Michigan Pollinator Initiative- Minimizing Pesticide Exposure to Pollinators

Pesticides are often used to protect plants from pests, but it can sometimes have some negative unwanted consequences when pollinators and other beneficial insects are 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 absolutely have to use pesticides, you can 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 take a look at MSU Extension’s Bee Aware brochure. 

1). Ensure that every application is necessary: 

a. Use preventative measures. To minimize the need for pesticides, you can start by using preventative measures for pests. One of the most helpful things you can do is encourage diverse habitat on your property. Diverse plants reduce pest activity while also attracting natural predators. In addition, if you plant species that are native to your area, they will be more pest and disease 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 accept 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.

b. 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:

  • 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.

If we take care of our pollinators, they will in turn take care of us. We just have to give them the chance.

This article was modified from the original MSU Extension article. 

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