Honeybee Love: Keeping Honeybees Safe While Using Pesticides

Honeybee safe spraying practices

We’ve all heard about the plight of the honeybees by now – pesticides, hive infections, and other causes are combining to make it a very hard time to be a honeybee.

If you’re thinking to yourself that it’s not the worst thing in the world to have one less type of stinging insect around – remember – honeybees are extremely sweet little critters, completely unlike wasps. I’ve had to prune plants that they were happily buzzing and swarming for the nectar, and they took my activities with a cheerful spirit. In 14 years of gardening professionally, I have never once been stung by a honeybee, even though I’ve sheared, lopped, and pruned shrubs and flowers they were drinking from.

If that’s not enough – keep in mind, our food supply still gets pollinated the old-fashioned way, with insects and lots and lots of honeybees. A drastic reduction in their numbers means terrible things for our plates. A Cornell University study estimated that every third bite of food in America is pollinated by honeybees.

What can you do? While we don’t know all the causes of their problems, a couple of things are certain to help. We can be mindful of the pesticides we use, even the organic ones, and we can plant things in our gardens that provide nectar and pollen for them to eat. Today we’ll talk about which pesticides you can use to kill the bad bugs while keeping honeybees alive and well.

Pesticides that harm honeybees

Some common pesticides you may have that are toxic to bees:

Orthene (Acephate)

Seven (Carbaryl)

Diazinon (Spectracide, others)

Bayer systemic (Imidacloprid), which gets into the pollen, causes disorientation and death in bees, and has been linked to colony collapse disorder

Ambush, Pounce (Permethrin)

Crossfire, Raid Flying Insect Killer (Resmethrin)

Safe only if sprayed at dawn or dusk, when bees aren’t active

These pesticides can hurt bees when wet, but aren’t harmful when dry, so if you use with care, can be bee-safe:

Spinosad (insecticide)

Pyrethrum (insecticide)

Neem oil (fungicide, insecticide)

Honeybee-safe pesticides

While it’s not nice to spray while bees are around, these are fairly non-toxic to them:

Sulfur (fungicide)

Serenade (biological fungicide)

Insecticidal soap

Petroleum-based oils

B.T. or Bacillus thuringiensis (biological control for caterpillars)

Herbicides like Roundup and 2,4-D (though I much prefer organic herbicides)

Of course, prevention of pests and attraction of beneficials using plants can also help reduce the need for pesticides, as can the use of biological controls and beneficials, like hypoaspis miles mites for thrips or ladybugs or lacewings for aphids.

Honeybee on apple blossom

Other tips for keeping bees safe while using pesticides:

When in doubt, don’t spray anything that’s in full bloom. Bees aren’t attracted to plants that are budded or are at the point where their blossoms have dropped their petals.

Spray anything you need to in the very early morning or right before dark so that bees are already safely home, and the pesticide can dry before bees come into contact with them.

Careful not to contaminate the water that bees drink! Don’t dump out your leftover pesticide in a way that leaves a puddle that bees might drink from.

Use less-toxic formulations: Dusts are more hazardous to bees than liquids, and if you see any of the new micro-encapsulated formulas, just avoid them. These tiny capsules are the same size as pollen spheres, so are carried back to the colony and shared.

If you’ve got something that’s particularly attractive to bees right next to your problem plant, consider not spraying or holding off till the other plant is no longer in bloom.

One last note – a big portion of the problem for honeybees also comes from agricultural uses, so eating organic really helps. In particular, the pesticides used on non-organic soy cause problems to honeybees.

Later this week, I’ll talk about some of the flowering plants you can use to feed honeybees! Subscribe to get email or RSS updates.


66 responses to “Honeybee Love: Keeping Honeybees Safe While Using Pesticides”

  1. Genevive, Enjoyed your post. Especially sweet bee in blossoms photos. Can’t imagine why anyone would need to spray a pesticide in gardening anymore when there are organic options.

    • I am so with you, Kathy. I think that people just don’t KNOW the actual impact pesticides, even organics, have on our own bodies and beneficials like birds and bees. I really see that as our role as garden bloggers – help folks make the connections clearly so they can go and help others know clearly the impact their decisions make. Because they don’t teach this stuff in high school! It’s hard to even know what questions we should be asking…

      • I’ve tried so many organic ways to keep harmful bugs from my garden, not one has worked. I’ve lost over half my garden doing organic ways. At this point I have to buy and replant so much I wonder if it’s worth it. Not one organic method has worked. Now in order to save my garden I have to use chemicals.

        • You might try taking the “Master Gardener” program. It’s available in most counties and is very informative and helpful in using “IPM”, Integrated Pest Management solutions. You CAN have a garden without toxic sprays! Check them out.

        • My experience has shown me that SOIL building and hands on attention are the key to strong , healthy plants. I meet so many gardeners that plant, sit back and wait for some magically something to do the work… magic bullet ( chemicals). I am a nurse and see this in healthcare as well. ” I don’t want to attend to my foundation, just give me the magic bullet and let me go”. Don’t work that way!

