Green Gardening with Ladybirds

Pupating 7 spot ladybird and a ladybird lava, Gardening with ladybirds

It is no secrete that I’m fond of a good garden. I’m not the most green fingered person but I do enjoy gardening. There is something incredibly soothing about the gentle pace of time in the garden, the slow, steady rhythm with which the garden year ticks by. When we moved into our house its large garden was the deciding factor for me. As soon as we were safely moved we set to work converting a chunk of it to veggie beds. We shielded this area off from the lawn by a row of espalier apple and pear trees – an idea I shamelessly stole from the kitchen garden at National Trust property Greys Court.

The apple trees are my pride and joy and are coming on in leaps and bounds from the whimpy little whips they once were. You can imagine how exasperated I was therefore to find their leaves thick with aphids this year. Many of them were curled up and equal amounts were yellowing or dropping off. I read up on it and found out aphid damage can affect the apple crop too. Not good. Roo on the other hand found the aphids fascinating and her little sister got in on the act too, pulling off a lot of leaves to show me.

Aphid damage on apple trees

The aphids (plus their honeydew that the ants love) and the damage they caused to the leaves on our apple tree.

As educational as they were, the aphids needed to be controlled. I didn’t want to spray the trees with a pesticide – we would be eating the produce and besides, being wildlife aware means it’s not really my style. Some apple trees were also still in flower and spraying flowers with chemicals can cause a lot of problems for bees. Instead, I did what I do best. I researched.

It didn’t take long to find an obvious natural suggestion for our garden infestation – use ladybirds! Only problem is, despite ‘relocating’ some ladybirds from our previous garden when we moved in (I know, my husband thinks I’m a bit dotty too), our garden is fairly ladybird free. Thank goodness for modern society though as it turns out you really can buy everything. Yes – you really can buy mail-order ladybirds! I checked out with some wildlife experts first and made sure I used a company that bred native ladybird species but it didn’t take me long to send my order in.

Opening the bug parcel. Green gardening with ladybirds and lacewing

Roo opening the ladybird parcel.

Roo’s face when I told her what had arrived was a picture. She didn’t believe me. As she undid the carefully packed little packages containing a the bugs and their food she broke into a grin. I had gained an enthusiastic volunteer to help me release our new garden inhabitants.

The ladybirds were first out and Roo had great fun setting them loose on the worst affected trees. I’d only got a few adult ladybirds as there is no guarantee they will stay put. She managed to get ladybirds all over her and it took a bit of work convincing them to take up residence on the apple tree and not her t-shirt! Next up were the tiny ladybird and lacewing larvae. Both these are fantastic for helping clear aphid infestations as they cannot fly off yet. One ladybird larvae alone can eat through hundreds of aphids before it pupates. Roo couldn’t quite believe that the tiny little black dots of insects were actually ever going to be ladybirds.

Releasing the ladybirds, Green gardening with ladybirds and lacewing

My garden assistant releasing our new garden friends.

Next up came the lacewing larvae. Adult lacewing are those delicate tiny green flies you see about the garden from time to time. They are also huge fans of aphid and greenfly snacks. These had been provided as tiny pinprick insects and some eggs so we put them in breathable fabric bags supplied with them and hung these in the apple trees so they could emerge from them gradually.  Roo had a lot of fun helping choose the best places for them and then telling Daddy all about our new garden inhabitants later.

Adult ladybird lava, Green gardening with ladybirds and lacewing

Roo bringing in yet another mean looking adult ladybird lava to show me.

Since the ladybirds and lacewing arrived I have noticed a genuine improvement in the state of the apple trees. The leaves that were worse affected have not improved but the aphids are now gone. No new leaves seem to have been hit either. Our apple crop promises to be a good one! According to the general advice out there results are not always quite so immediate as the populations need to stabilise but I guess as we ordered quite a few it had a bigger effect. Best of all though, the ladybirds have provided endless entertainment and a great educational experience for Roo. I have learnt all about ladybird life-cycles too and the fantastic UK Ladybird Survey website has been an invaluable source of information. Roo has been tracking their progress and this week she arrived inside with a large, spiky insect on her hand that looked a little like something out a Hollywood alien horror movie. It was a ladybird larvae in the final stages before it pupates – a vicious carnivorous monster for things its own size but fortunately harmless to preschoolers!

Green gardening with ladybirds and lacewing

Turns out the ladybird lavae don’t just eat aphids… told you they should feature in a hollywood horror!

