These warm and often humid days of mid-summer bring the first signs of an unsightly pest: aphids. Aphids don’t do much damage when there’s only a few around. It takes clusters of them — and there usually are by the time they’re found — to make leaves curl and yellow as they deposit their sticky “honeydew” made from the moisture taken from the plants on stems and on the underside of leaves. If left untouched, this substance turns black with the presence of sooty mold fungus. Roses are often the victim of aphid infestations.
The more damage you have, the harder it is to control aphids because they hide inside curling leaves. Often, the presence of ants is an indicator of an aphid problem. Nasturtiums are a known aphid favorite. Think of them as an early-warning device. If you’ve previously had aphids in or around your garden, you should check them frequently. Aphids are wind-borne creatures. If your garden is large, check the upwind section most carefully.
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The common ladybug or lady beetle — every school kid’s favorite insect — is a great, natural solution to aphids. It’s reported that a ladybug will eat some 50 aphids a day. If you’re lucky enough to have ladybugs in your garden, their larvae will eat their weight in aphids each day. The University of Kentucky Extension Service reports that a single ladybug will eat 5,000 aphids during its lifetime. Often ladybugs will be attracted to your garden if you have aphids. But you can help things along by introducing them — purchase ladybugs here.
Follow the directions for using ladybugs carefully so that they’ll be most effective against aphids and other soft-bodied insects. Often, multiple introductions are most effective (the fact that ladybugs can be stored in the refrigerator in a state akin to suspended animation makes this easy). Timing is everything. If you introduce ladybugs thinking you’ll prevent aphids from entering your garden, you could be in for disappointment. Ladybugs who find nothing to feed on will likely abandon a clean garden in search of food.
To keep your ladybugs around and to establish breeding colonies, it’s also important to supply them with certain blossoming herbs and flowers to provide the nectar they need for reproduction. Mint, yarrow, angelica, dill and clover are good choices but almost any shallow blossomed plant (including dandelions) will work. Ladybugs also need places to over-winter. Mulching your garden site will take care of that problem. Want more information on using ladybugs? Look here and here.