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Minimizing Pesticide Exposure to Pollinators

When pesticides are used to protect plants from pests, they can sometimes have negative unintended consequences for pollinators and other beneficial insects.  We want to be able to grow healthy crops and other plants, while having the least amount of impact on the insects and other animals that we need.  When we use pesticides we want to 1) ensure that the application is necessary and 2) reduce the exposure to non-target insects. 

If you are considering using pesticides in your home garden, please review our Bee Aware brochure.

1) Ensure that every application is necessary

  1. Use preventative measures. One great thing you can do is to encourage diverse habitat. Diverse plants reduce pest activity and also attract natural predators. Additionally, it is helpful to plant varieties that are known to be more disease and pest resistant (learn more about good trees and shrubs or native plant varieties). If you have seen some pest activity, bury the infested plant residues so more pests are not attracted. It is also healthy to expect and except some pest activity. Not every garden or lawn will be perfect and you will do pollinators a favor if you avoid pesticide use as long as possible.
  2. Practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM).  Some applications may not be necessary, especially if you are  not using information and data about the risk to your particular plant. Integrated pest management is a way to make sure that you only apply a pesticide if there is a risk.  The four steps of IPM are:
  1. Identify pests and monitor the problem.
  2. Set an action threshold- decide when pests become bad enough to take action.  This can be through scouting, or by using models like Enviroweather.
  3. Prevent- take measures to prevent pests from taking over.
  4. Control- use a combination of pest control techniques if you can. Only use pesticides when you have tried all other options and use the best pesticide for the job.

If you want to learn about IPM in depth, visit MSU’s IPM website or sign up for MSU’s online IPM course.


2) If you have to use chemicals, reduce exposure to pollinators

If you have tried all other options and decide that you HAVE to use chemicals to manage pests, use methods that reduce exposure to pollinators. Think about all of the ways the pollinators and other beneficial insects may become exposed, and take measure to prevent it.

  • Avoid using chemicals as a preventative strategy and
  • only apply the minimum recommended dose listed on the label. Also,
  • choose a pesticide that is effective for the target pest and the least toxic to non-pest species. 
  • Once you have chosen a pesticide, be mindful of when and where you apply it. Bees visit flowers.
  • Avoid applying when wildflowers are in bloom because bees are more likely to be exposed.
  • Remove flowers in your yard before you apply a chemical, such as flowering weeds in or around your lawn.
  • Bees are active during the day. Spray chemicals later in the evening or at night to reduce the risk to bees.
  • Also, be aware of drift and open water sources. Optimal spray conditions for reducing drift occur when the air is slightly unstable with a very mild steady wind. Ideally, temperatures should be moderate and the air slightly humid. The drift of pesticides by wind or water can carry the chemicals miles away where they will affect pollinators and other wildlife until they degrade. You can take many measures to keep bees safe from pesticides in and around your yard.

Links for more resources about best management practices for homeowner pesticide use to minimize risks to pollinators: