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YOUR BUGS' LIFE LADYBUGS EAT APHIDS, SPIDERS SWALLOW WHITEFLIES, EVEN BEES, UM, DO IT, IN YOUR GARDEN - AND YOU CAN CONTROL SNAILS, ANTS AND MOSQUITOES WITHOUT CHEMICALS.

Byline: Barbara De Witt Staff Writer

Some bugs are ladies and, well, some are real slugs.

As gardens come into full bloom, you'll meet them all - the good, the bad and the simply annoying. And the more you fertilize and create lush growth, the more bugs you'll attract.

Your challenge is to identify the garden party crashers who think of your flower beds as one giant smorgasbord and fight back by using your wits - instead of pesticides.

While effective, chemical insect sprays also kill plants and damage the environment. Natural predators, such as ladybugs and spiders, will not only rid your garden of pests but leave your impatiens intact.

``Ladybugs can eat hundreds of aphids a day, but spiders are good guys, too. They do 80 percent of the pest control, eating whiteflies and aphids off your roses,'' says Sharon Lovejoy, author of the new book ``Trowel & Error'' (Workman Publishing; $13.95).

When your flowers are covered in aphids and whiteflies, and local spiders aren't doing the job, it's time to buy ladybugs by the box - $6.99 at local plant centers.

``You can buy ladybugs at nurseries, but the trick is to keep them in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator (no more than two weeks), where they'll go into a sleep stage, and then you can disperse them at twilight,'' says Kristi Patchis, a horticulturist at Sperling Nursery in Calabasas.

The ladybugs will need about 10 minutes to warm up, and then you can sprinkle a handful of them over the top of each rosebush or other flowering plant.

Patchis also recommends waiting two weeks before deploying the ladybugs if you've recently used pesticides on your plants.

Uninvited guests still hanging around?

``Put your bathing suit on and hose 'em down,'' says Kathy Musial, curator of plant collections at Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino. ``When it's warm, bugs are the most active, so I spray my citrus trees and other plants on both the top and the bottom of branches and leaves once a month to help remove insects such as mites and whiteflies and the mold they seem to encourage.''

Then there are those pesky little ants.

``Although ants don't actually eat your plants, they give free rides to garden pests such as mealy bugs,'' says Musial. And since there are no bugs that eat them or plants that deter them, placing ant traps on the perimeter of your area may be the only remedy.

But before you use chemicals, Lovejoy suggests investigating any trail of ants. ``If you can find the attraction and get rid of it, such as sap dripping from a tree, then you'll also get rid of the ants,'' she explains.

Bigger bugs need bigger weapons.

Now, about those slugs and snails that leave trails of slime and devour your pansies, petunias and primroses as midnight snacks.

Patchis advises the use of decollate snails that look like sea shells and are released onto the soil at twilight. They can be purchased for about $18 at nurseries.

Lovejoy also suggests luring the snails onto a cantaloupe rind and then disposing of them in the morning, or, if you're lucky enough to have wildlife nearby, invite a couple of ducks, toads or raccoons into the garden for some snail snacks.

Bees are annoying but good pollinators, so instead of swatting them, stay calm and they should fly away. Also be sure not to wear bee-attracting yellow clothing in the garden, say these experts. Also, plant a fragrant bush such as honeysuckle around the corner so they'll buzz over there while you're entertaining on the patio.

The baddest bugs in the garden? Mosquitoes.

These little flying bloodsuckers can breed in as little as two tablespoons of water, and besides leaving a bite that itches for days, they can spread diseases such as the West Nile virus. This potentially deadly virus can cause encephalitis in humans, horses and some birds, so don't give mosquitoes a chance to make themselves at home.

Change the water in your birdbath at least every two days, put mosquito- eating fish in your ponds and don't allow any standing water in your yard, advises Maria Iacobo, spokeswoman for the Vector Management Program of Los Angeles County, who adds that residents should be on the lookout for dead ravens, blue jays and owls, which are affected by the virus, while sparrows are not.

