Ladybirds are a familiar sight in UK gardens. And that is a very good thing. Ladybirds are more than just bright and attractive garden visitors. They are also great creatures to have around. If you have ladybirds in your polytunnel, then you are already doing something right. In this article, you’ll find out more about why ladybirds are good in your garden, and how to attract them and keep them around.
First, let’s examine what ladybirds actually are. These creatures are a range of small insects in the Coccinellidae family. Most members of this family are beneficial for gardeners to have around. Most people are familiar with the common red ladybirds with their black spots. But ladybirds actually come in a wide range of colours, with differing patination.
Why We Want Ladybirds in Our Gardens and Polytunnels
The main reason gardeners see ladybirds as their friends is because they are a predatory species that eats common sap-sucking insect pests such as aphids and scale insects. The more ladybirds there are in your garden, the easier it will be to manage pest problems and make sure that populations of these insect pests do not get out of control.
Ladybirds don’t just eat aphids and other pests. Many also supplement their diet with nectar. As ladybugs come to sip nectar from flowers, they also carry pollen from one flowering bloom to another. Though, unlike bees, ladybirds are not primarily looking for nectar, they will ingest some as they go about their business. And as they do so, a side effect of that is that they can help to pollinate your plants.
Another interesting and important thing to remember is that ladybirds are not just predators, they are also prey. Ladybirds are an important part of the garden food chain. They are food for many bird species, and are also eaten by a number of other creatures – frogs, dragonflies, wasps and spiders, for example.
But Not All Are the Ones We Want To See
Coccinella septempunctata, the seven-spot ladybird, is the most common ladybird in the UK and across much of Europe. There are also a range of other native ladybirds that we should encourage in our gardens.
Unfortunately, there are other ladybirds that are not so welcome. Harmonia axyridis (the Harlequin ladybird) is an invasive species that reached the UK in 2004. There are fears that the seven-spot ladybird is being outcompeted for food by this newer arrival. So this is one ladybird that we do not wish to see in our gardens.
How To Attract Native Types To Your Garden
The first thing to remember when it comes to attracting and protecting wildlife in your garden is that you should always garden organically. Synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers can do untold harm to the ecosystem, and can be just as bad for the beneficial creatures as for those we do not want.
Another important thing to bear in mind is that though ladybirds can be beneficial for pest control – the key word is control, not elimination. It may seem counterintuitive, but aphids and other pest species must be present in your garden as a food source to attract ladybirds and other beneficial wildlife. A garden with pest species to eat is more attractive to the ladybirds and other wildlife that will help to keep these pest populations in check.
Try not to be too neat and tidy in your garden. In a wildlife friendly space, there should always be wilder spaces and hidden corners where the creatures you want to see can flourish relatively undisturbed.
Plant For Ladybirds
There are a huge range of plants you can include in your polytunnel or elsewhere in your garden to attract ladybirds. Generally speaking, the more plants you can include, the better. Boosting biodiversity in general is a great way to encourage more wildlife – ladybirds included – to visit and stay in your garden.
Good ladybird attracting plants will:
Attract aphids and other food for ladybirds.
Provide good places for ladybirds to lay eggs and live.
Give ladybirds the nectar they need as a dietary supplement.
Some plants can give all three of these things, while others may only provide some of what a ladybird wants and needs.
Here are just some of the great plants to grow in your polytunnel to make it a ladybird-friendly space:
chives (and other members of the onion family)
Of course, these are just a few of many, many examples.
Give Them A Safe Place to Overwinter
Another thing to think about is where ladybirds might be able to overwinter in your garden. Most ladybirds overwinter as adults. When they go into diapause, they are sluggish and mostly inactive. They need a moist and sheltered environment that will remain frost-free and ideally above around 55 degrees F. They seek out somewhere which offers a degree of protection against predators. This could mean that your polytunnel is the perfect place for ladybirds to overwinter if you make it appealing to them.
One good way to encourage overwintering ladybugs in your garden is to leave brush and hollow-stemmed dead plant matter in place, so they have a place to hide.
But if you wish, you could go further and consider making a ladybird house. To make a ladybird house, make a wooden box with a lid, and drill holes in the sides for ladybirds to get in and out. This could be a fun project to take on with kids, and once you have made it, you could let them decorate it as they see fit with non-toxic paints.
Introducing Them To Your Garden
If you create a thriving and biodiverse ecosystem in your garden, you should find that wild species naturally arrive. But in certain circumstances, you may find that the surrounding ecosystem has been so damaged by human activity that wild ladybirds in the area are sadly few and far between. In such situations, it is occasionally a viable idea to introduce them to your garden.
It is always essential to think very carefully before importing ladybirds from elsewhere. Again, it is worth repeating, only after trying everything you can to encourage wild ladybirds to your garden should you even consider this rather drastic step. It is important to understand that introducing ladybirds can often do more harm than good.
If you do decide to import some, it is essential to be certain that you are introducing only the right native species, and not invasive ones. Another thing to ascertain is whether the ladybirds were wild harvested. Those that were collected from the wild and not farmed are not a sustainable choice. It is also worth noting that they can be infected with parasites and diseases that could spread to the wild populations in your area.
Another thing to remember is that it is generally more effective to introduce ladybirds at the larval stage rather than as adults during diapause. Ladybirds introduced as adults are less likely to remain where you want them to (ie. In your polytunnel). Remember, introductions should only ever be considered when you have already made your garden as ladybird-friendly as it can be. This will increase the chances that the introductions will survive, and stick around.
Generally speaking, introductions will not be necessary here in the UK. Instead, we can simply create wildlife friendly gardens, and wait patiently for the beneficial species to arrive.
Keeping Ladybirds Happy
Finally, it is important to remember that it is not enough simply to attract ladybirds in the first place. You also need to implement a range of sustainable, organic gardening practices. You must garden in a way that does not conflict with their needs if you want to sustain a healthy population over time.
Do you have ladybirds in your garden? How did you attract them and what do you do (or not do) to keep them happy? Share your tips and suggestions in the comments below. And let us know how they help you in your polytunnel garden. If you want to find out more information on ladybirds check out these surprising facts.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.