I’ve loved ladybugs my whole life. Cheerful red bugs with distinctive black spots. Their folded wings are an engineering feat of nature.
Until recently, I thought of them as “friendly” bugs. Pretty to look at and not interested in biting me. And then I got an aphid infestation in my balcony garden. Two years in a row! If you’ve never had or seen aphids, they’re like plant lice. Completely disgusting.
Ladybugs, I discovered, are natural enemies of aphids. Last year I couldn’t find any ladybugs for sale. So I filled a spray bottle with a mild soapy solution. I diligently sprayed the infected plants twice a day with the sudsy water. I convinced myself it was working. It wasn’t. Those horrid aphids were everywhere.
This summer I decided to make the balcony garden really nice because of the covid-19 staying-in-place requirements. Once again, the aphids appeared. Just a few at first. I immediately concocted the soapy solution and started spraying. And spraying. And spraying.
The aphids kept spreading. First infesting my zinnias before reaching the johnny-jump-ups and eventually traveling across the balcony to my salad mixes. My salad mixes were so lousy with aphids I couldn’t eat them.
This year I purchased 1000 ladybugs for $30 from a local nursery. One thousand seemed like a lot, but given the flight risk, I figured it was better to have extra.
I had read some myths about using ladybugs to combat aphids. The main reason ladybugs won’t work is because they fly away. However, I was counting on a sacred law of nature to disprove this theory. No animal will turn down free lunch. My plants offered the ladybugs a 24/7 buffet of tasty, plump, and abundant aphids.
We released the first batch over the weekend. I was immediately impressed by their fierceness. Over in the johnny-jump-ups I watched a ladybug gobble up an aphid in her pinchers. We cheered her on! The next morning, we checked on the team. Within minutes we saw the cheerful, red spotted insects crawling diligently over the infested areas.
Every once in a while I find myself astounded and amazed by something new. Watching these tiny, but mighty troops eat aphids is really incredible.
Sometimes we’re so busy in our lives, running around, worrying about big things, we forget about the power of small things. I feel humbled by, and extremely grateful for, these ferocious, carnivorous predators.