Bee-coming a Product Steward: Product Safety Tips for Home Gardeners

When using chemicals in your home garden, you can never “bee” too careful when it comes to protecting the health of pollinators like honey bees, bumble bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects. Equally important to protecting pollinator health is protecting the health of yourself, family members and pets through proper use of products, otherwise known as product stewardship.

Family working in vegetable garden

Pest control products can be an important tool for controlling weeds, pests and diseases in order to maintain healthy plants and help your garden thrive. Some pesticides, such as those in the class known as neonicotinoids, may pose risks to pollinators when used incorrectly. Gardeners can do their part to reduce that risk by following these 10 tips:

  1. Check the product label before buying. It’s important to be certain you’re buying the correct product for the pest you are trying to eliminate, and that it’s the proper time of year for the product to be used.
  2. After purchasing, always read and follow the product label instructions. This means using the recommended dose and applying chemicals in a way that minimizes any potential risks to pollinators.
  3. Do not apply products on windy days, when there is a danger of drift onto areas where pesticides are unwanted.
  4. Alter application method to reduce the risk of unwanted drift. For example, use granular formulations, soil treatments or equipment that confines the spray to only the plants you’re targeting.
  5. Apply pesticide products in the evening when bees and other pollinators are less likely to be active. Bees typically head home to their hives when the sun begins to set.
    Butterfly on Meadow at Sunset

    When applying products during sunset, be sure no butterflies, bees or other pollinators are present.

  6. Never directly spray on crops or flowers in bloom, especially when bees may be foraging (feeding) on them. Be especially careful when spraying near bee-pollinated crops or pollinator attracting flowers. Honey bees typically forage during the day when temperatures are higher than 55°F.
  7. Always wear gloves and other recommended bodily protection (per the product label) to lower the risk for skin irritations and contaminants.
  8. Do your research to know where bee colonies in your area are located and to avoid exposing nearby honey bee colonies. It is considered a best practice to locate apiaries at least 4 miles away from areas where pesticides are applied, so communication between beekeepers and pesticide applicators is critical.
  9. After use, store chemicals safely and according to the label. Be sure products are stored in their original containers, out of reach from children and family pets, and away from areas where flooding is possible or where potential spills could contaminate surface water or water sheds.
  10. For regionally specific advice on pesticide use and protecting bees in home gardens, consider contacting your local Master Gardener program.

Whether you’re tending a backyard vegetable garden or planting pollinator friendly flowers, product stewardship, among other bee-friendly gardening tips, is always the best policy. For more information related to product stewardship, check out Protecting Pollinators from Pesticides by The University of Georgia Honey Bee Program.