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Releasing Ladybugs to Combat Aphids

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Ladybugs crawling up the tree from out of a bag. These ladybugs were shipped to me to use as a form of aphid control.

We released ladybugs to help combat aphids in our trees. Tips on successfully releasing ladybugs to eat aphids, and how to make the release educational for kids!

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In 2018 we were combating a pretty bad aphid problem. They’re these tiny bugs that have a yellowish look to them and they can damage your trees and plants. You often see them with large swarms of ants… they sort of work together.

The first introduction to aphids that I had was at a time when I COULDN’T see them. Instead I had a ton of these huge bees swarming my tree…

Huge bees all over my tree up front. They're attracted to the sap from the tree... the sap is from aphids eating the trees.

The tree had these bumps on the branches. The aphids do damage to the tree or the plants. Then ants and bees are attracted to the stuff leaking from the tree.

There are two popular bugs that you’re supposed to attract to combat aphids: lady bugs and praying mantis.

I LOVE both critters and don’t mind bugs so I decided to give releasing lady bugs a try. While we have plenty of garden to attract these lovelies, I purchased a kit of lady bugs from Nature’s Good Guys on Amazon, to release online.

Ladybug with wings open, taking off from the leaf of a tree.

I’m not sure if this group of ladybugs stayed with us long term but it was SUCH a fun activity that I wanted to share it with you. It’s a joyful activity for kids who love and appreciate bugs, and we tried to make it educational for the boys!

Before anyone freaks because I said “party,” I think it’s a party if it’s just my family of 5… but this was held in 2018. We invited a few neighbors over for the release. If we’re still social distancing by the time you see this/decide to release ladybugs, you could always host a virtual release to show friends.

Ordering Ladybugs

We ordered our ladybugs from Nature’s Good Guys on Amazon, but it looks like another company, Clarks & Co, also sells them. Right now they’re either sold out or really expensive, but keep in mind we’re just rolling out of winter. I assume they’ll have more available soon!

These were really reasonable to buy when I purchased them in July 2018. I bought two bags of 1500 ladybugs at $4 each with $13.25 s&h. Just keep in mind they sell larger bundles… I may have saved on shipping if I’d ordered that way. I am not quite sure how Amazon’s shipping and handling costs for this works.

You can also order praying mantis hatching eggs and wait to watch them hatch. We’re waiting on ours now.

Books to Read About Ladybugs

Before the “party,” we borrowed a few books from the library about ladybugs. This is a great way to make this a science/learning activity.

Books about Ladybugs and the aphids they eat!

Preparing Kids for the Big Event

We have three rough and tough boys. They get into mischief, they abuse their clothing, and they struggle with the word “gentle.” I think it’s important to prepare for this release by talking about what it means to be gentle and careful with the ladybugs. If you have other people coming as well, you need to explain this to them as well.

I made sure to explain that we don’t hold the ladybugs in our hands, but we can put them on a finger and hold them up to leaves of the trees or plants.

Preparing them beforehand makes it easier to reinforce that message when you’re releasing the ladybugs. My policy is that if the kids aren’t cooperating, listening, and being gentle, then they take a break OR we stop the activity.

My son, 6, holding a ladybug on his hand.
My oldest son, letting a ladybug crawl on his hand.

The older boys are really good about this now, but at 1-4 years old I often would physically remove them from the situation. Just prepare yourself.

Also be careful about who you invite and explain what you’ll be doing. Not everyone can deal with bugs! Don’t invite anyone who is going to freak out and possible hurt them.

Are you scared of bugs?

If YOU don’t like bugs, this might not be the activity for you! It’s really hard to release them without having a few (or many) crawl on you. You can cut open the bag quick and place the bag up in a tree, but no guarantees. Pretty sure I had ladybugs in my hair at one point.

Ladybugs in a bag on a tree branch.

Releasing the Ladybugs

First, you want to make sure you’re releasing bugs that are native to your area. Second, don’t release them at a time of year that they’re automatically die. That’s just mean.

We invited some of the kids in the neighborhood over. It was a lot of fun and a great way to make this a group activity. Obviously maintain social distancing if you’re checking this during the COVID-19 crisis.

The ladybugs are shipped in mesh bags or cardboard containers. When you receive them, you can put them in the refrigerator for a day or two. MAKE SURE THEY DON’T FREEZE. When you take them out to release them, they may look dead. Ladybugs slow down and move less when it’s cool so this (is likely) normal.

Ladybugs come in a mesh bag. Expect to have some climb on you as you free them.

To ensure the ladybugs are more likely to stick around, do the following:

  • Water plants and leaves before releasing them.
  • Release during the cooler part of the day or when it’s overcast. Ladybugs are more active when it’s hot and sunny.
  • Try to release ladybugs on a variety of plants… don’t just put them all on the same plant.
  • Releasing them over a few days instead of all at once may be best.
  • They need a source of food and water. Make sure your yard has both. This usually comes in the form of having a garden
  • Don’t spray pesticides in your yard. Pesticides that kill bad bugs kill good ones too, even the organic ones. You should wait 1 month after spraying to introduce ladybugs.

Just don’t forget that if you have close neighbors, their use of pesticides could be a problem as well. I am not sure the best way to go about this, but you could always ask the neighbor when their routine spray is and try to hit that mark between spraying.

Ladybugs crawling on a plant and tree in my garden after being released.

I think we released too many at once and next time, I’ll space the release out a bit better. We have a bigger property now so I’d love to do this again. We’re waiting our praying mantis to hatch right now though and looking forward to releasing them!

Ladybugs crawling on a plant in my garden after being released.

This was a FANTASTIC activity and my kids LOVED it. I think it’s a great hands on activity to teach about gardening, and the balance of life in the natural environment. I’m not sure the ladybugs stuck around… I’ll probably do things differently next time.

We had ladybugs and praying mantis already in the garden, we had just hoped to boost the population. Honestly, not the worst $25 I’ve ever spent! Totally worth it.

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Hosting a ladybug release party and making it educational for children. This is a great way to combat aphids in your garden.

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