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Ladybirds are much-loved insects that can help maintain a healthy ecosystem in gardens and green spaces. Here's how to attract ladybirds to your plot


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Ladybirds

There are more than 40 species of ladybird in the UK (known as ladybugs in the US), and these colourful beetles are a common sight in gardens and green spaces.


If asked to draw a picture of a ladybird, most of us would draw a round red insect with black spots. But ladybirds come in many different colours and designs, including black with red spots, orange with white spots, and orange with yellow streaks.


They're often named after the number of wing spots they have – such as two-spot, five-spot, or seven-spot. Some ladybirds have up to 22 spots.

The harlequin ladybird (pictured above) is an invasive species from Asia. Introduced in 2004, they are predatory insects, feeding on garden pests such as aphids – but they also sometimes eat our native ladybirds, as well as the eggs and larvae of some butterflies and moths.


The two most common forms of harlequin ladybird are black with two or four red or orange spots, or orange with 15-21 black spots. They can be distinguished from common ladybirds by their size – harlequins are generally larger than most native species.


If you do spot a harlequin in your garden, don't worry. You don't need to take action to remove them – but reporting your sightings to the UK Ladybird Survey, can help monitor the impact of this invasive species on native populations.


A ladybird lifecycle

The fascinating lifecycle of a ladybird starts with mating in spring. Tiny pale-orange eggs are laid in clusters on the underside of leaves. The eggs hatch into larvae (pictured below), which can munch their way through up to 50 aphids a day. After this comes the pupal stage, which lasts for a week or two until the adult ladybirds emerge.

Ladybirds hibernate over winter, usually in groups, looking for dry nooks and crevices to hunker down in. They wake up in spring and the lifecycle starts all over again.

Attracting lots of ladybirds to your garden or allotment is a good way to help protect your crops and flowers – not least because a single ladybird can munch its way through around 5,000 aphids in its lifetime.       


There are hundreds of different species of aphid – including greenfly and blackfly. These tiny, sap-sucking insects are one of the biggest nuisances in the garden, attacking and damaging cabbages, tomatoes, beans, salads and roses, to name just a few.


Ladybirds also eat whitefly and scale insects – the latter are tiny sap-sucking insects that weaken plants and can be a particular problem on fruit trees and bushes.


Ladybirds are an important ally against these damaging pests, so it makes sense to attract lots of lovely ladybirds to your garden or allotment.


Attract ladybirds and help them thrive

Like other insects, adult ladybirds will be attracted to nectar-rich flowers. Flat-shaped blooms are best – try fennel, dill, coriander and yarrow. They also like lavender, thyme, parsley and nasturtiums – so creating a small herb garden, or grouping pots of some of these plants together, would be a good way to help.


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Calendulas (pictured above) and marigolds are also attractive to ladybirds – and these flowers are useful in other ways too. They will entice all sorts of beneficial insects and pollinators, such as hoverflies and bumblebees – and the scent of calendulas and marigolds is even believed to deter whitefly.


Don't forget to provide plants for the earlier stages of the ladybird's lifecycle too. Nettles, for example, are one of the insect's favourite plants for laying eggs onto – perhaps because the stinging leaves offer an extra level of protection from predators.

Nettles are helpful to other wildlife too – a single nettle patch can support over 40 species of insects. Nettles provide food for caterpillars, and are particularly useful for small tortoiseshell and peacock butterflies. So allowing a small patch of nettles to grow in a quiet corner is an excellent way to help nature.


Ladybirds need places to shelter during cold weather, and will settle down in cracks and crevices, leaf litter and hollow stems. Growing plants that produce sturdy, hollow stems and interesting seedheads – and leaving these in situ over winter – is a good way to provide a safe, natural habitat for hibernating ladybirds, lacewings and other insects. Teasels, sedums, honesty and angelica are all good choices. As an added benefit, goldfinches and other birds will feed on the seeds – and the seedheads bring structure and interest to the winter garden, especially when dusted with frost or snow.

After enjoying the sight of these attractive stems and seedheads all winter, be sure to wait until ladybirds and other insects emerge from hibernation – usually in April – before you tidy up the garden by cutting down dead plants.


Another way to provide shelter for ladybirds and other creatures is to create a log pile. This is easy to do – just pile up some logs in a corner and leave them alone. Dead wood provides a home for all sorts of insects, lichens and fungi, and is a source of food for birds, frogs and toads. A pile of branches works well too – and piling garden trimmings and fallen branches into a corner is an excellent wildlife-friendly alternative to burning a bonfire.


Long grass is a fantastic habitat too, and it's worth leaving a strip or patch of lawn unmown. This will offer shelter for ladybirds and other insects, as well as frogs, toads, newts and hedgehogs. And leaving grass unmown also allows a range of wildflowers to grow – these will provide essential food for pollinators.


Some garden centres sell ladybird houses – or you could make one. This can be as simple as gathering some pinecones or terracotta pots and piling them up in a dry corner. Or you can create a more elaborate structure by drilling holes into a birch log, or tying short lengths of hollow bamboo canes together and suspending them from a tree. Search 'ladybird house' on YouTube for more ideas and detailed instructions.


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Importantly, avoid using pesticides. Although chemical sprays may seem like a quick fix, they can have a devastating effect on your garden's ecosystem, and can harm beneficial insects – not just ladybirds, but also vital pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and hoverflies. In fact, in the long-term, pesticides may actually make a pest problem worse – and killing aphids with chemicals destroys a vital source of food for ladybirds.

Little Green Space April 2024

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