Let the bug battle begin.
In city-owned flower beds and planters across the community, a battle of immensely small proportions is set to be waged. On one side are the aphids, dictator-like insects that seek to latch onto and steal the beauty of zinnias and other summertime flowers.
Standing in their way is the city's new secret weapon: an orange brigade of ladybugs. That's right, ladybugs. Don't let the prissy name or the psychedelic orange uniform fool you. These armor-clad insects are fighting machines.
At least city leaders hope they are.
The city's horticulture division recently purchased 18,000 ladybugs that will be released later this week in flowerbeds along Massachusetts Street, in Watson Park and near the Union Pacific Depot in North Lawrence.
The plan of attack: Let the ladybugs eat the aphids, their eggs and their larvae. As a result, city crews won't have to use traditional pesticides to tackle the problem.
"Ladybugs are pretty efficient at this," said Crystal Miles, the city's horticulture manager.
A Montana-based natural gardening company markets a specific species of ladybugs to gardeners looking for a nonchemical way to deal with aphids and other flower-related pests.
City crews previously had used a chemical soap to deal with the aphid problems. But this year, Miles said she decided to give the more natural way a try since city commissioners and some members of the public have advocated for pesticide-free park zones.
"We really wanted to give it a try," Miles said. "The question is how effective we'll be. Ladybugs are things of nature. They may just choose to fly away."
The city paid $43 for the 18,000 ladybugs, which are shipped in a one-quart container mixed with sawdust. The container should treat about 18,000 square feet of flower beds, Miles said.
Greg McDonald, an owner of Lawrence's Sunrise Garden Center, 1501 Learnard Ave., has been selling ladybugs for about four years. He said he's not yet convinced that ladybugs do a better job than traditional pesticide soaps. But for people who are bugged by the use of chemicals, this is a viable alternative.
"Going pesticide-free, herbicide-free is a very strong trend in Lawrence right now," McDonald said.
For people worried that the city may be trading an aphid problem for a ladybug problem, both McDonald and Miles said they need not fret. This species of ladybug - Hippodamia convergens - is different from the Chinese or Asian ladybugs that have become household pests in some regions.
"Those ladybugs, in fact, give our ladybugs a bad name," McDonald said.