Roo’s tree inspections also threw up another bizarre discover. Those ladybird larvae that had finally matured were pupating. For the uninitiated this slightly grim but fascinating spectacle involves the ladybird larvae shrinking into a kind of roundish hunched lump. Then, around a week later, the adult ladybird emerges. Our ladybirds must have  been in the final stages of this process as the ladybird body was clearly visible in most cases but had what looked like a bad case of skin peeling sun burn as its old skin shriveled back to allow the adult ladybird to emerge. Fascinatingly before a ladybird even gets to the pupating stage it will shed its skin three times as a ladybird larva to accommodate its rapid growth!

Two ladybird pupae, Green gardening with ladybirds and lacewing

Double trouble! Serious peeling going on here.

The next challenge of course is going to be getting our adult ladybirds to stay in our garden for future years. The new ladybirds don’t breed in their first year. Instead they need a safe place to overwinter before emerging to mate next spring. I feel a ladybird box project coming on for Roo. Lacewing are keen on a winter shelter too. For now though, those new adult ladybirds can spread their wings and nip on over to the nearby runner beans where their savvy minded prey seem to have relocated.

LAdybird, Green gardening with ladybirds and lacewing

The ladybird emerges! Life-cycle complete.





I’m joining in today with Coombe Mill Country Kids Linky.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

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  1. What a wonderful post and so helpful too. I never know you could mail order ladybirds or that it really would work.Our mini orchard is really struggling and i think we could be affected by the same problem, now I know how to sort it! Love the enthusiasm of your little helpers too, a great team effort. Thank you for sharing with me on Country Kids.

    1. Thanks Fiona. I had no idea either. There is a page on the RHS website too that lists a whole load of other natural predators you can get supplied for dealing with even more specific infestations too. Amazing but makes so much sense. Sorry to hear about your trees. It’s really frustrating to see them struck down out of the blue. Would love to know how you get on if you do try using ladybirds/lacewing too.

  2. Love it, I had no idea you can order insects. We could certainly do with ladybirds in our garden too #CountryKids

    1. It’s admittedly one of the weirder things I’ve come across that you can order. The wonders of the modern internet age! Pretty cool though.

  3. What an amazing post and array of insects. Such wonderful things for the little ones to get involved in 🙂 #countrykids

    1. Yes the girls loved it although I did keep our one year old away from the Big Release…she’d probably have eaten them! We all love looking for the latest developments in our ladybirds when we nip out in the garden. It’s been fascinating.

  4. I love this, I was thinking of ordering some too and building a pond for frogs and toads to eat our slugs! 🙂 x

    1. How funny – we literally just built a small pond over the weekend with similar hopes! It’s nice to know there are natural alternatives for some really frustrating garden problems isn’t it?

  5. That is absolutely fascinating and very slightly skin crawling! I had no idea you could order ladybirds either…

    1. They are a bit fierce looking aren’t they? I resisted putting up the video version of the one munching the other ladybird – looked like something out of Alien!

  6. Wow, i don’t think I’ve ever knowingly seen ladybird larvae or pupae so great to see these photos. I hope the apple crop continues to develop well!

    1. They are bizarre looking things aren’t they? I’ll keep you posted on our apple situation but looking good at the moment!

  7. Such a fascinating post. I really need to carol the aphids in my garden so think I’ll be ordering some ladybird larvae. Fab photos too! #countrykids

    1. Thanks! It’s been really interesting following the progress of our little insects and given me a lot of excuses to get out practicing using my iPhone for insect shots. Slowly improving I hope!

  8. We’re really lucky as we’re surrounded by land that is not treated and lots of wild areas. All the good guys love our garden. I’m a big believer in letting nature find it’s balance and it does work. We have aphids, but not enough to cause a problem. What a fabulous experience for Roo. #CountryKids

    1. That’s great you have lots of the ‘right’ bugs in the garden. It’s funny – the house we rented from before moving here was very suburban and yet had loads of ladybirds. Here, in the middle of the countryside, we had hardly any…then again, the farmers do spray crops round here so maybe that has an impact. I wasn’t sure about getting them at first as sometimes I know meddling with nature can be a bad thing but was reassured by the RSPB advice team that so long as they are native species of Ladybird it ought to be ok. It’s been a lot of fun!

  9. How lovely what a great idea – I had no idea you can buy ladybirds. We often have issues with various pests next time I will look into doing something more natural other than reaching for the bug spray – thank you #CountryKids

    1. It’s nice to know there are alternatives I think and the philosophy is that they provide a longer term solution to keep levels under control than spraying and then respraying when they reestablish again. I’ll keep the blog updated on how they do going into next year though – the next generations will be the true test!

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