Peace and war in the garden

Today I saw what peacetime looks like--in a landscape I planted four years ago and have been tending since. It wasn’t that there was a lack of fighting, competition, suffering and death….it was that there was just the right amount.

Certain plants are pestered by aphids and scale: In this garden, the Meyer Lemons, the Abutilon, the Olive, and well, the Dandelion weeds, are all magnets for these pests. I have tediously squished the scale with my fingers, or sprayed them as recommended. Usually it comes down to controlling the ants, who farm the aphids and scale.  The ants farm the aphids and scale for sugary “dew” that the ants massage out of the aphids backs.

Last year I noticed that the Lamb’s Ear harbors an aphid-predator insect that we all know and love: The ladybug. The Lamb’s Ear is teaming with this little bug, year-round. 

This spring, the Meyer Lemon tree has aphids. But this time, the aphids are not causing damage to the tree. The situation is not out of hand. There isn’t any black mold from aphid sap covering leaves. There isn’t any leave-curl from aphid colonies. There are only a few ants crawling around trying and failing to establish colonies of aphids and pulling at their ant antennas in frustration.

On almost every leaf that has a colony of aphids, there is a lady bug or lady bug larvae eating a lion’s share of aphids. The ants are not controlling the situation. Neither are the lady bugs or the aphids.

The key is that the lady bugs have enough to eat. I am not going to do anything to diminish their aphid supply. The lady bug civilization needs its staple, in this case the desirable sweet plump aphid. I assist by transporting lady bug larvae to the Abutilon’s blooming aphid population.

I will also keep an eye on those industrious ants that are going to be ganging up on the lady bugs and pushing them around for space. I’ve seen it: Ants hanging on to the legs of lady bugs with all their strength to pull the lady away from a field of juicy aphids.