How Can I Attract Lady Beetles to Help Control Aphids?

Kim Eierman

Kim Eierman

Founder of EcoBeneficial!

Available for virtual and in-person landscape consulting, talks and classes.

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How Can I Attract Lady Beetles to Help Control Aphids?

Question:
What can I do so attract lady beetles to help control aphids? How about buying them?

Answer:
Most species of lady beetles, also known as lady bugs, are predators both in their larval and adult stages.  They can be effective and voracious predators on aphids, eating up to 5,000 aphids in their lifetime.  To attract and support lady beetles in your garden, you need to include the plants that are most appealing to them, supplementing their diet with the pollen and nectar which many adult lady beetles eat in addition to pest insects.

“Umbelliferous” perennials in the Carrot family are particularly enticing to these beneficial insects and many others. With such plants, the stems of the flower cluster radiate from a single point at the end of the stalk, similar to an umbrella.

Some of our native umbelliferous plants include:

Heartleaf Alexanders (Zizia aptera)
Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea)
Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium)
Meadow Parsnips (Thaspium barbinode, Thaspium trifoliatum var. aurea and Thaspium trifoliatum var. trifoliatum).

Other small-flowered natives that can attract lady beetles and other small natural enemies, include:

Fleabane Daisy (Erigeron philadelphicus)
Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Narrow-leaved Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium)
Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea)
White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima)
Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatium)
Goldenrods (Solidago species)

And don’t forget Milkweeds (Asclepias species) as well as native plants that have daisy-like flowers with accessible, enticing center, including False Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides), Tickseeds (Coreopsis species), Asters (Symphyotrichum species), and False Aster (Boltonia asteroides)

Follow these best practices for attracting and supporting lady beetles and other natural enemies:

1) Plant small-flowered native perennials, especially umbelliferous ones
2) Plant for a sequence of bloom from spring through late fall
3) Eliminate pesticides
4) Provide a clean water source (such as a plant saucer filled with gravel and topped off with water)
5) Keep perennials and grasses standing through fall and winter t0 provide winter habitat

I do not recommend buying lady beetles and releasing them, with the exception of re-introductions of threatened species, such as the Lost Ladybug Project, run by Cornell University.  In New York, they are selling Ninespotted Ladybugs which were thought to be extinct until recently.  Do not buy other lady beetles that are sold commercially – they usually come from another state and can introduce new pests and diseases.

For more information on the topic of native plants and natural enemies listen to my interview with Dr Doug Landis from Michigan State University, who has done some groundbreaking research.

Plant it and they will come!

From Kim Eierman at EcoBeneficial!

Photo credit: Flickr_John Flannery

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