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Step 4: Safeguarding Pollinator Habitat (Part 2)

Action 2. Reduce Pesticide Use

Did you know that 121 different pesticides have been found in honeybee samples? These include herbicides (weed killers), insecticides, fungicides and miticides. Scientists are unsure how these different pesticides react within a small bee. We do know, however, that pesticides, like medications in humans, can be made more lethal in combination.

Pesticides on shelf

Pesticides do not distinguish between pests and their predators and parasites (known as beneficial insects) and can be very deadly to pollinators. Using fewer and less toxic pesticides will also protect beneficial insects such as green lacewings, ladybird beetles and assassin bugs that are your allies in pest control.

Did you also know that a well-planned garden rarely needs pesticides? 
So before reaching for a pesticide, ask yourself these questions:

  • Have I properly identified the problem? Things other than insects and disease often cause plant problems, e.g.  Improper planting and environmental stress. Don't invest time and money until you know that a pesticide is the solution. 
  • Is the problem serious enough to warrant the use of a pesticide, or is it just cosmetic?  It is normal to see some insects on plants. Most insects do little damage to plants and you may not need to use chemicals.
  • Have I considered a non-chemical or alternative pest control solution first? Changing a gardening practice or the location of the plant can often solve the problem. Many non-toxic products work just as well or better than their more toxic counterparts. Always consider them first.
  • Are pollinators or beneficial insects present? Spraying needlessly can reduce the population of pollinators as well as beneficials and drastically upset the balance in your yard. The result is often more plant damage.

If you have trouble identifying the problem, your Extension office can help. 

If a pesticide can’t be avoided, look for less toxic options such as insecticidal soap or horticultural oil and apply them at night when bees are not foraging. Also Be sure to read and follow the directions on the label and apply at the appropriate time to control the pest.

Systemic pesticides. Think before you apply a systemic pesticide. These are chemicals designed to be applied to the soil and taken up by the roots, or sprayed on leaves and absorbed by the plant. Examples of their active ingredients are imidacloprid and dinotafuron. Once applied they move throughout the plant, including into pollen and nectar. While they can protect plants from certain pests, they can also hurt beneficial insects such as leaf-eating butterfly caterpillars and bees and other pollinators.

For questions about pesticides and pollinators, please call your local Penn State Extension office.

bee Echinacea and question mark caterpillar

Systemic pesticides can hurt pollinators feeding on contaminated leaves, nectar and pollen

Never use a pesticide when the plants are in bloom or when pollinators are active.

In order to certify, the following is required of your garden:

  • Reduce or eliminate pesticide use

 * Application for Certification *