Controlling Pests without Harming Beneficial Bees

Small black bug on a flower bud
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Unwelcome guests making trouble in your bee-friendly garden? Keeping a garden healthy without accidentally harming bees can be a challenge. Check out these helpful tips for maintaining a healthy home garden and controlling common pests without harming bees and other beneficial insects.

Garden plants with insects, fungus, and disease

It’s Bee Awareness Month here in New Zealand and the Great Kiwi Bee Count is in progress.  Fittingly, this month’s mini-series is all about the bees. We have posts on planting bee-friendly gardens, creating a bee-friendly habitat, controlling garden pests, and safely sharing your space with bees.

This week, we’re sharing helpful tips for maintaining a healthy garden and controlling pests without harming bees and other beneficial insects.  This topic is particularly close to my green gardening heart. Our warm wet climate is great for growing. It’s also perfect for growing weeds, fostering fungal issues, and sustaining diseases. Insects of all varieties thrive, including the pests. So hard! Even with lots of planning and care, I sometimes struggle to keep things healthy. 

Planting Pest and Disease Resistant Varieties

As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. When choosing new plants for your garden, try to find ones that are well-suited to your local conditions for healthy growing. Opt for varieties that are resistant or at least resilient to common issues in your local area.

Experiment with Companion Planting

Companion planting can help to support and protect your garden. Some companion planting options work as pest deterrents or as sacrificial plants to lure bugs away from more precious specimens. Others can help to attract beneficial insects, including predators to assist with natural pest control.

Practice Crop Rotation and/or Interplanting

Some pests and diseases have very specific targets. Crop rotation can help to prevent re-infection and starve out infestations or at least encourage the pests to move on to better dining options elsewhere. 

Similarly, interplanting (mixed plantings instead of large areas of the same crops) can be helpful in limiting infestations or infections, as well as isolating and controlling issues before they spread.

These are generally used with edible gardens, but you can adapt the same approaches for use in your annual landscaping plantings and containers/pots where it might be beneficial. 

Support Healthy Growing Conditions

Keeping plants healthy can help make them less-vulnerable to pests and disease.  Good soil and feeding supports strong healthy growth.  Early watering so that plants can dry during the day can help to reduce susceptibility to fungal issues.  Ground level watering to avoid wetting foliage on susceptible plants is also helpful, where possible.    

I’m current experimenting with beneficial fungi soil treatments to help with our wet-weather disease prone soil risks. We’ll see how that goes!

Keep a tidy garden, with fewer lures for problems, such as overripe or rotting fruits and veggies. Maintain tools in good working condition to reduce the risk of damage vulnerabilities, and cleaning between tasks/areas can help to reduce the risk of spreading infections or infestations. 

Use Non-Chemical Controls

Depending on your insect issues, non-chemical options, such as hand-picking, covers, collars, or traps, may help to deter or control pests. I was once squeamish about squashing by hand, but now ruthless! Bad bugs beware!

Welcome Beneficial Insects to the Garden

Predators like ladybugs, praying mantids, lacewings, etc. prey on pests.  Plant attractive plants and flowers to lure them to the garden (herbs or companion plantings are great options). If treating plants, take care not to eradicate them along with pests.

Spiders (and some birds, lizards, and other creatures) are helpers too, although they are less discriminate diners and will eat both good and bad insects.

Reduce or Eliminate Insecticide Use

Many insecticides are generic killers, affecting pests and beneficial insects, including bees. Avoid neonicotinoids in particular (linked to colony collapse). As noted in gardening for bees, birds, and butterflies, also consider your sources for new plants to reduce the risk of systemic pesticides.

If you must spray, consider using a non-systemic, such as pyrethrum, neem, oils, soaps, etc.  Apply to directions at early morning or dusk when the bees are less active in the garden. Try to avoid treating on and around active blooms, as residue can linger in the nectar and pollen.  

Check out the DIY kitchen remedies below for more ideas.

Take Care with Other Garden Chemicals

While pesticides post the most obvious chemical risk, ongoing research indicates that other chemical exposure, such as residual fungicide in consumed pollen, can render bees more vulnerable to parasites and disease. The debate continues on herbicides as well, such as the possible linkage between glyphosate and the microbiome of bees (and other animals).

Most fungicides, herbicides, fertilisers, spray fixers, and other garden chemicals don’t specifically state on labels whether they are safe for use around bees. This makes it difficult to select and apply with care. Err on the side of caution. Where possible, limit chemical use on flowering plants and avoid spraying around active bees. Before application, make sure that your spraying equipment isn’t cross-contaminated with trace residues of insecticide from previous use.

Home Remedies for Garden Pests

The infographic above on safe/safer home remedies for common garden problems is an excerpt of a more comprehensive graphic and post at Fix.com about discouraging and managing pest problems through non-toxic methods. We’ve shared it here by invitation. Check out the full post for more tips!

Kitchen Remedies for Garden Pests
Source: Fix.com Blog
Bee-Friendly Gardening Controlling Pests without Harming Bees

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