Buying ladybugs?
August 2, 2018 6:40 AM   Subscribe

I'm a novice gardener and have some zinnias and butterfly milkweed in my back yard to try and attract butterflies. Most of my milkweed has check aphids. Should I buy ladybugs from Amazon to eat them?

I actually haven't seen many butterflies this year - I only have a few plants and I don't know if my little oasis is enough to draw them in when the neighbors are not planting things for pollinators. But 1500 ladybugs only cost six bucks on Amazon, so it wouldn't be a big monetary investment. If you have tried the ladybug route with check aphids, did it work?
posted by PussKillian to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
For six bucks it's not gonna hurt. I'm in Kansas, saw my first monarch this week, migration's coming! Most will fly away but a few will stick ... try keeping in fridge, put out 1/3 at a time a few days apart, and release at sunset when they are more likely to settle in. You can also cover your milkweed with a plastic trash bag overnight to encourage them to stay. Order a species native to your area.

Can't beat handwashing for effectiveness. Mantises and lacewings are also good aphid hunters.
posted by fritillary at 7:00 AM on August 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

Eponysterical, fritillary! (And good advice too. I’d bag the lady bugs on one plant for a day and wash some other- best of both world, teach your beetles there is food here and blast away a ton of aphids to defend the plants while the good guys are working)
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:17 AM on August 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

Side note: I planted mint all over my yard last year, and this year I let it all flower and now my yard is covered with butterflies and bees! Before this, I hardly ever saw any.

My experience with ladybugs was that when I bought some in Houston, they flew away as fast as they could. Sigh. But here in New Mexico, they’re in my yard naturally. They also seem to like hanging out in the mint, but I do see them all over. And again, a lot more this year than in previous years.

TL;DR Mint is Magic.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:07 AM on August 2, 2018 [4 favorites]

I recently bought ladybugs to address the aphid issue in my patch of pearly everlasting. I purchased them from my local independent garden store. You definitely want to wait until the early evening to release them, and make sure you water the tops of the plants before you put out the ladybugs so that they have some fresh water to drink. I snipped open a corner of the envelope and as they were crawling out I brushed the corner against the plants so they would catch onto the plant. The majority of ladybugs did disappear quickly, but a fair number hung out for a few days. Noticeably less aphids now. Good luck!
posted by stowaway at 8:26 AM on August 2, 2018

I’m going to counter and say that you should not buy ladybugs from Amazon. Ones this cheap were wild-harvested from somewhere else and can bring parasites to the native population. In addition, they almost certainly aren’t native to your area and may just out-compete your native bugs. Better to buy green lacewings or farmed ladybugs if you’re going to go that route.
posted by Illuminated Clocks at 8:36 AM on August 2, 2018 [5 favorites]

Aphids can be hosed off pretty easily. Also, ladybugs per se don't eat the aphids, their larvae do (aka "soldier bug"), so you likely won't get immediate relief.
So yeah, don't buy 'em, and do everything you can to make your yard a bug-friendly space.
posted by dbmcd at 8:52 AM on August 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

For aphids we use a spray bottle with soapy water. Works wonders.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:15 AM on August 2, 2018

Nasturtiums grow at a rate that aphids, which like nasturtiums a great deal, can't eat them fast enough to slow down much. And once you have a more-or-less reliable aphid population in your nasturtium patch, your garden will naturally attract things that eat aphids, like mantises; and because the mantises can make a living in your garden because the nasturtiums will always host plenty of aphids for them to eat, the mantises will tend to stick around and eat aphids off everything else as well.

The general principle to keep in mind when you're looking to set up a garden that pretty much does its own maintenance is that the more biodiversity you add, the more resilient your garden will become, and the easiest place to start with biodiversity is just having loads of different kinds of plants.

Yes to mint. You can have fun watching mint and nasturtiums fight for dominance of every square inch of bare ground. Clovers are great as well and make good companions for everything else because of the nitrogenous fertilizer that bacterial symbionts in their roots make out of thin air.

Be a bit careful with grasses, because most grasses have hella efficient metabolisms as well as being physically tough and equipped with sub-surface runners, so they tend to over-dominate and turn super-weedy.
posted by flabdablet at 10:01 AM on August 2, 2018 [3 favorites]

We bought the ladybugs off of Amazon and were very pleased. They came super fast... they were a fun addition to the yard and took care of our aphids. A++ Would buy again.
posted by pearlybob at 10:14 AM on August 2, 2018

I was going to recommend buying a couple of mantis oothecas to foster the mantid population for all the reasons flabdablet mentioned. Since they'll hatch in your garden, you don't get the FLY AWAY!!!1 effect of the ladybugs.
posted by ApathyGirl at 10:35 AM on August 2, 2018

If you have a garden center within reach, give them a call. The larger ones might stock ladybugs, and you'll see what you're getting.

As for whether they work, oh heck yeah! Watching them munch, have ladybug sex, and spawn off new generations of aphid munchers is neat.
posted by dws at 10:56 AM on August 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Also, be careful hosing off the aphids (which is really really effective) because you might hose off any eggs or larvae that you want to be colonizing your plants and even if you don't you've just washed off their food supply.

Unless the aphids are actively killing your plants I'd leave them be.
posted by lydhre at 10:58 AM on August 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yeah I'd leave it alone. I know how hard that is! It will take slightly longer than you want, but something will lay eggs and eat all the aphids. Give it a week or two. Feel free to cut truly overwhelmed leaves or stalks and throw them away (not in the compost!)

In May aphids totally colonized my amaranth when it was six inches tall, I was devastated. But I was going out of town and couldn't fix it. That amaranth is at least a foot taller than me now and no worse for wear.

Don't be surprised to find ladybugs have found the aphids all on their own!
posted by Bistyfrass at 7:20 PM on August 2, 2018

Every novice gardener should read The One-Straw Revolution to get a bit of perspective on this kind of issue.
posted by flabdablet at 2:01 AM on August 4, 2018

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