Say hello to the gardener’s best friend – the bright and beautiful ladybird.
Also known as lady beetles, these species are often found cupped in the palms of children, filling eyes with awe as they try to count the spots on their backs.
Ladybirds are economically important insects, preying upon aphids, coccids and aleyrodids which prevent significant damages to plants and crops.
Artists from all over the world have found inspiration from this colourful beetle, and its spotted pattern has moulded across children’s clothes, food, the beauty industry and across the world of art.
These elegant beetles come in many different colours ranging from reds, yellows and oranges which brightly decorate their dome shaped bodies.
So why spend money and time on artificial pesticides when you can welcome a bright member of nature to help out?
Planning effectively by following these simple steps can help establish a ladybird population in your garden, which will work for free, munching on up to 60 aphids each day!
Ladybirds really are effective predators and can consume up to 5,000 aphids in their lifetime, alongside with other common pests of spider mites, mealy bugs and eggs of the Colorado potato beetle.
If you are a proud gardener that wishes to establish these little helpers into your garden, attracting ladybirds may be simpler than what you realise.
The first thing to consider is the common yet simple gardening errors that may jeopardise ladybird numbers:
The young larvae of ladybirds are often sprayed with insecticides as their appearances are not easily recognised and vary from their familiar appearance of their adult form. Therefore, understanding the appearance of ladybird larvae prevents the removal of the species, allowing a better chance of colonisation.
Ladybird larvae can be distinguished by their half a centimetre, dark grey –blue-segmented bodies, with six-legs and orange spots.
Nettles unfortunately are not adored by gardeners and are often ripped up, but in fact have proven to be important to ladybird species.
Nettles are the perfect habitat for egg lying, so by leaving patches free to grow, provides a helping hand to future generations.
Providing a cheap food source:
Ladybirds require a source of pollen for food, and have favourite species that they love to munch on!
The most popular ones are easiest to remember by their umbrella shape flowers including dill, caraway, fennel, tansy, wild carrot and yarrow.
These can be purchased from most garden centres, leaving you to reside on a nice Sunday evening, soaking up the sun whilst planting these species into your garden. Other plants that are easy to get hold of include dandelions, white cosmos and scented geraniums.
Most species of ladybirds require high humidity or ready access to free water droplets which can be provided by keeping plants close together.
During those winter months when its time to bring the gloves and scarves out and mist clings to yours words, the ladybirds need to hibernate.
In order to survive the cold months, ladybirds hibernate as a large group, clustering to the base of the stems of large ornamental grasses. Planting some clump-forming grasses such as pampas grass is both an attractive plant species to keep and provides an ideal hibernation site for ladybirds.
During the spring when the grass has grown wild to your knees and your hands reach for the lawnmower, try to be patient for a warm day, when the ladybirds should wake up from their winter sleep and return to exploring.
Not a gardener but a ladybird lover?
If you are a lady bird lover and enjoy spending a warm day rummaging through long grasses and peeking around pretty plants then you may be more important to ladybirds than what you realise!
Surprisingly, very little research and species mapping has taken place in Ireland, so it is important that we begin mapping the location of ladybirds.
The Cork Branch of the Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) who is in partnership with Biology.ie is running an annual survey which attempts to record the number of different ladybird species that are present in Cork city and county, along with the south of Ireland Coast.
If you feel this exciting challenge is for you, then become an important member in changing this lack of ladybird knowledge by rummaging through hedgerows, plant pots and grasses!
If you spot any ladybirds all you need to do is upload your sightings to the Biology.ie website (www.biology.ie) it really is that simple!
For guidance on ladybird species a wonderful coloured identification guide can be downloaded from the website.