20 Surprising Facts About Ladybugs


1. Ladybugs, also called ladybirds, are not true bugs (Hemiptera family)… and certainly aren’t birds either! They’re small beetles of the Coccinellidae family, as evidenced by their hard shells. We really should be calling them ladybug beetles or ladybird beetles.

All these ladybug colors come from just one variable species:, the Asian ladybug (Harmonia axyridis). Photo: Hedwig Storch, Wikipedia Commons

2. Not all ladybugs are red with black spots. Many are yellow or orange with black spots and some are black with red or yellow spots. And they come in all sorts of other colors, with or without spots. Some are striped. 

The domed shape of ladybugs (here, the 22 spot ladybug [Psyllobora vigintiduopunctata|) makes it difficult for ants to hold onto them. Photo: Graham Calow, http://www.naturespot.org.uk

3. Ladybugs are typically dome-shaped with short black legs, heads and antennae. This rounded shape is designed to protect them from predators such as ants: when they press down hard on a flat surface, they offer nothing for ants to get a grip on.

Anatomy of a ladybug. Photo: dengarden.com

4. The bright colors of ladybugs are a warning to possible predators. Many have a nasty taste and are, indeed, slightly toxic, although not to large animals like pets and humans. Their colors say “if you eat me, you’ll be sorry!”

5. And no, you can’t tell the age of a ladybug by counting its spots. They may well help indicate the species, though. For example, Coccinella septempuctata has seven spots while C. novemnotata has nine spots and C. undecimpunctata, eleven. However, if the number of spots on a ladybug did indicate its age, most would have but one spot, as they typically live only one year. 

6. Did you know ladybugs can bite? They don’t do it very often, and the bite is usually more surprising than painful, but they can.

How ladybugs unfold their wings. Video: National Geographic

7. Ladybugs can certainly fly, but when they land, they fold up their wings out of sight under their two-part shell (called the elytra) to protect the fragile structures from predators.

Ladybug eating aphids. Photo: Flavia, http://www.youtube.com

8. Most ladybugs are considered beneficial: predatory, they largely feed on other insects, especially aphids (plant lice), whiteflies, mites and scale insects. Some species eat up to 75 aphids per day! Their presence is considered a blessing by gardeners and farmers alike. 

9. Some ladybugs, though, are herbivores and eat the plants we grow. Like the black sheep in human families, we don’t like to talk about them. One that can be a serious garden pest is the Mexican bean beetle (Epilachna varivestis). 

Ladybug larvae aren’t nearly as cute as the adults. Photo: http://www.captmondo.com

10. Adult ladybugs are certainly cute, one of the rare insects other than butterflies most people find attractive, but their larvae… less so. They often look like tiny alligators! 

11. The name ladybug (ladybird) was originally “our lady’s beetle”, a reference to the Virgin Mary. One legend claims the name dates back to the Middle Ages when a group of farmers prayed to the Virgin to save their crops from an aphid infestation. Suddenly a horde of labybugs arrived, ate the aphids and saved the crop. From there on, they were known as our lady’s beetles! 

12. The seven-spot ladybug (Coccinella septempunctata), in particular, is said to represent either Mary’s seven joys or seven sorrows (that depends on who you listen to). In many other languages, too, there is a religious reference to ladybug naming. The Russian common name, божья коровка, for example, means “God’s little cow”.  

13. Beneficial or not, some ladybugs are outstaying their welcome. For example, the Asian ladybug (Harmonia axyridis), also called the harlequin ladybug, was imported into the United States from Asia in 1916 to control aphids but has since run amok, outcompeting native species, many of which are in serious decline. It has also invaded Europe and Africa.

Many ladybugs, like this common North American species, the convergent ladybug (Hippodamia convergens,), aggregate for the winter. Photo: Jerry Oldenettle, entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures

14. In temperate climates, many ladybugs aggregate for the winter, forming large clusters, usually on a south-facing surface. This helps them keep warm. When spring comes, the clump breaks up and they all go their own separate ways. 

15. And some species, including again the Asian ladybug, don’t just aggregate, they invade, moving into homes in the fall – often by the hundreds! – seeking shelter and warmth. Once they’ve found a warm winter nook, the happy home invaders leave a special pheromone trail to invite others to do the same. The scent can last for years, so some homes are invaded over and over. For more on this, read When Ladybugs Invade.

16. When ladybugs are disturbed, many will emit a yellowish liquid (actually ladybug blood!) with a distinctive and rather unpleasant scent rather like rancid peanut butter. This “ladybug taint” can spoil the flavor of wines if too many ladybugs end up in the juice. 

Newly hatched ladybug larva and eggs. Photo; veveblue, http://www.youtube.com

17. Some species of ladybug lay a mixture of fertile and infertile eggs. When the larva hatches and there is not yet enough insect prey to feed on, it will consume the infertile eggs. 

