We have a hedge bordering the yard, a well-established stand of a good old standby, cotoneaster.
Now, cotoneaster makes a great hedge, but it has a tendency to attract some nasty little predator visitors, among them pear slugs.
I used to give the hedges an annual midsummer treatment by spraying with a very common insecticide, Malathion, which would eliminate the little nasties for the remainder of the summer.
However, I always felt a little bad in doing it, as I was never sure where the dead bugs ended up. Hopefully, they simply died and shriveled into the soil, but what if they became a meal for the birds I spent so much time attracting to my yard?
What effect would the spray residue have on them? Enter Herb again. Cotoneaster hedges all around his yard, thick green foliage, healthy as you’ve ever seen, not a bug in sight, and no, he never sprays any insecticides.
It seems years ago, one fall, Herb missed cleaning up the leaf residue from the birches, weeping willows and mountain ash that grace his yard. The winter’s winds blew the leaves around until a thick layer became trapped around the base of the cotoneaster hedge row.
Come spring, when he finally got a chance to clear the leaves up, he observed that among the partially rotted leaves were the most ladybugs he’d ever seen. It seems the decomposing leaves were the perfect habitat for them to winter over and they greeted spring in amazing numbers.
No big deal, right? Ladybugs are just ladybugs! Wrong! It seems Ladybugs have a voracious appetite, and one of their favorite foods happens to be the pear slugs that plagued his cotoneasters.
They’re also partial to aphids, aphid larvae, the different scale type of insects, and indeed most soft-bellied insects are on their menu.
That summer, as I was performing my annual cotoneaster drenching with Malathion, Herb was quietly determining there was no need to in his yard. The pear slug infestation was no more. Gone, simply vanished. The difference was the ladybugs and to this day there has been no more insecticide used in my hedge!
Making a Hospitable Environment for the Good Bugs
It’s been pretty easy really to make an environment that ladybugs, (or the now quite common Asian lady beetle) thrive in; virtually every yard has all you need.
Rather than cleaning out the leaves and plant residue each fall, then bagging and removing it all as I used to, now a good percentage is simply gathered and placed around the base of my hedgerows, under trees, in flowerbeds, and on the vegetable garden.
I just layer a 3–4 inch cover, get it good and damp with a thorough sprinkling, maybe throw some chicken wire or plastic mesh over spots that are exposed to the winds and then let Mother Nature take its course.
The dampened leaf mulch will partially decompose and become the perfect home to our ladybug friends. Every spring is the same: ladybugs galore, but none of the nasties!
Another observation I’ve had since discontinuing insecticide spraying is we seem to have a larger number of small birds, chickadees, finches, and the like wintering over. I’ll often see them busy foraging and picking away right amidst the cotoneaster rows.
Though I don’t know for certain, I’d bet they’re cleaning up any insect larvae and such that made it past the ladybugs! Did you know that the use of beneficial bugs to prey on “bad bugs” is quite prevalent in the greenhouse industry? Growers are realizing up to a 70 percent reduction in insecticide use, simply by releasing “good bugs” into a greenhouse containing an infestation of an undesirable species.
Reduce Pesticide Usage
First a quick lesson… Do you understand the various terms used to describe pesticides? Often confused, commonly misunderstood, it’s really quite simple.
A pesticide is a general term that focuses on pests in general. These are usually one of three subsets:
- Herbicide — Controls “herbage” or vegetation, commonly called weed sprays.
- Insecticide — You guessed it, specifically controls insects.
- Fungicide — Controls diseases. Think fungus, molds, mildews and the like.
Told you it was simple!
Depending on where you live, this may not pertain to you, as many municipalities have recently banned the use of herbicides. I believe most of these decisions were made more on emotion than fact, and our backyards, parks and green areas are so much the worse for it.
I’d much rather see the effort spent enforcing a blanket ban instead being spent in either educating the public in the safe use of all pesticides, especially herbicides, or at worst eliminating their use by the general public, but allowing their use by registered, thoroughly trained professional applicators.
However, if you’re fortunate enough to live in a jurisdiction that still allows you to use herbicides, for goodness sake use some common sense, (and make sure your thank your local elected official.)
- Do whatever you can to negate the need for applying herbicides. Create a healthy lawn that discourages the establishment of weeds, as discussed previously.
- If you have to use them, then be sensible in how you handle them. Don’t start spraying in shorts and flip flops. Don’t laugh — I’ve seen it done many times. Learn the appropriate safety measures. Practice some common sense.
- Read the label. It’s there for a reason. It has everything you need to know to learn how to handle the chemical properly, from mixing to the actual use.
- Mix the appropriate amount. Take the time to measure it correctly.