladybugs eggs will hatch into larvae. These look like tiny black alligators with orange or red spots and eat even more aphids than adults.
Stay Safe And Sane
To protect beneficial bugs like ladybugs, bees, and other native pollinators, avoid toxic chemical pesticides. Many have a broad-spectrum kill effect and some target up to 100 kinds of insects. Since the Northwest only has about a dozen harmful insect pests, more non-target insects than pests are harmed by toxins.
Over 97% of all known insects are either harmless or beneficial. To keep bees and ladybugs and other beneficials safe, try to solve pest problems safely. Many pests can be washed away with the hose, especially if you attach a Bug Blaster. This high-pressure nozzle makes a terrific tool for taking out everything from aphids to caterpillars without hurting plants or innocent bystanders.
Just Spray Water, It’s A Blast
It’s a lot of fun to use and lasts for years. If you can’t find a Bug Blaster at your local nursery, the nozzles sell for about $30 online at: http://www.cleanairgardening.com/bug-blaster.html