Top tips for keeping that much loved Christmas plant alive. We've tested a plant sensor and mixed it up with some good old gardening knowledge...
“Hey you,” said the bad-tempered ladybird, “Want to fight?” - The Bad-Tempered Ladybird, Eric Carle
In Eric Carle’s book The Bad-Tempered Ladybird, the story opens with a friendly ladybird and a bad-tempered ladybird eating aphids on a leaf. The bad-tempered ladybird doesn’t want to share the aphids and so goes to search for more aphids. In its search, it encounters bigger and bigger animals, who it challenges to a fight for their aphids, before announcing ‘oh, you’re not big enough’ and flying off.
The story is a good introduction to the idea that you might not win against a bigger opponent (like a whale). But for gardeners, sometimes it’s the smallest opponents that can be the most difficult to fight (admittedly, I don’t know any gardeners who’ve had to deal with whales, but I imagine this could be quite difficult too). Ironically enough, one of the worst pests for gardeners is the very creature that the bad-tempered ladybird was searching for: the aphid.
Aphids are a nightmare for gardeners; they breed quickly – and in some cases can asexually reproduce – so a small number of pests can quickly become a serious infestation. In addition, some species also transmit viruses, so it’s crucial to try to keep on top of their numbers during the growing season if you want your plants to have healthy growth. (If you don’t keep aphid numbers under control, you might start to see that your plants have distorted and curled leaves or weak and flopping stems.)
Luckily, there are many controls that you can use, and though you’re unlikely to get rid of aphids completely, you can keep their numbers down. Try: hosing plants down with water, or using an insecticide made from natural materials.
Bad-tempered or not, having ladybirds in the garden can also be part of the solution. The average seven-spot ladybird devours more than 5,000 aphids during its year-long life. In fact, although they are native to Europe, they were introduced to North America in order to control aphid pests. Other aphid predators include hoverflies, lacewings and parasitic wasps.