Grit Blogs > Growing Possibilities

Pest Control Handled by Nature

By Paul Gardener


Tags: gardening, insects, organic gardening,

Every year, right around the peak of spring, we do a whole bunch of yard clean up work in our front yard. It’s usually in that period around Mothers day when we pick up a few trays of annuals at our local nursery and it usually takes the good part of a weekend to do. This year was no exception in that regard.

Annuals flowering on the wall.

An interesting thing happened this year when I got to this part of the garden though. It’s one of my favorite places because it's all Columbines that self seed and get bigger every year. As I was cleaning up, I was wondering why the flowers didn't look quite right this year. So I looked a little closer.

Flowers infested with aphids.

Holy Crap! Infestation! The aphids were here and they were here in force!

Now it's not uncommon for me to get some aphids. Not even uncommon to find them out in force from time to time and I deal with the problems as they arise. This was by far the earliest and most intense infestation that I've ever had though.

At first glance I found that almost all the columbines on this side of the garden were under siege. In fact, I was about to break into the organic pesticide. I rarely ever do that, but this just seemed overwhelming. Before I did, I luckily looked a little closer and found something incredible. An ecosystem had developed right there.

Because of the abundant food supply, the ladybugs (Yes I know they're not bugs, they're beetles. That's the name I grew up with so that's what I call ’em OK?) had moved in and were reproducing like rabbits. They are natural predators to the aphid, so I thought it best to let them do their work. Also, I'm willing to sacrifice a few flowers in order to foster a healthy population of these beneficial insects for the rest of the season.

In that vein I decided to remove all the flower stalks from the plants and place them upside down in a bucket, then off to the trash. They were the most infested part of the plant so I wanted to give the beetles a head start on clearing them up. Aphids generally don’t have wings, although they can develop them for purposes of relocating when the food source is endangered or depleted, so I wasn’t worried about them coming out of the trash and returning. Don't worry, there were plenty left for the bugs to feed on.

WARNING ... EXPLICIT photos follow ...

Ok, they’re not really “explicit”, but I did find a regular lady bug love fest happening on some of the under story branches as I was pruning them.

Explicit photos of lady bugs.

I kind of felt a little peeping Tom-ish for taking these, but in the interest of education I'm willing to go the extra mile for you.

Peeping at ladybird beetles

And this is "The act." If you look closely you'll see the two bodies of the beetles protruding from under their wing covers. And that kids, is how the birds and the beetles goes... MMMM K?

Lady bug and her eggs.

Here you can see the collection of yellow egg sacks lain neatly under a leaf and Mom heading off to eat more aphids no doubt.

Caterpillar that turns into a lady bug.

So then, who’s this handsome little guy? Well, he is the larvae form of the Ladybird beetle. From this phase it'll go through a pupa phase and then emerge as the lady bug that we're all familiar with. So, if you see these guys crawling around the garden, they are your friend!

In the Short term, I had to make a concession to the aphids in that I gave up my flowers for this year. I have others. The bigger point is found in the long term view however. In that perspective I've helped to foster a natural ecosystem and life cycle that will benefit me and my garden later this year.

If the problem had persisted, I’d have had to go to the next step which, to me, would be to entirely cut off all green growth and let the plant try again. I’m happy to say however that this battle seems to have gone in my favor. The aphids have moved on to other plants where the battle continues but are in no where near the same numbers. And as for the lady bugs, well, I’ve seen more this year so far that I think I have in quite a few springs. So far so good I’d say!

All the best.

Paul~

You can reach Paul Gardener by email, or check his personal blog at A posse ad esse