18. Actually, if it runs out of infertile eggs, it may well eat its brothers and sisters. Yes, many ladybugs are part-time cannibals! 

19. In many cultures, ladybugs are considered to be bringers of good luck. Some believe that if a ladybug lands on you, you should count the spots, as you’ll have that many months of good luck. 

20. And if you kill a ladybug, you’ll have that many months of bad luck. 

Ladybugs: so much more than just a pretty shell! 


Pre-Sprout for Easier, Earlier Carrots


You’re tired of waiting and waiting and waiting for carrot, parsnip or parsley seeds to sprout (they can take up to 3 weeks when sown directly in the garden)? Or they simply don’t come up at all or only here and there (usually because the soil was too moist, too dry, too hot or too cold)? If so, try pre-sprouting them. Safely indoors, under controlled conditions, you can give the seeds the stable warmth and humidity they want and avoid Mother Nature’s volatility.

True, it’s an extra step, but in return it shaves a week to two weeks off the time to harvest, improves germination (by about a third), eliminates all need for thinning and helps fragile seedlings avoid pests and diseases. But you do need a good eye: reading glasses may come in very handy!

I remember a few years back when none of the other gardeners in my community garden had any luck with carrots that year: for whatever the reason, the garden-sown carrots just didn’t come up in spite of repeated attempts. Wasn’t I smug with my boundless supply of healthy carrot plants I had pre-sprouted!

One Technique Among Many

There must be dozens of techniques for pre-sprouting (also called priming) carrot seeds (and, I repeat, their relatives parsnip and parsley). Some people even paste them to strips of toilet paper before they prime them, strips that can then be used as seed tape, but that’s a hassle. Here’s what I do:

1. Place a baking rack in the bottom of the kitchen sink. 

2. Take a paper towel and cut or fold it so it’ll fit into a zip-lock bag. 

3. Place the paper towel on the rack.

4. Lightly spread carrot, parsnip or parsley seeds on the towel.

Pour boiling water over the seeds. Ill.: http://www.naturesflavour.in & fr.aliexpress.com, montage: laidbackgardener.blog

4. Rapidly pour boiling water over the seeds. Yes, boiling! No, it won’t hurt the seeds, as the heat won’t have time to penetrate, but it will soften the hard cuticle that covers the seeds and slows their germination.

5. You’ll need to allow the excess water to drain away, so let the paper towel sit for 15 minutes or so, until it’s slightly moist, not dripping wet. 

Insert the paper into a zip-lock bag, then expose it to stable warmth. Ill.: Claire Tourigny, from the book Les 1500 trucs du jardinier paresseux

6. Carefully insert the paper with the seeds on it into a zip-lock bag, then seal it. 

7. Lay the sealed bag on a heating mat designed for seed sowing or somewhere warm (about 70 to 80 °F/21 to 27 °C). The spot can be in moderate light or in darkness, but never in full sun, where it could get too hot.

These seedlings are actually a bit too far along: you just want them to be barely germinating when you plant them out. Photo: copywritersallotment.wordpress.com

8. When you see the first signs of sprouting (usually in about 3 days), just a bit of white showing, use tweezers or a pencil tip to carefully to move the seeds to the garden, spacing them about 2 to 3 inches/5 to 8 cm apart, barely covering them with soil. 

9. Water thoroughly but carefully (use the rose attachment on your watering can or set the hose nozzle to “spray” to break up the force of the water) and keep moist. 

The seedlings will be up and growing vigorously in just a few days.

This method works with both early spring sowing and successive sowings in summer.

Are Coffee Grounds Too Acid for Compost?


Question: I just read that, contrary to what we think, it is not advisable to add coffee grounds to the soil in vegetable gardens nor to compost piles, because they’re too acidic. And that this acidity makes them especially harmful to earthworms. What do you think?

Christiane G.

Answer: Oh, the nonsense you see on the Internet sometimes!

On their own, coffee grounds are only slightly acidic, with a pH of 6.2 to 6.8, depending on their source. And a pH of 6.0 to 6.9 is considered ideal for garden soils. So they’re smack dab perfect! What more could you ask for? 

Now, true enough, as coffee grounds decompose, their pH may drop temporarily before going back up again, but the pH of most compost ingredients rises and falls like a yo-yo during decomposition before inevitably settling in just the right range. That’s just how composting works and it’s nothing to be concerned about.

You never need to worry about the pH of kitchen and garden residues you add to the compost bin at any rate. The microbes in the composter will break them down, regardless of their original pH. It’s just not a problem.

Adding Grounds to the Ground?

But can you safely add coffee grounds directly to the vegetable garden? Why not? Their pH, as discussed, is fine and they’ll supply the plants with nutrients as they decompose, notably nitrogen. Just use them in moderation, though. If you apply grounds as a thick mulch, it will tend to form an impenetrable crust, reducing air circulation and water penetration to the roots below.

