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A bee on a white flower.

June is National Pollinator Month!

Pollinators come in many shapes and sizes. Bees, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, mosquitoes, wasps, flies and more, are essential to heathy ecosystems. They keep pests in check, pollinate plants and food crops, and provide a vital food source for other animals. We can’t live without them! 

Our gardens and yards can be refuges supporting pollinators and other wildlife, providing them with food, water, shelter, and places to raise young. For pollinators to live and thrive in our gardens we also need to eliminate the chemicals that are harmful and even toxic to them. 

What is the problem with pesticides?

Pesticides are chemicals including insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and others designed to suppress or eliminate pests, weeds and fungus in home landscapes and agriculture. While intended to protect crops from pests, they pose significant risks to pollinators. 

In home gardens, insecticides are used to get rid of aphids, caterpillars, nematodes and more. But most of these chemicals harm not only the target pests but other insects as well.  

Some insecticides used are systemic, meaning they affect all parts of the plant: plant tissues, the leaves, stems, pollen and nectar – which are all used by various pollinators. These chemicals may weaken or kill pollinators outright, disrupting their populations, and reducing their ability to pollinate plants effectively. 

A bee on a purple flower.

Neonicotinoids are systemic insecticides that have received much attention for their impact on bees. These chemicals are extremely toxic and can persist in plant tissues for months, even years. Exposure to these chemicals can impair their navigation, foraging behavior, reproduction, and overall health, ultimately threatening their survival.  

“Neonics” are now a widely recognized problem but there are nearly 40 other systemic insecticides not well known to the public that can be just as harmful. 

Herbicides are often used to try to eliminate pesky weeds at home. But some “weeds” can be an important food source for pollinators. Herbicide use can reduce these food sources and nearby plants can also be damaged when weed killers are sprayed. Some herbicides have also been found to be directly harmful, even toxic, to pollinators.  

Even when pesticides don’t kill pollinators, they can end up in the soil, where it can flow into our waterways and wetlands, adversely affecting countless other species. 

A man wearing a hat tends to some plants.

What you can do 

Having a healthy garden or yard is the best way to prevent pests. Planting the right plants for your specific garden conditions will help keep plants mostly free from insects and diseases. Planting a diversity of flowering plants, with various bloom times, supports beneficial insects. 

Managing gardens to encourage natural predators is another great way to keep insect pests in check. Ladybugs, lacewings, ground beetles, praying mantises, spiders, some flies, and even certain mites are predators that eat garden pests. Along with a few species of parasitic flies and wasps these beneficial insects can help keep a healthy balance in gardens and yards.  

Reducing the amount of turf grass in yards, can eliminate or decrease the need for fertilizers and herbicides. Replacing sections of lawn with beds of wildflowers, shrubs or native ground covers has the added benefit of increasing healthy habitat for pollinators and other wildlife.   

Gardening with a focus on conservation can increase the numbers and diversity of pollinators in our yards and neighborhoods. Increasing flowering plants has a very positive effect, particularly on bee communities in urban areas. Growing plants, including trees where there is space, that bloom at various times through the growing season helps sustain pollinators. Since our native pollinators evolved with native plants, increasing the numbers and variety of native plants will help them all to thrive.   

When shopping for plants ask if plants have been treated with neonics or other pesticides. Local native plant nurseries or suppliers usually carry plants that are free of pesticides. They also know about native plants and can suggest plants best suited to suited to specific growing conditions.

What to remember!

  • Planting the right plants for your specific garden conditions can help keep plants free of pests and disease. 
  • Planting a diversity of flowering plants, with various bloom times, can support both pollinators and natural pest predators. 
  • Plants that attract natural predators are a great way to keep insect pests in check. 
  • Pesticides can contaminate nectar and pollen, inadvertently exposing pollinators to toxic substances as they forage for food. 
  • Pesticides can weaken or kill pollinators outright, disrupting their populations and reducing their ability to pollinate plants effectively. 
  • When shopping, ask if plants have been treated with neonics or other pesticides.  
  • Support local native plant nurseries and suppliers that carry plants that are free of pesticides. Get their help choosing the native plants best suited to specific growing conditions 

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