Minimizing Pesticide Exposure to Pollinators
When pesticides are used to protect plants from pests, they can sometimes have negative unintended consequences when pollinators and other beneficial insects become exposed. We want to be able to grow healthy crops and other plants, but we want to have the least amount of impact on the insects that we need. If you have to use chemical pesticides, reduce the chance of harming pollinators by 1) ensuring that the application is necessary and 2) reducing the non-target exposure of the application.
If you are considering using pesticides in your home garden, please review our Bee Aware brochure.
1) Ensure that every application is necessary
- Use preventative measures. To minimize your need of pesticides, start by using preventative measures for pests. One great thing you can do is to encourage diverse habitat in your yard. Diverse plants reduce pest activity and also attract natural predators. Additionally, it is helpful to plant varieties that are native to your area 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 to your yard. 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.
- Practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Many applications may not be necessary, especially if you are just using a calendar schedule, and not using information 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:
- Identify pests and monitor the problem
- Set an action threshold- decide when pests become bad enough to take action. This can be through scouting, or by using models
- Prevent- take measures to prevent pests from taking over.
- 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.
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. Xerces Society has a helpful document on choosing safer pesticides.
- 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. According to an article from Xerces Society, “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:
- Managing Pesticides to Protect Bees
- Protecting Bees from Neonicotinoid Insecticides in Your Garden
- Neonicotinoids in Your Garden
- Organic-approved pesticides: Minimizing risks to bees
Michigan State University
- MSU Integrated Pest Management website
- MSU Integrated Pest Management online course
- Smart Lawn Care to Protect Pollinators
- Selection, planting and care of trees and shrubs to avoid the need for pesticides
- How to control invasive pests while protecting pollinators
- Do not spray highly attractive plants with insecticide before or during flowering
- Avoid Spraying Flowers with Fungicides