KC Gardens

Protect the pollinators: Before using pesticides in your garden, know your pests

K-State extension

You have heard about the plight of pollinators in the news. Reports show the native populations of butterflies, bees and other beneficial insects continue to decline. Why are these pollinators so crucial?

Three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants and 35% of our food is pollinated by insects. While pollinator decline is a global issue, there are simple acts each of us can do to help protect these beneficial and necessary creatures.

Know your pest

Insects are all around us and less than 3% are considered harmful. The vast majority of insects are either beneficial or harmless.

It is important to know what kind of insect it is before taking action against it. Don’t just pick up a bottle of insecticide.

By knowing the species, you can determine if it is a problem and know the best, safest method of control. Often you will find no control is necessary.

Target the application

If deemed harmful, then take further action using the proper product. Treat only the pest problem, not the surrounding area.

Extension does not recommend blanket sprays of an area. The application should be made in the stage of the insect’s life in which it can be controlled. For example, spraying bagworms late in the fall once the bags are mature will not affect their control.

Treat when less active

Insecticides work in various methods with many taking effect on contact. However, that means the product must directly hit the insect for control.

Treat at a time when insects are not actively foraging. Early morning or late evening are the best times because the insects are less active. If at all possible, avoid applying insecticide when the plant is flowering and attracting pollinators.

Tolerance is a virtue

Just because a plant has insects feeding on it does not mean it needs treatment. Many plants will tolerate damage without any loss of vigor or production. The damage is only cosmetic. It may not look the best for a while, but with time and proper care, many plants will recover.

Knowing the insect and its level of harm will determine whether treatment is necessary.

Choose the least harmful product

If you must treat a plant to control a pest problem, reach for one that is less harmful to pollinators. That does not mean only reaching for an organic product.

Both organic and chemical pesticides are potentially detrimental to beneficial populations. No product only targets the harmful pests without reducing the beneficial insects. That is why choosing not to treat is the best option in many cases.

Information about the toxicity of the product on bees and other pollinators can be found on the label. Many insecticides have a bee box on the label making it easier to know how harmful it is to our pollinators.

We all strive for beautiful landscapes, but that does not mean they must be perfect. When it comes to controlling pests, think before you act. By doing so, we can all have an impact on the plight of insects needed for life.

Dennis Patton is a horticulture agent with Kansas State University Research and Extension. Got a question for him or other university extension experts? Email them to garden.help@jocogov.org.

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