by Matt Gibson
Looking for pesticides to use in your garden that won’t harm bees? Honeybee populations have been falling at an alarming rate for years now. Researchers believe that the decline is due to many factors, including viruses, loss of the bees’ habitat, and the insects’ own migratory habits. One of the most significant reasons for the decreasing number of bees is the increased use of pesticides by humans.
Concerns about the long term effects of our pesticide use worldwide led the European Council to ban a group of pesticides by the name of neonicotinoids. This type of pesticide is especially harmful to creatures plants depend on for pollination—like bees, for example.
The dropping bee population is especially worrisome for humans because more than 70 percent of the world’s food crops are, at the least, partially pollinated by bees. Without the help of our friendly neighborhood bees, people around the world would face some serious struggle when it comes to growing food crops.
How would you react to learning that due to a shortage, you would no longer be able to enjoy onions, zucchini, melons, apples, berries, carrots, and other crops that rely on pollinators for a successful harvest? Well, as outlandish as it may seem this bleak potential is a real possible future for humanity—one that has scientists scrambling in search of ways to reverse the dwindling bee count.
When it comes to pesticides, there are a lot of options out there that are harmless to bee and other pollinators, but many people who would like to help don’t know what to look for on product packaging and, as a result, may end up purchasing a toxic pesticide that harms pollinators despite their best intentions. However, a little knowledge goes a long way toward arming gardeners with the facts they need to keep their gardens protected against insects and other pests while still attracting plenty of the pollinators needed to make the garden productive.
Just because a pesticide is labeled as “organic” does not mean that it is also non-toxic. Research must be done by the consumer in order to avoid mistakes like this mix-up in terminology, and experts are calling on gardeners around the world to pitch in and help in the effort to keep bee populations from dwindling to dangerous levels, thereby threatening the variety of shoppers’ choices in the produce department.
Controlling Garden Pests the Organic Way
Just because a pesticide’s packaging bears an “organic” label does not mean that the product is safe for bees and other pollinators. Organic pesticides are usually made from plants. Plant-based organic pest treatments do break down easily in the soil than pesticides made with synthetic materials, but some of the organic options out there are still quite toxic to bees and other beneficial insects—and should therefore be avoided.
When you’re in the market for a pesticide to protect your garden without risking harm to local pollinators, it’s essential that you check the ingredient list. However, checking thoroughly won’t help at all until you know exactly what to look for. Some popular non-toxic ingredients that are commonly found in pesticides include garlic, kaolin clay, corn gluten, and bacillus thuringiensis. If one of these is the key ingredient for a pesticide, it’s probably safe for pollinators. See our article, 10 Organic Pest Control Options.
When you’re shopping, make sure and take the extra few minutes to read product labels in search of toxic components on the ingredient list when you’re choosing a pesticide to use on your garden. If any of the following toxic ingredients are named, it’s best for pollinators and the planet to put that pesticide back on the shelf and keep looking for one that’s less harmful.
Pesticides, herbicides, and fungicide ingredients that are considered highly toxic to bees (that you’ll want to avoid) include rotenone, pyrethrins, sabadilla, spinosad, diatomaceous earth, copper sulfate, and insecticidal soaps and oils. Moderately toxic chemicals to be on the lookout for are copper, boric acid, horticultural vinegar, adjuvants, boric acid, neem, ryania, sulphur, and lime sulphur.
To be an ally to pollinator populations (and by extension our environment), the general rule when selecting a pesticide that won’t be harmful is to either use the least toxic option you can find or to avoid using pesticides at all.
Follow These Tips to Reduce Harm When Applying Pesticides
If you’re a gardener who needs to use pesticides but you take seriously the responsibility of doing your part to help protect local pollinators, there are many highly effective—and also harmless—measures that you can take to treat your garden and still avoid killing bees and other beneficial insects.
Wait until after the blooming season has finished for your plants to apply pesticides, preferably on a dry day, and apply the products only to those of your specimens that show signs of being affected.
Pollinators will only stop by to visit your plants when they have a chance of getting some of the pollen they’re after. That’s why waiting until after the blooming season has passed to treat your garden makes you much less likely to cause harm to pollinators with the products you use.
Additionally, being careful to only treat the affected plants will limit the toxicity of the pesticide. Choosing a dry day to use pesticides on your plants will help to reduce the amount of the toxins they retain.
Keep Your Garden Clean to Stop Infestations Before They Start
Aphids are attracted to garden intruders—the weeds and invasive grasses that shouldn’t be taking up space in your carefully tended plots in the first place. You can avoid weeds in the first place and maybe even prevent an aphid infestation in your garden when you keep a sharp eye out for weeds and other unwanted invaders. When you see a plant that’s not one of yours in your garden bed, yank it out root and all.
