How to Release Ladybugs in the Garden for Pest Control

2 Materials
15 Minutes

As I've been walking the beds the last few weeks, I'm noticing a scale problem on several of my plants. It's a widespread issue in the garden this summer that needs to be addressed. I looked into scale predators and wanted to try adding ladybugs to help manage the problem. I'm not sure it will solve the problem, but it was fun to try.

Because scale became so pervasive in my beds, I need to do a lot more than just knocking them off with the spray of a hose. I wanted to approach the problem organically without the use of pesticides, if possible because it can affect the population of native beneficial insects. As an alternative to applying an organic pesticide, I wanted to release ladybugs in each of the beds to see if they would help.

Why ladybugs? Ladybugs are beneficial insects that eat aphids, mealybugs, scale and other soft-bodies insects in the garden. They are attracted to pollen rich flowers that are light and bright in color. While my garden has some native ladybugs, the scale problem is growing by the week and I likely don't have enough to combat the problem.

Step 1 - Buy Live Ladybugs

Where to Buy Ladybugs

After researching best practices about ladybugs, I searched local nurseries and online retailers to find where to buy them. It's really important to know whether you are actually purchasing ladybugs or asian lady beetles. They look very similar but asian lady beetles are invasive, so we don't want those. To learn the difference, check out this article from Better Homes and Gardens.

If purchasing ladybugs in person, look at them and verify whether they are lady bugs or asian lady beetles. When purchasing online, I recommend reading the reviews, calling the retailer if possible, and really inspecting them when they arrive. The last thing you want to do is release something invasive into the environment.

Step 2 - Refrigerate Ladybugs Until the Release

How to Release Ladybugs in the Garden

Assuming you've purchased ladybugs, here are a few tips to releasing them. There are no guarantees they will stick around, but fingers crossed some will stay.

  • Refrigerate as soon as you bring them home. I noticed they slowed down when they were refrigerated and perked up when they were at room temperature.

  • Use adequate release rates. I released 3,000 ladybugs in one night instead of spreading it out. If I were doing it again, I would release half in one week then half the next to break it up and give them the best shot at working.
  • Ladybugs need a good supply of aphids or other food source. If there isn't enough for them to eat, they are not going to hang around.
  • Water the areas where they will be released. Ladybugs are likely very thirsty or dehydrated from being contained. This will encourage them to stay.
Step 4 - Release Ladybugs at the Base of Problem Plants

  • Release early in the morning or early evening. They will fly away almost immediately if released in the heat of the day.
  • Release ladybugs at the base of problem plants so they can find the food much quicker.
  • Expect most of them to fly away in a few days. I recommend doing a second and third release spaced out over the course of a few weeks.

Did It Work?

After following the above guidelines, I released about 3,000 ladybugs in my gardens around the base of problem plants around 7PM EST. As I started watering before, nature blessed us with a brief rain shower, so that helped with watering everything down.

Within twenty minutes of releasing them, I walked around the beds to see if they were still hanging around. I saw several of them marching up and down my plants attacking the scale. Yay! The real test though, would be how effective it will work over time.

The next morning, I walked around the beds. I did not see as many ladybugs, but saw several hanging around enjoying the scale. Every day, I walked the beds and noticed less and less ladybugs and a little less scale.

If I were to do it again, I would purchase more and release them weekly to see if it would be more effective. Although it did not eradicate the problem, it did make a small dent in the scale population. I'm not sure I would do it again to control a pest problem, but releasing them was really fun!

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Stacy Ling | Bricks 'n Blooms
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Frequently asked questions

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  2 questions
  • SusZanne SusZanne on Jul 22, 2020

    Any suggestions for roses, mine look like something is eating the leaves as soon as new ones come out? I don't see any Japanese beetles or any bugs at all. Any suggestions, didn't think lady bugs would work but maybe.

  • Kathleen Mickam Kathleen Mickam on Aug 08, 2020

    What are scales


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2 of 5 comments
  • Hope Hope on Jul 23, 2020

    That wreath on your door is GORGEOUS!!!

  • Em Em on Jul 23, 2021

    However, if a different reason is behind the loss of food source, a ladybug is estimated to live just about two days without food. They have a high protein diet and are big fliers, so they consume a lot of energy during their day. So waiting a week without eating means you could very well kill HALF OF THEM.