The ladybugs in my lavender

Ladybug and lavender

A beautiful phenomenon has happened in my garden... a phenomenon that's taken quite some time to come to fruition.

Over the last 10 years, I've made a conscious effort to transition away from using garden chemicals (particularly pesticides and fungicides) and tried more organic practices like companion planting.

After a year or two, I incorporated the necessary elements to be certified as a backyard wildlife habitat with the National Wildlife Federation--food sources, water sources, cover and places to raise young. Being a backyard wildlife habitat isn't about turning one's garden into a zoo or safari refuge. It's more about providing a place where smaller critters like birds can live, eat and visit. I had a feeling deep down inside that if I welcomed them, they would benefit my garden--even my fruit and vegetable gardens. We don't have a big yard, but it didn't matter. Even with our lot only 50 feet wide and much of it taken up with the house, as long as I provided the four basic elements I trusted the critters would come.

The first couple of years were hard as the garden took time to regain the natural balance that had been lost from not being cared for before I came here. Then I started to notice a shift. It was subtle at first but it was noticeable. I noticed beneficial insects and birds buzzing and flitting around the garden eating the bugs that would damage my produce (like grasshoppers) or make my life miserable (like mosquitoes). Flycatchers like the Black Phoebe, Anna's hummingbirds, dragonflies, and preying mantis all showed up on their own very early after I got the four elements installed in the garden. Then lizards and Pacific tree frogs followed over time.

But I really wanted ladybugs.

I planted a number of rosebushes in the front garden and everyone knows they are a target for aphids. I stuck to my resolve not to use pesticides on the aphids and simply waited. I planted some fennel (not knowing it grows up to 20 feet tall in our climate) and that attracted a few ladybugs that wandered over to the roses to dine on the aphids. Then tiny little birds called bushtits regularly showed up in small flocks to light on the rosebushes and pick aphids off. Even Bullock's Orioles came down from their usually lofty perches to dine amidst the roses.

The ladybug population was still light, but I had hope the ladybug population would continue to grow on its own without any help from me.

Then it happened.

Two years ago, I noticed that an old cherry tree in the back corner of the garden was covered with rather scary looking bugs. When I looked closer I realized they were ladybug larvae. I left them alone. Most of those larvae eventually transformed into beautiful little ladybugs that spread out throughout the garden. Needless to say, I haven't seen very many aphids after that spring when the cherry tree turned into a "ladybug tree". I realized that the more mulch I put in that corner of the garden where the foliage is a bit denser, the more ladybugs I would find. I had happened upon the perfect combination for a ladybug habitat. Without even knowing it I was mimicking a small forest thicket like the ones where wild ladybugs breed and are harvested for retail sale to nurseries.

This year I noticed the ladybugs in February amidst milkweeds that sprouted when I wasn't well enough to pull them. In March, I added two more potted lavender to my collection and repotted one I already had. The ladybugs didn't take any time at all before moseying over to the new lavender. They even found the pots I had put on the deck up away from the garden beds far from the "ladybug tree".

When I'm out in the garden, if I feel a tickle on my arm I look first before swatting because more often than not it's just a ladybug hitching a ride. I had it happen just yesterday when I was out shooting photos. In fact, it happened right about the time I shot the image above. I don't know if this seems weird, but whenever I find a ladybug, particularly when I find it on me, it makes me happy. It seems like a sign that I've done a good thing by helping nature restore balance in this little spot of earth I am a steward over.
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5 comments:

  1. Love the photo and I love ladybugs....well I love lavender too....

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  2. How neat! We are in the process of trying to reclaim the yard in our new house and decide what we want to plant and where. I think I'm succeeding against the weeds in the front and now I can do some seeding in the lawn.

    I planted some raspberry starts and a lot of tomatoes today. I love sharing starts and transplants with friends. I received some daisies and cala lilies from friends earlier this spring and they seem to have taken.

    I've also discovered that I think one of my roses is a double delight. I also think I have a dark red peony!

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  3. Isn't it funny that people love ladybugs so much? Each year as I teach my little people about insects, I always find what I knew when I was a little girl, kids love ladybugs. So wonderful that they are not only gentle, pretty little things, but beneficial as well :)

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  4. I've tried to get ladybugs to inhabit my little patio garden, to no avail. Your little garden is becoming a sanctuary to many different creatures.

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  5. They were my favorite "can you identify this scary bug" kind of bug.

    I loved being able to tell a very concerned customer that what they had in their jar was a beneficial insect, not a bad one.

    Life is so much better without pesticides....

    Jen @ Muddy Boot Dreams

    ReplyDelete

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