A temporary distraction for mosquitoes, says Lovejoy, is a big fan blowing away from you, as mosquitoes don't like wind. Other garden experts suggest citronella candles as a deterrent.

``Mosquitoes and poisonous spiders aside, it is possible to coexist with bugs,'' says Descanso's Musial. ``You just have to be able to tolerate a bit of chewed flowers and leaves ... but they'll grow back.''

Barbara De Witt, (818) 713-3666

barbara.dewitt(at)dailynews.com

Pests de resistance

The good

Ladybugs: These cute little beetles eat hundreds of aphids, mealybugs and whiteflies a day; no wonder they're associated with good luck.

Butterflies: They're pretty and great pollinators; attract with butterfly bushes.

Syrphid (or flower) flies: Very friendly, they look like tiny bees but with two wings; their larvae eat aphids.

Green lacewing: Their larvae eat tons of bad things, so leave them alone.

Dragonflies: They're fabulous and eat their weight in bad bugs - as many as 300 insects a day.

Bumblebees: Don't panic and wave your arms and they'll leave you alone, especially if you've got a highly scented plant located far from the patio to entice them to do their job, which is pollinating.

Earthworms: They improve soil structure and allow for better watering and deeper roots.

Decollate snails: These are the good snails; they have seashell-shaped shells and eat the bad snails and slugs without harming your plants.

Nonpoisonous spiders: They do 80 percent of the natural pest control in your garden by trapping and eating whiteflies, aphids, wasps and flies while you sleep.

The bad

Mosquitoes: They spread disease such as West Nile virus by biting and sucking your blood or that of birds. To report dead birds or stagnant ponds, pools or other bodies of water, notify the local health department at (818) 764-2010. While dining outdoors, turn on a fan facing away from the table. Also spray yourself with bug repellent and burn citronella candles.

Whiteflies: They can wipe out a bed of roses, but ladybugs love eating them.

Aphids: They eat anything with fresh green growth. Spray them with water or soapy water to remove them (during cool part of day). Or release a box of ladybugs on them at dusk.

Earwigs: These ugly little bugs eat your roses and other plants, but you can get rid of them by luring them away with a small tin filled with canola oil and soy sauce placed at base of plant in evening. Dispose of them in the morning.

Garden snails/slugs: They can eat a flower bed in one night, so lure them away from your plants with cantaloupe rinds and then dispose of them early in the morning. Decollete snails and ducks will also eat them.

Black widow spiders: Bites to children and small pets can be deadly. Always use caution when reaching into canisters, wood piles and stacks of garden pots. Red pepper spray might work as an alternative to pesticides.

The annoying

Sphinx moths: When grown, they pollinate flowers like butterflies, but unfortunately their caterpillars love to eat tomato plants.

Sow or pill bugs: They're kind of cute, but they'll eat holes in your leaves.

Wasps: Yes, they can sting, but they also feed cabbage caterpillars to their young. They may require pesticides.

June bugs: These ugly bugs stick to your screens and hover around yellow porch lights, but the real problem is their larvae (grubs), which eat the roots of your lawn, leaving a brown patch.

Ants: Yes, they're good for the soil and are eaten by birds, lizards and toads, but they can ruin a barbecue or picnic.

CAPTION(S):

9 drawings, 2 photos, box

Drawing:

(1 -- cover -- color) BUGS the Good, the Bad and the Annoying

(2 -- color) Wasp

(3 -- color) Dragonfly

(4 -- color) Bumblebee

(5 -- color) Ladybug

(6 -- color) Mosquito

(7 -- color) Earwig

(8 -- color) June bug

(9 -- color) Butterfly

Illustration by Jorge Irribarren/Staff Artist

Photo:

(1 -- 2 -- color) When you've got aphids and whiteflies on your flowers, above, fight back with a box of ladybugs, says Richard Blaisdell of Sperling Nursery in Calabasas, demonstrating how to apply them at left.

Photos by Tina Burch/Staff Photographer

Box:

Pests de resistance (see text)
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2003, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 14, 2003
Words:1425
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