Backyard Buddies is warning Byron Shire residents to be on the look-out for exterminators wearing spotted outfits in their gardens. Nature’s pest controllers, ladybirds, are most active in warm weather and are now out in force to care for your prized plants.
‘Ditch the chemicals and pesticides if you’ve got aphids in your garden,’ said MrSteve Corbett, CEO of the Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife. ‘These sprays could unwittingly be getting rid of your best bug controller yet – the ladybird.
‘If given the chance ladybirds, also known as ladybugs and lady beetles, will happily eat up your aphids, scale insects and mites. An adult ladybird can consume 2,500 aphids during its lifetime. Ladybirds are thought to live for about two months, but some species can live for up to two years.’
According to Mr Corbett, here are many easy things residents can do to attract ladybirds to their gardens, including:
• Avoid using even low toxicity environmentally-friendly insecticides such as pyrethrum or garlic spray, as these will also kill ladybirds.
• Plant nectar and pollen-bearing native plants as ladybirds also eat flower nectar and plant material including fungus.
• Mix up a tasty brew of honey mixed with water and brewer’s yeast and spread it in the garden.
• Put up with a few unwanted bugs in the garden if you want to see ladybirds as well. Ladybirds need a food source if they are going to visit, so be patient.
• Water your plants early in the morning as this gives ladybirds a welcome drink and helps their feet to stick to leaves and stems.
• Ladybirds prefer moist, warm conditions so mulch the garden to retain water.
• Plants such as marigold, parsley, coriander, dill, fennel, alfalfa, zucchini, melons and cucumbers attract ladybirds. After you’ve harvested the vegies, leave the plants in the ground even after the leaves become mouldy. Look on the underside of a mouldy leaf and you may find little black critters with many legs – these are ladybird babies!
‘Ladybirds start life as an egg, go through three larval stages, and turn into a pupa before finally becoming an adult,’ said Mr Corbett. ‘During her lifetime, a lady ladybird will lay as many as 2,000 eggs.
‘Ladybird larvae look very different to adults and can sometimes be confused with other bugs including scale. If you have some unknown bugs in the garden, it’s best to leave them be as they could grow up to be gorgeous ladybirds.
‘You can also purchase your own ladybird buddies to help the population become established. Different ladybirds eat different bugs, so purchase the right lady killers for your garden from www.ecoorganicgarden.com.au or www.bugsforbugs.com.au. Release ladybirds after sunset or before sunrise as they are more likely to stay.
‘Many cultures believe that ladybirds are lucky. Killing one is said to bring sadness and misfortune.
‘The nursery rhyme “Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home” encourages children to catch the beetles and blow them on their way in return for a wish. It is thought this was a way of getting the children to disperse the beetles amongst the crops to destroy pests and avoid famine.’
n Backyard Buddies is a free program run by Australia’s Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife. Each month, you get a Backyard Buddies email (B-mail) with tips to make your backyard inviting and safe for native animals. Sign up for B-mail and download a free fact sheet about ladybirds at www.backyardbuddies.net.au. Share your photos of ladybirds and other native animals on the Facebook site www.facebook.com/backyardbuddies.
Image: The Striped Ladybird. Photo Michael Jefferies