Ladybird nursery

Posted: Monday 7 July 2014
by Adam Pasco

Doing little more than standing and watching as aphids start spreading on flowers, shrubs and crops takes a cool head.

Doing little more than standing and watching as aphids start spreading on flowers, shrubs and crops takes a cool head. Such is the lot of an organic gardener. Still, the fact remains that our gardens will never develop that fine organic balance unless we allow some pests to develop, on which predators can feed.

Blue tits won’t successfully raise chicks in my nesting box unless they have a good supply of caterpillars to feed them - and I’m told they can need hundreds of caterpillars a day. Frogs and toads won’t take up residence in my borders (and among veg and salad crops) if they don’t have food, so tolerating some slug damage is my sacrifice in order to allow nature to control these pests without me resorting to slug pellets.

Well, I have taken to lending them a hand recently by taking a torchlight tour of my borders in search of slugs and snails, and usually catch a few each night, which is very satisfying.

I usually spot a few ladybirds through spring that have probably emerged from hibernation, but as more fly in they won’t stop and breed unless there’s food, and my golden hop creates the perfect nursery. This vigorous hardy climber shoots up over my pergola each spring, reaching the top within weeks, but the lush foliage of Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’ is also loved by aphids. It isn’t long before I find them on the underside of leaves. It’s tempting to think I should reach for a soapy spray to put an end to their relentless reproduction.

Patience is a virtue, and within weeks I’ll spot a ladybird or two. Fingers crossed, and they’ll breed and lay eggs. Then I’ll spot the tiny larvae crawling over the leaves in search of their prey. Both ladybird adults and larvae have a good appetite for greenfly, and sometimes I even gently move a few onto other plants suffering aphid attack.

The larvae grow and develop into pupae, like the ones in the picture above, and these then hatch into adult ladybirds that continue feeding and breeding to continue providing their valuable service.

No, I wouldn’t be without my golden hop and the ladybird nursery it supports in the heart of my garden. I wonder what other plants you've found provide the same service? Do share, as the more areas like this we can include in our gardens the easier it becomes to leave pest control in the capable hands of armies of natural predators.

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Viv Randles2 07/07/2014 at 16:57

I have a real struggle with aphids being farmed by ants on the philadelphus (on which they almost completely wiped out the flowers this year), and more recently on the broadbeans. These are in the back garden, and we have lots of ladybirds in the front garden, but they never seem to make it round to where they could feast to their stomachs' content. Will it upset the ladybirds if I try carrying them that far away from their present location? I don't want to wreck their nesting pattern and thereby risk driving them away.

Dave Morgan 07/07/2014 at 20:17

You'll do them no harm by catching them up and putting them on the affected plants. A new food source encourages breeding, so they will produce new larvae who will feast on the aphids readily. 

Dovefromabove 07/07/2014 at 22:28

Fleurisa 08/07/2014 at 10:41

You need to sort out the ant problem first as ants will kill ladybirds