Worms Love Them

Coffee grounds as worm food: why not? Photo: http://www.gardenandpatiohomeguide.com

As for earthworms, I can assure you they love coffee grounds. Back when I used to do worm composting, I regularly added coffee grounds to the bin and it was one of their favorite foods. Of course, don’t supply worms with only coffee grounds: they need a variety of plant residues to ensure good health. Instead, use grounds in moderation, at a rate of not more than 20% of the volume.

In conclusion, there is really no problem in recycling coffee grounds by using them in the garden, in the compost bin or even feeding them to worms.

And cross the site where you found this information off your list of recommended Web sites: obviously, they don’t do their research!

No Miracles Either

As for the so-called miraculous qualities of coffee grounds (they’re said to ward off harmful insects, prevent soil diseases, etc.), they’re just an old garden myth. Coffee grounds are simply a compostable waste like any other, neither better nor worse. Read The Truth About Coffee Grounds to learn more.

Fertilize Weekly… Weakly


Here’s an easy fertilizing tip for container plants, either indoors or out. Rather than fertilize monthly, the frequency usually recommended for soluble fertilizers, why not fertilize with each watering, but at a lower dose? For many plants, that would be about once a week.

The dose needs to be low, about 1/4 the usual requirement. So, if the fertilizer label recommends diluting one teaspoonful of fertilizer in a quart/liter of water per month, just add about one quarter of a spoonful of fertilizer before your weekly watering. You could even leave out an appropriately-sized measuring spoon near where you store your watering can just for that purpose.

The main advantage of this method is that it quickly becomes a routine. Unlike a once-a-month treatment you’re likely to forget half the time, it’s soon part of your normal watering process and you’re unlikely to forget. 

Also, plants actually grow better under a constant fertilization program (which is what professionals would call this). Monthly feeding tends to encourage the plant to grow by spurts; it bursts into growth after its monthly feeding, then slows do as minerals become rare after two or three weeks. This can result in an unequal appearance. With constant fertilizing, there are always minerals to be had and plants grow more evenly.

No need to fertilizer houseplants during the winter. Photo: http://www.montaguebb.com

Obviously, you should only fertilize plants that are in active growth and most plants have a seasonal growth habit, from spring through early fall, so, in most cases, you’d stop fertilizing houseplants weekly weakly in late fall and only start again in spring. Under plant lights, where it’s always summer, you can fertilize weakly weekly all year long.

There are other methods for fertilizing container plants (slow-release fertilizer, for example, tablets or fertilizer spikes), but many gardeners find the weakly weekly method perfectly suited to their habits.

The Best Place to Grow Herbs


I’ve done the following several times when I give gardening lectures about herbs. I ask participants how many planted herbs the previous year. Plenty of hands go up. Then I ask how many actually used them. Most drop straight down. The sad truth is that few gardeners actually use the herbs they plant. And there’s a reason for that.

A typical vegetable garden: not the best place to grow herbs! Photo: http://www.countryliving.com

Traditionally, culinary herbs are planted in the vegetable garden, but since a vegetable garden is usually considered strictly utilitarian and without any real attraction, it is often located far from the kitchen, in the furthermost recess of the yard. It may even be several blocks away in the case of a community garden.

However, it’s one thing to go looking for 5 or 6 carrots to prepare lunch or a cauliflower for the evening meal: it’s worth taking a few steps to get an ingredient that is essential to the success of the meal. It’s quite another when you all you need are a few basil leaves or sprigs of thyme. Are you really going to go all the way to the vegetable garden located far from the kitchen, especially under a blazing sun or when it’s pouring rain? Notably with the dried equivalent of the fresh herb is so tantalizingly close, sitting right there in your kitchen spice rack?

That’s why, it you really want to use the herbs you grow, it’s best to keep them close at hand, as near as possible to the kitchen, even if it means not growing them with your vegetables.

A flower box right in front of the kitchen window is probably the best place to grow culinary herbs. Photo: http://www.shop-vasteeldesign.de

The ideal location? You can’t beat a flower box full of herbs set just outside the kitchen window. So even if it rains, you just have to open the window, reach out your hand, snip off a sprig or a leaf or two, then close the window. Not only can you do this when it’s pouring rain, you will do it! Alternatives include pots of herbs or a small herb bed just outside the back door or on the balcony. Or somewhere equally easy to reach.

Keep your vegetables close, but your herbs closer!

No Bees, No Fruit!


Growing your own fruit trees and small fruits is an exercise fraught with unexpected complications and one of the most common is the lack of bees to ensure adequate pollination. Often, your trees and shrubs bloom well enough and have nearby sources of compatible pollen (different clones of the same species to ensure good cross-fertilization), but if there aren’t enough bees to move the pollen around, the harvest won’t likely be up to your expectations.

