Kids ask great questions don’t they? I remember my daughter and me finding a ladybug outside. After singing the “ladybug song” she turned to me and asked “Daddy, what do ladybugs do in the winter?”
After telling her the story of finding ladybugs by the thousands hibernating as adults under rocks near the summit of Brent Mountain in the fall I started to think about other common garden insects and where they spent the winter.
Ninety-nine percent of what happens out in our backyard ecosystems goes completely unnoticed by the human species. This is especially true in winter. The garden may look completely lifeless, but appearances are deceiving.
Ladybugs are easy to spot if you happen to turn over a rock in the mountains where they are hibernating, because they huddle in mass. But there are thousands of other insects in your landscape each winter that you will never notice. Here’s a guide to the winter hideaways of some common garden insects:
Birch Leaf Miner
Anyone who has a birch tree knows this insect. It causes leaves to become blotchy and fall off prematurely. There can be three or four generations each year, but the final one overwinters as full grown larvae in a cocoon 2-5 cm. below the soil surface under the tree.
Elm Leaf Beetle
Got an elm tree? Then you know the elm leaf beetle. There are two generations per year of this pest in the Okanagan. Right now adults that fed on trees as larvae in the late summer and early fall are hunkered down in sheds, woodpiles, under bark on trees or shingles on roofs, anywhere that provides shelter during cold weather.
Cooley Spruce Gall Aphid
This insect produces those small brown galls on the terminal growth of many varieties of spruce. Tiny grey females less than 1 mm. long overwinter on the underside of the branch near the buds that will produce next year’s growth, just waiting for warm weather to lay their eggs. You’ll notice them next spring because their bodies will be covered by waxy, white fiber that look like cotton.
Another common and very noticeable pest, they are responsible for the tents made from their webbing in trees and shrubs in late summer and fall. When the larvae have gorged themselves on foliage from your plants they spin cocoons in debris on the ground or just below the soil surface and spend the winter there.
Mites would love to spend the winter indoors on your houseplants. That’s why it’s important to spray and thoroughly clean your plants before you bring them inside each fall. Failing that, mites will spend the winter as adults on evergreen weeds, tree bark or in soil.
Those many thousands of aphids that reliably greet us each spring as new growth bursts forth are now clustered in egg masses on branches, weeds and other debris.
Isn’t it nice to know that the garden isn’t as lifeless as it appears in the winter?