Aphids are my enemy. But when they attack, the ladies-who-lunch are all set to fight back. They’re hungry and they’re ready to feast.
Ladybugs spend their whole lives snacking on a slew of aphids, as well as other soft-bodied pests like mealybugs, mites, scales, leafhoppers, and the larvae and eggs of other insects. An adult ladybug can consume up to 5,000 aphids in its lifetime! When aphids are scarce, ladybugs will feed on pollen and nectar. When all food supplies are short, ladybugs will turn cannibalistic.
Ladybugs (or more accurately, lady beetles, since they come from a family of beetles and are not true bugs) can live for up to a year, depending on temperature, humidity, and food supply. They like to lay their eggs near aphid colonies and a female ladybug can lay anywhere from 50 to 300 yellow, oval-shaped eggs, all in small clusters on the undersides of leaves. The eggs hatch within a few days and the larvae will feed voraciously (up to 400 aphids!) before they pupate. That’s 400 aphids in less than a month — for each larva! It’s a wonder how I even have any aphids at all with those little Hoovers.
As one of the garden’s greatest natural predators, ladybugs are worth keeping on your side. Hard as it may be, allowing aphids to live on certain plants ensures that ladybugs will continue to stick around and lay eggs. They also need a source of pollen for food, so populate your garden with beneficial plants that have umbrella-shaped flowers, such as dill, fennel, caraway, cilantro, parsley, tansy, and yarrow. I usually grow more herbs than I need, and let half of them go to flower for all the beneficial bugs. (If you want a more ornamental flower garden, White Sensation cosmos, Lemon Gem marigolds, Gloriosa daisies, and prairie sunflowers are strong attractants, too.)
Often I don’t use any kind of pest control in my garden because I believe the best pest control is the natural balance of bugs. If you attract good bugs like ladybugs and lacewings to your yard, they’ll take care of the bad bugs like aphids and cabbage worms. Keep them fed and they’ll protect the crops that keep you fed!