Already, honeybees (Apis mellifera) are not present in top numbers in spring, because they have just woken up after a long winter of lethargy and the queen has not yet produced the full roster of new workers for the current season. Also, if the spring is unusually cold or rainy, honeybees don’t wander far from the hive. And in suburbs or cities, honeybees may be too scarce to be effective pollinators. Add to that the fact that there are fewer and fewer beekeepers and therefore fewer and fewer honeybees and you have a problem.

A typical bee hotel. Photo: http://www.plant-theatre.co.uk

Native bees, on the other hand, are more effective than honey bees in difficult situations, visiting flowers earlier in the season and not being put off by cool, rainy weather. They are also active earlier in the morning. You can encourage native bees by leaving small “wild patches” of scrub in a few places: native shrubs and perennials mingling naturally with little human interference. And, as much as possible, just let nature take its course in your flower beds, leaving dead leaves and stems to decompose on their own. Many bee species overwinter in leaf litter or in the soil just underneath and will therefore be present and ready to pollinate when next spring comes. You can also set up a “bee hotel” full of variously sized tubes for solitary bees. Place it where it receives morning sun but afternoon shade so the “rooms” warm up early yet don’t overheat and you’ll see more bees settle in.

Grape hyacinths often attract a lot of bees just at the right time to pollinate trees nearby. Photo: gardenwalkgardentalk.com

To attract bees of all kinds to your fruit trees, plant more of them: a mini-orchard, perhaps. That way, the concentration of flowers may be “worth the trip” for the little buzzers. And plant nearby beds of showy flowers that bloom just before your fruit trees do so they’ll already be on hand to start pollinating. In my own climate, spring bulbs are ideal for this purpose, especially grape hyacinths (Muscari spp.) and daffodils (Narcissus spp.). 

And it goes without saying that, if you treat your fruit trees with insecticides, you should stop during flowering.

Beehives placed near apple trees in bloom. Photo: http://www.canr.msu.edu

Finally, if you live in the countryside, perhaps you could rent a hive or two for the time of flowering. That would enormously increase your chances of a bountiful harvest.

“Bee” true to your bees and they’ll “bee” there to pollinate!  

Tommacio™: Sweet Raisin Tomatoes


Here’s a totally different kind of tomato you might want to try, especially now that the plants are becoming more widely available. 

The Tomaccio™ (toe-MAH-chee-oh) is a cherry tomato claimed to be derived from wild Peruvian tomato species after 12 years of research by Histil, an Israeli nursery. The plant is an early producer (60 to 80 days) and forms a tall indeterminate plant, so use an extra-large tomato cage. It can produce up to 13 to 18 pounds of fruit per plant. 

You can, of course, eat the very sweet fruits fresh off the vine, but the whole idea with Tomaccio™ tomatoes is that they are designed for drying, giving extra-sweet dried tomatoes you can eat like raisins. 

Harvest them for drying when the fruit starts to soften and slightly wrinkle on the vine. In arid climates, you can dry them outdoors in the sun. Elsewhere, try 12 hours in a food dehydrator or dry them for 2 to 3 hours in a 200–300 degree oven (but check often: oven results are variable). Mine dried just fine spread on a cookie sheet and placed for a day in the window of my car parked in full sun. 

The dried fruit can be storied for months in a sealed container in the fridge or freezer.

How to Grow TomaccioTomatoes

Tommacio™ cherry tomatoes. Photo: http://www.tomaccio.com

Just grow your Tomaccio™ tomato plant like any other tomato plant: in full sun in rich, well-drained soil, either in the ground or in containers (2 gallons/7.5 L or larger). Wait until the air has warmed up (14–17ºC [56–62ºF] nights, 23–30ºC [73–86ºF] days) before planting them out. Fertilize at planting with your favorite all-purpose organic slow-release fertilizer and complete with seaweed fertilizer during the summer. Keep well watered as the flowers and fruit grow, but cut back slightly on watering at harvesting time.

One suggestion from Histil: pinch off the very first flower stalk. This will slightly delay harvesting, but it helps ensure strong early growth and maximum yields. 

Plants, Not Seeds

You can dry the fruits on the vine if you want. Photo: shop.mein-schoener-garten.de

Did you notice the trademark symbol (™) after the plant’s name? That means it is protected by a plant patent and will only be available as plants, never as seed. Any company trying to sell seeds will likely find itself in hot water! However, if you harvest the seeds and sow them for your own use, I fail to see how Histil would even know and most tomatoes do come true or fairly true from seed.

Where to find plants? Check out local garden centers: Tomaccio™ tomatoes are out there and in greater numbers than ever. If not, try the Internet. Maybe this is the year for you to try them!