As we dig into fresh soil for spring gardening, it’s a good time to sit back and remember a few garden practices that can help protect (and even attract!) pollinators to your garden this season.
First, consider controlling insect pests through cultural instead of chemical methods. Create an environment that reduces monoculture and improves diversity. Gardens with many different species and a variety of colors, bloom times, and flower shapes and sizes will attract beneficial insects that can reduce pest populations, in addition to attracting pollinators. If you do have pest problems, try to control through non-chemical means like hand-removal.
If you do need to use chemicals, start with the least harmful pesticides first, such as insecticidal soaps. Whenever using any pesticide, read and follow the label exactly. Pesticides harmful to pollinators are labeled as such, and can be applied without affecting pollinators if label instructions are followed. Examples of this are applying early in the morning or late in the evening to avoid bees, or not applying when flowers are in bloom. Try to use the least harmful chemicals as possible.
Some nurseries sell bedding plants that have been pre-treated with systemic neonicotinoids to reduce greenhouse pests. Inconclusive research indicates that low-levels of neonicotinoids can remain in the pollen and nectar of treated flowers, and that low levels of some neonicotinoids can be harmful to bee populations over time. If able, avoid bedding plants that have been treated with neonicotinoids. For more information on neonicotinoids and bees, read the following fact sheet from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Finally, be careful of off-target pesticide applications. While you can avoid treating flowers with chemicals harmful to bees, don’t forget that flowers and weeds growing in treated lawns or around treated trees can take up neonicotinoids, too!