Ladybug: Aphid Killer

Ladybugs are cute - all red and polka-dotted. In childhood books they're portrayed as sweet and adorable.

In realilty, ladybugs and their more aggressive cousins, the Asisan beetle, are stone cold killers.

As I have mentioned (probably ad nauseum), I have a severe infestation of black cherry aphids on my lovely, beloved cherry tree. I've tried a lot of things to eradicate them. The first year, I got so frustrated, I actually used a nasty chemical - against my better judgement. It didn't work. So, for the last couple of years, my tactic as been to manually remove the infested leaves and treat the entire tree with organic insecticidal soap. Yeah... not so much.

At the end of last summer, I did serious research on how to get rid of the little buggers. However, I missed a critical piece of information - the one that said "do all this in the fall". I waited until spring and, of course, by then it was too late to do the preventative stuff. So, I was back to picking off leaves and spraying soap in hopes of keeping them under control. My last ditch effort was the one that I had the least faith in - buying live predators and realeasing them on the tree to kill the aphids.

I read too much online to have any faith in buying ladybugs to eat the aphids. Most of the reviewers complained of releasing $40 worth of ladybugs only to see them fly off into the sunset (or to the neighbor's yard). Short of putting a net up to keep them on the tree, I couldn't imagine that this tactic would work at all.

But... desperate times call for desperate measures. I ordered 3,000 ladybugs - two packages of 1,500 from two different suppliers (just in case one was a dud). I also ordered some ladybug "lure" which is supposed to make the tree irrisistable.

Here, in photos, was my experience:

Box #1 - Nicely packaged. Good air holes. Well branded box.

Box #2 - hand-made airholes. No branding on box. Giant "live ladybug" sticker on top.

In box #1 - a vial of nectar concentrate. Enough to make 1 qt of nectar to feed the bugs.

Box #2 - a bag of nectar powder. Enough to make about 1 at of nectar.

Both sets of bugs came in this type of plastic mesh bag.
At this point, I'd like to point out some differences between my two shipments. Box #1 included a lot of stuff that box #2 didn't (or didn't do as well.) Box #1 had lovely, 4-color inserts with information on the lifecycle of the bugs and how to release them, cross-sell on a bunch of other cool ladybug stuff (including kits for kids), and a coupon for 10% off my next purchase. Box #2 had two sheets of typed information that explained about ladybugs and how to release them. They were copied on green paper.

The biggest difference between the two was the health of the bugs. Box #2 had about 1/2 inch of dead ladybugs in the bottom of the bag. Now... I'm still sure I got my 1,500. There were TONS of live bugs in there. But they were rather weak which, when it was all said and done, worked in my favor. Box #1 had a total of 7 dead bugs in the bag. Seven. Seriously. And all the bugs were super-active and seemed very healthy. This could have been attributed to the fact that box #1's bag had a small piece of "feeding cotton" in it. I'm sure it was soaked with nectar. So, why were the weaker bugs better?? Because they immediately sought out food (the aphids) and they didn't disappear as quickly. The healthy bugs in box #1 ate some, but were perfectly content to fly off.

Check this out:

After releasing the ladybugs, a lot of them stayed around and feasted on aphids. If the information in box #1 is to be believed, they will have laid some eggs and will hatch larvae that will continue to eat the aphids - thus controlling the pests completely. Who knows. Out of 3,000 bugs, there were probably a few hundreds left on the tree after a day. Maybe that's all it takes...

Regardless, the process was fun and it was great to see the bugs do what they were meant to do. Fingers crossed!

- Alex

1 comment:

  1. I had to laugh, I can just imagine your neighbours commenting and wondering about the unusual amounts of ladybugs around. We have lots of yellow and black ones flying around the verandah lights, if I leave the screens open they all come in - usually head straight for the bathroom for some reason Have you tried companion planting in the veggie garden - marigolds are good for detering some insects that chomp on the leaves and for preventing nematodes in the soil. Good luck with your veggies.