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Pretty ladybugs keep garden looking nice

Ladybugs, a well-known and easily recognized garden ally, help to keep plant-eating pests under control.

Named for their shapely bodies and attractive coloring, the tiny creatures help natural gardeners grow poison-free produce.

Ladybugs, sometimes called ladybirds or lady beetles, control aphids and other tiny and troublesome garden pests. One ladybug can eat as many as 50 pests each day.

An import from Australia early in the 20th century, ladybugs are credited with saving the California fruit industry, which was threatened by an aphid infestation.

Aphids, tiny insects sometimes called plant lice, suck juices, damaging trees and plants.

Ladybugs usually occur naturally. If a garden does not have a sufficient number, more can be ordered from an insectary.

Sold by the pint or half-pint, ladybugs may cost less than chemical sprays and are kinder to the environment.

Ladybugs should not be ordered too early. If garden pests are not available in sufficient numbers, the ladybugs may depart for greener pastures.

When ladybugs are ordered, prepare for their arrival. Mulch around affected plants to a depth of not less than 2 inches. Unsprayed grass clippings make an ideal mulch.

When the ladybugs arrive, lightly water the mulch. Apply the tiny creatures, a handful at a time. Work slowly so as not to cause the arrivals undue stress.

During the night, the ladybugs will work into the moist mulch. The next morning, they will climb the nearest stalk and begin to feed.

Store any surplus in your refrigerator. Ladybugs will remain dormant until more may be needed.

Ladybug larvae, hungry much of the time, consume vast numbers of aphids, as well as mites and other troublesome garden pests.

Ladybugs may be bought from some nurseries in the Tampa Bay area. Two mail order sources are:

Bio Control, P.O. Box 337, Berry Creek, CA 95916.

Unique Insect Control, P.O. Box 15376, Sacramento, CA 95851.

Leo Van Meer's book, Natural Gardening, is available from Van Meer Publishing, P.O. Box 8127, Clearwater, FL 33758 ($10.95 post-paid, plus 77 cents sales tax). Address questions about vegetable gardening to Garden Naturally, the Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or electronically to