Pesticides are arguably the biggest threat to honey bee survival. Luckily, there are many ways to keep your garden healthy and your blooms beautiful without the use of pesticides.

Here are a few simple things you can do in your garden to protect honey bees and other pollinators.


PICK YOUR PLANTS WISELY

Avoid creating environments that are attractive to pests. For example, burying trimmed plant material in the soil of your garden is an open invitation to unwanted guests -- you've just provided them with a cozy home with plenty of food.  Mulch unwanted plant materials in a container you can close. 

You can also avoid garden pests by planting some of the many varieties of plants that are actually disease and pest-resistant. Look into planting New England aster or wood aster as disease-resistant varieties, and borage or lavender to repel pests, while still attracting honey bees.


GO ALL NATURAL

Consider whether it’s really necessary to contain the intruders. Beetles, slugs, snails, and other pests are naturally occurring players in a healthy garden, so before you decide to take action, think about how much action is really needed. If you are seeing damage that simply can’t be ignored, there are many natural deterrents to help in the fight against pests.

Try salt around the edge of the garden (avoiding the soil) or a shallow cup filled with beer to keep slugs and snails at bay, both natural, bee-friendly pest deterrents. Corn gluten can be applied to the base of weeds as an natural herbicide. Kaolin clay can be mixed with water and sprayed onto the stems, leaves, and bases of plants; the spray dries into a film, protecting your plants from unwanted munching. Remember to spray at night, to avoid hitting bees while they are pollinating.


CALL IN BIOLOGICAL BACK UP

Biocontrol is a fantastic option for those who want nature to do the work. Use naturally occurring predatory or parasitic relationships to your advantage! For example, the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis thrives in healthy soil, and is toxic in pest intestines. The best part? It isn’t harmful to honey bees –- they’re immune!


USE CHEMICALS WITH CARE

If you do decide to use a chemical pesticide, be sure you have read all of the instructions carefully -- there will be details about when, and where, to use the pesticide to reduce the risk of harming pollinators. Some chemical pesticides are safer for honey bees than others, so it is important to read labels extremely carefully. Keep in mind that honey bees will have higher exposure to pesticides when chemicals are sprayed directly on flowers, and while the sun is up.

As a general rule: Never apply pesticides to open blooms or budding flowers. Only apply to leaves, stems and roots. And, equally importantly, always apply at night. With very little extra effort, it's easy to keep pollinators and your garden thriving!

Interested in planting bee-friendly plants or becoming a backyard beekeeper? These are both great ways to make a difference! Still wondering why bees and pollination are so important? Read all about the current global bee crisis and join Planet Bee in changing the world, one bee at a time.

Information gathered from the Pollinator Partnership, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, and research from University of Illinois Extension