Once your garden’s fruits and vegetables have started to ripen, be sure to harvest them in a timely fashion. Leaving expired produce on your plants to rot on the vine is one of the easiest ways to invite unwanted pests into your garden. Insects and other vermin won’t just feed on that rotten produce, either. Nuisance animals and insects can come along with diseases, which in turn can infect your plants and spread the symptoms throughout your garden.
Keeping a carefully tended plot full of plants, using clean tools to maintain their health meticulously, is a gardener’s first line of defense against pests and diseases. If you play your cards right and put energy into a healthy garden from the get go, you may find that you never need to use a pesticide at all.
Rotating Crops Means More Produce, Fewer Problems With Pests
One of the most effective and yet simple methods to help you defend against pests and diseases in the garden is to rotate the crops you are growing and move different types of plants to different plots of earth each growing season. Not only will you have more successful harvests—you’ll also experience fewer struggles with the pests that only target certain plants.
Fight Back Against Garden Invaders Safely with Beneficial Insects
Pollinators are not the only beneficial insects to use in your garden that can help you out in a time of need. Predatory insects can work wonders when you’re at the end of your rope with pests. Release a swarm of ladybugs into your garden, and they will go to work battling aphid armies like a well-organized team of hired assassins. (They’re cheaper than hired assassins, too.) Another option: Purchase some praying mantis eggs, then watch your squad hatch and start chowing down on all the flies, beetles, aphids, and moths that they can hold.
Keep Your Solution Simple and Pick Off The Pests
This method isn’t for the squeamish, but it is the simplest and most straightforward method for keeping your plants free of many common pests that, if left unchecked, can wreak havoc on your garden getaway. Just put on a pair of gardening gloves and pick off all of the caterpillars, beetles, snails, and slugs that you can find. Be sure to throw or transport the pests you find far away from the plants you’re working to defend.
Get Hands-On and Blast Bugs with H20
A quick burst of water from your water hose or its nozzle is usually forceful enough to put a stop to a light infestation of aphids on leaves. Simply put, the jet of water will knock off the small, troublesome insects that tend to gather on the underside of plants. However, there are two items gardeners should consider before using this method. First, depending on how powerful your water stream is, you may be concerned over the intensity level of your ammunition.
You want to ensure water comes out of your hose or nozzle with enough velocity that it will knock off and kill the tiny aphids. However, the jet of liquid should also be gentle enough not to damage your plants in the process. This bug-fighting strategy requires a bit of a balancing act to work because water pressure must be set to the perfect amount—not too high and not too low.
The second thing you should think about before using large bursts of water to fight off garden pests is the drainage path of the water you’ll be using. Will your stream of water simply roll away downhill, or is it likely to soak into the soil in the area that’s being blasted?
Does the area you plan to treat have enough drainage to prevent standing water from accumulating because of the blasting treatments? It is important to consider how the water you’ll use will affect your crops before using this method to prevent any unintended less-than-desirable side effects.
Consider Other Methods for Standing Your Ground Against Insects Without Harming Pollinators
Floating row covers can be installed to your garden beds to help keep pests away altogether. Put these covers into place at planting time, and fasten them into position using rocks or pins, and the fabric row covers will expand when your plants begin to grow.
Keep in mind that row covers can’t uproot insects that live in the soil—but they can keep beetles, flea beetles and many other pests from feasting on your plants above-ground. As an added benefit, fabric row covers also help keep the ground in your garden warm, which helps the germination process and gives your seeds a leg up when they’re just starting to grow.
Row covers also help the soil to stay rich and retain the moisture you give your plants. Make sure to remove fabric covers before summer so the soil doesn’t get too hot for your plants’ roots. This precaution is especially important in locales where the weather gets particularly warm.
Gardeners who have been around the block a few times fighting against pests tend to have a few tried-and-true tricks up their sleeves. One such trick is to set basic traps, such as bowls of soapy water or beer, near vulnerable plants to catch and drown curious insects.
Another secret of experienced gardeners is to wrap a paper collar around very young, fragile seedlings. Push the collar into the soil until it’s about three inches deep, leaving another three inches of paper visible above the soil to protect the seedling. This DIY deterrent will prevent cutworms and other pests that live in the soil from feasting on your seedlings before they’ve had their chance to become fully grown plants.
Videos About How To Protect Bees And Other Pollinators
This timely 15-minute film, narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, illustrates the impact that humankind’s actions have had on our planet’s population of bees and other pollinators. It also discusses how declining bee populations affect the ecosystem and the world’s food supply. The film isn’t all doom and gloom, however—it includes a discussion of what each of us can do to reverse the damage and help pollinators thrive again:
Check out this video to learn four important ways that you can help out the pollinators in your area:
Here’s another video about how to support your local bees, made by the New Jersey Beekeepers Association:
This video discusses the vital role that farmers play in bee conservation: