Ready to release beneficial insects indoors?

16

Yes, this is a thing. When I posed the question to a few close gardening friends, I got either or both of these responses: “Huh?” and “NO WAY!” However, I know someone who does this and says it works.

While chatting with a houseplant hoarding collecting friend of mine, Johanna, about how people will do anything to get rid of houseplant pests, she mentioned she had ladybugs indoors for pest control and had just found a nymph, which showed they were breeding. Naturally, I was intrigued. “Tell me more!” I urged.

It turns out Johanna initially brought some jumping spider indoors from her garden; they don’t build webs and, she says, “keep to themselves.” After that, she ordered green lacewings—notorious aphid eaters—but was disappointed when these simply vanished. Finally, she ordered 1500 ladybugs (the minimum order from Arbico Organics), and after distributing some to friends, released them in her closed off plant room/study (shown above). At first, it was a bit disconcerting. “That’s a metric fuckton of ladybugs in a confined indoor space,” she notes.

But after a day or two, she reports they settled down and got to work. She’s also introduced a few predatory mites to control spider mites on her alocasia collection. All of these insects were ordered online (the primary plant/plant supplies shopping method of choice for the new houseplant devotees).

Johanna is the first to admit that hers is not a scientific trial, but she’s made some observations that lead her to think at least the ladybugs are working. She saw a mealybug on her calathea lancifolia only because a group of ladybugs had congregated near it. She’s also noticed that ladybugs seems especially drawn to her hoya compacta, which is known to hide pests in its curly foliage. Finally, she says that the few fungus gnats she had disappeared.

Follow Johanna and her houseplant adventures @lakeeffectplantlover (Instagram).

This is all academic as far as I am concerned. My husband would look upon a household insect release in the same way he would look upon welcoming the ten plagues of Egypt.

What about it though? I did search the Garden Professors Facebook group, and could find no discussion of this. It will not surprise many that eco-model Summer Rayne Oaks has talked about this in her blog, Homestead Brooklyn. (Oakes has 670 indoor plants.)  And, as many have pointed out, we’re already sharing our homes with more insects than we want to acknowledge.

Photos by Johanna Dominguez

Previous articleTrade Shows Turns 50. Garden Writers Party.
Next articleWinter Sun & Guilty Joy: A Letter to The Midwest

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com

16 COMMENTS

  1. So what happens to the ladybugs when their food sources run out? I know outside they move on or go dormant if it’s winter, and I assume if conditions are right, they’d do the same indoors (if it’s cool/moist enough). If there are enough of them, they might even mate and continue the cycle…as long as there are enough aphids etc to eat! Or maybe your friend opens a window and off they go, mission accomplished?

    I’m here to tell you, jumping spiders do not “keep to themselves”, although I’m sure like all spiders they avoid trouble.

    • Nymphs have been found so apparently the ladybugs are breeding. At the rate my friend is moving plants in and out, there will probably always be food. I believe they are there to stay.

  2. I need beneficial insects to eat my indoor house spiders and noisy east Texas flies. My indoor plants probably do have bugs, but it’s the spiders & flies I want to be rid of.

  3. Ladybugs will eat each other (the larva and eggs) if food is scarce. The trick is always getting them to stay in the first place. I once released ladybugs in an office atrium with a mealybug problem. They went to work right away (which was fun to see), so I thought success was at hand. By the next week, however, I could only find a few, but hoped they were still working. It seemed they did reduce the mealybug population somewhat, but by the second week I couldn’t find any ladybugs. Either they moved on, didn’t reproduce and only live so long, or it’s possible that the office had regular visits from an exterminator who may have affected my insect release. Personally I like the predatory insect idea and don’t mind a few bugs in the house. This, of course, coming from someone whose kid’s lizards eat crickets– invariably there’s an escapee that makes a run for freedom. So my bug tolerance is high.

  4. Well Elizabeth, I was just about to take offense at the term “houseplant hoarders,” believe me. Then I saw the photo of your friend’s plant room.
    Unbelievable!! I have 18 houseplants in my sunny Southwest-exposure living room and 3 upstairs in a sunny loft. (3 of the total are tropicals which love Denver…) No indoor bugs on any of them but that could be because it’s dry here in 80231. In the warmer weather, about 3/4 of them will go back outside & be happier still. As will about 15 more dormant now in the cool garage. Ladybugs work really well here outdoors, FYI.
    Maybe your friend should consider a move West? TY as always for a fun, thought-provoking read.

    • Johanna has 200 plants. Another Buffalo friend has 400. I have about 3 dozen, not counting bulb forcing. The bar has been moved for houseplants.

  5. YEAH I would release ladybugs in my house if I needed to.
    When I was recovering from back and leg injuries, and could do nothing else about the moths that had invaded my bird seed, I bought (tiny, stingless) parasitic wasps that got rid of the moths for me. I was annoyed that I had resorted to inoculating my home with live insects because I was physically unable to clean it beyond the basics, but it worked like a charm. And when all the moths were gone, supposedly the wasps just ate each other….supposedly.

  6. Still laughing about the “metric fuckton”. Lady bugs move into my house every fall. Unfortunately, along with them, we also get the stink bugs. I do find ladybugs in my houseplants while watering but the never beneficial stink bugs love to hide there as well. The ladybugs get to stay. The stinkbugs get flicked out the closest window if it’s me, into the fireplace if it’s my husband. He takes great pleasure in listening to them crackle. I have no statistics on whether or not they are helping but i haven’t spotted any bugs on my plants yet either. It is only January though so there is still time.

  7. […] here. Just this week, her inside, over-wintering, house-plant-jammed, office was featured no GardenRant.com – mostly for the fact that she’s released beneficial insects inside the house to […]

  8. Oh, yeah! Every fall, ladybugs find their way into our home, and, when I find them, I relocate them to the citrus plants that also get brought inside. Now, if I could only train them to eat the whiteflies on my tropical hibiscus.

  9. I wouldn’t mind the ladybugs, but I draw the line at the spiders unless, of course that gorgeous blue-walled plant room of Johanna’s comes with them. I’d make an exception if it was a package deal!

  10. I probably have 100 houseplants in the main part of the house and maybe 30 overwintering on my unheated porch. Ladybugs and many other insects occasionally come inside as most of my plants go outside for the summer. But I also have tiny tree frogs that come inside on plants too. I try to catch them and get them outside before it’s too cold, but sometimes they prove elusive and only their calling at night gives them away. They live on the bugs that come inside on the plants, fruit flies and spiders I suppose. I put out tiny bottle cap saucers of water for them. Frogs are better than snakes I guess, ( although I don’t mind either) which frequently popped out of houseplants in one store I worked at. I’m working on a houseplant ecosystem, complete with my birds and dogs, maybe it will become a trend LOL.

Comments are closed.