How to control garden pests without harming pollinators

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Have you noticed lethargic or distressed bees in your garden? If you notice bees that seem disoriented and flightless, an excessive number of dead bees, or few bees foraging in your garden, it may be due to the pesticides you use in your garden.

Fortunately, there are ways to protect your garden plants from pests without harming pollinators.

Home Garden Control Methods to Protect Pollinators

Leave a few plants alone. Pollinating plants like milkweed should always be left alone. Not only are they frequently visited sources of nectar, but they are also host plants for butterflies.

Inspect the plants. Before bringing new plants home from the nursery, make sure there are no pests. If you never introduce them to your garden, you won’t have to worry about eradicating them.

Choose more varieties of native plants for flower beds. Native plants are simply equipped to grow better in your garden. Years of adaptation have made them uniquely suited to soil, climate and pests. They will need less maintenance and are better for pollinators.

Accept a reasonable level of pest presence. Some level of pest presence is tolerable and affected plants should only be treated if they become excessive. For example, caterpillars dig holes in the leaves of host plants. However, this is part of the process of the nature and purpose of these plants.

Wash away pests. Using the hose to wash away aphids and other pests is preferable to chemical intervention. It may take a few tries to keep them from coming back and they may keep coming back, but it’s a good first line of defense.

Treat only affected plants. Rather than treating your garden with pesticides, it’s best to limit pesticide use by treating only affected plants.

Use insecticidal soap. Insecticidal Soap is a non-toxic pesticide that is safe for humans and beneficial insects when dry and safe to use on most plants.

Space the plants properly. When planting your garden, it is best to space cooked plants at their mature size and thin them periodically to allow adequate air circulation. When there is not enough air circulation, plants retain moisture and more easily allow molds and fungi to take over.

Use rubbing alcohol. Scale insects can be dabbed with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol.

Remove the worms by hand. Tomato worms and cabbage worms can be pulled out by hand rather than killed with pesticides.

Install slug traps. Slugs can be trapped by placing shallow containers of beer around affected plants overnight or by laying small planks of wood on the surface of the soil. They will drown in beer or attach themselves to the bottom of boards.

Spray pesticides when they will cause the least damage. Never spray pesticides in extreme heat, wind or when plants are wet. Apply pesticides only in the early morning or evening when pollinators are inactive.

Remove flowers from treated plants. By removing the flowers from a plant treated with pesticides, you decrease the chances of a pollinator coming into contact with them. In most cases, the plant will bloom again.

Choose pesticides carefully. Some pesticides are considered safer for pollinators when applied correctly. Some of these options include:

  • Insecticidal soap – kills aphids, aphids, lace bugs, leafhoppers, scale insects, thrips, scale insects, sawfly larvae, spider mites and whiteflies.
  • Horticultural oil – kills aphids, aphids, leafhoppers, scale insects, mites, scale insects, spider mites, thrips and whiteflies.
  • Neem Oil – kills aphids, aphids, beetles, borers, leafhoppers, leaf miners, mealybugs, mealybugs, tent caterpillars, thrips, webworms, weevils and whiteflies.
  • Bacillus thuringiensis – a naturally occurring soil bacterium that can be used as a pesticide. It is available in several strains that target different pests. Some strains are toxic to monarch caterpillars, so be careful not to apply them on or near milkweed.

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