Protecting Pollinators From Pesticides

by Trish Beckjord, RLA

If I created a tolerance chart and asked you to mark down where you stand on your tolerance to insects in the garden, where would you be? Highly intolerant? In the middle? Want to invite them in?   Perhaps your answer is different for your vegetable garden versus your flower garden?

I am becoming more and more tolerant of “bugs” in the garden and leaf damage to my plants as I learn about the needs and life cycles of our pollinators and the negative impacts of indiscriminant pesticide use. Did you know that about 90 percent of all flowering plants require pollinators to survive, and about 33% of agricultural pollination is accomplished by honeybees? Where would we be without plants? The answer of course is nowhere!

When we spray for bugs we are using a type of pesticide called an insecticide. Together with other pesticides we apply to our lawns, gardens and agricultural fields, pesticides cause a variety of negative effects. They can be acutely toxic and cause death. Others may kill indirectly by negatively impacting a pollinator’s ability to successfully forage and reproduce. In addition, like understanding how our own medications may work together and cause harm, pesticides may be more toxic in combination.

Please do not spray either instantaneously upon first sight, or indiscriminately over the whole garden. Be judicious. Practice tolerance. Oversee the practices of your landscaper or lawncare company. Try to eliminate using pesticides entirely if you haven’t already.

Homeowner use of pesticides is probably one of the worst sources of overuse. Read labels before use for your own safety and that of the environment. Become familiar not only with how to properly mix and apply whatever you are using, but also with the active ingredients in the product you are using.

Toxic pesticides that are lethal to pollinators include:

  • Carbamates
  • Organophosphates
  • Synthetic pyrethroids
  • Chlorinated cylcodienes
  • Neonicotinoids

The most recent negative pesticide news has been about the neonicotinoid class of insecticides or “neonics” as they are called. Different chemicals in the neonic class include acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, nitenpyram, nithiazine, thiacloprid and thiamethoxam. Look for these listed on the label as an active ingredient. For example, Imidacloprid, the most widely used insecticide in the world, is the active ingredient in a number of commercial products that go by the names Admire, Condifor, Gaucho, Premier, Premise, Provado, and Marathon. You might be interested to know that the EU banned the three main neonicotinoids (clothianidinimidacloprid and thiamethoxam) for all outdoor use this year.

Don’t let your eyes glaze over yet…. The Penn State Extension has published “What You Need To Know About Reading a Pesticide Label” that can be easily downloaded here: What You Need to Know about Reading Pesticide Label. If you want to be more knowledgeable about what you are applying, it is worth being familiar with this. Another organization that might be helpful is Beyond Pesticides. You can find them at Beyond Pesticides.