    • I have a daughter named Melissa which means Honeybee, I have seen my half brother and his wife start 2 beehives – the first killed the queen and fled the scene, the second is in progress. My daughter Melissa who is name means Honeybee is thinking about starting 2 hives of her own

  2. Genevieve…. Thank you for this informative post. There are so many things we need to change and re-learn about leaving and making our environments a better place for both nature and human kind.. Why not start in our own back yards!

    Wonderful post. ..

  3. An additional topic that’s come up in various gardening circles lately is bee habitat. Some of our native California bees actually nest in the ground, so the conventional wisdom of covering all bare portions of the ground is great for plants (great for weed suppression, water conservation, soil conditioning, etc.), but potentially destroys bee habitat.

    When did gardening become so complicated?

  4. I think gardening became complicated some time *after* we started acting like we were the only creatures that mattered. Now that it’s clear that this kind of behavior causes nothing but trouble, we’ve got a huge mess to clean up.

    Love the bees! My garden is home to many native bees, as well as two honeybee hives, which are from swarms we caught this spring.

  5. Vetsy, you are so right – our own homes and gardens are the simplest places to start… with any change.
    Susan – yes, I just read that on the Town Mouse Country Mouse blog!! I had no idea… I’m suddenly re-thinking all my gardens to provide at least a little bare soil here and there to help.
    And Lisa – wow, I am so impressed!! You caught two swarms! I wouldn’t even know where to start. Someday I hope to have a property large enough to have honeybee hives… How neat.

  6. I like your article, do you have any thoughts on wood borers in trees. To treat the tree a product like imidacloprid is needed which leaves me with the choice between my tree and the bees.

    • Jeff, call your local agricultural extension and ask them for alternatives to imidacloprid to treat wood borers. They can give you free advice.

    • I don’t think so, Eileen. Bayer systemic which contains imidacloprid is not safe for honeybees and should not be used. It gets into the pollen of the plants and is carried home to the hive. Thank you so much for checking and being careful of the bees. They really need our help what with the widespread use of these pesticides for home use.

      • Thank you for this reply! I’ve used the Bayer product and didn’t realize it gets into the pollen. Mon dieu! I’ve seen many different products on the shelves of many garden centers, home building products stores, etc. that have Imidicloprid as the main ingredient. People have no clue what they’re buying – just that it says: ‘kills bugs’ and they spray it everywhere. I’ve had someone tell me they sprayed insecticide for powdery mildew! Why can’t stores be made to post warnings or informative literature about these chemicals? Maybe not all would read them, but some might and that’s a start in the right direction.

  7. Hello, I’ve got a product with ‘triticonazole’ and ‘ acetamiprid’ in – will this be safe? If not are you able to suggest any products online that I could buy?


  8. Thank you for the very helpful information on keeping bees safe from dangerous sprays in the garden, and other readers helpful comments.

  9. hi,
    can anyone recommend a spray that i can put above my patio doors to keep the honey bees away? they’re nesting in the plastic brackets in the brickwork but its very close to the door and when i open the door they’re almost being sucked into my living room. i dont want to kill them because i love honey and we need to preserve these bees.

    • I am no expert Rebecca, but I would suggest you try smoking the bees to see if u can get them to leave . U might need to get a hive with some frames for them to relocate to. If you don’t keep bees yourself , you might try to locate a local bee keeper for assistance. They are such friendly people, always willing to help rescue bees, and humans too! Try the phone book or go online for a local bee keeping club! Best of luck. If u try to handle the bees ur self , I highly recommend protective clothing, a veil and white leather long sleeved gloves. Bee safe!

    • If u look online in your area u can almost certainly find someone to come get them for u. We had a swarm land in our tree and I called a beekeeper who came right out and took the whole swarm…the beekeeper gets a free swarm, and the bees will be safe and protected. Save the bees!

  10. I am one of the hated crop dusters who is worried about the bees. I live in a section of Alabama that has very little crop dusting by airplanes other than fertilizing of pine forest! I mainly apply granulated diamonium phosphate and urea to pine forest in the Southeast! I am alarmed by the decreasing frequency of honeybee sightings near my home! Critics might say I am waking up! The truth is I am ignorant! My plan is to start an apiary with mixed organic and limited invasive management practices! I would like permission to provide a link to your page!

    Jarrett Vick

  11. I have a lot of bees in my yard in Ojai and enjoy having them there. A neighbor asked me if I had spider webs in my oak trees and said perhaps I do and she said that she is considering having her oak trees and shrubs sprayed for spiders, and I said that it was a bad idea because their are no safe sprays that won’t harm bees. She said that her exterminator said he would look into that. I think that many people are so paranoid of a few bugs in their yards. My opinion is that, bugs are here for a reason and have as much right to live as us, some smarter than other, humans.

  12. Hi. I live in the Blue Mountains NSW Australia. Recently an old hive I have has been re-colonised by a swarm of bees. Wonderful! About two weeks later I found a european wasp nest set up in a rock wall cavity, about 20 yards from the bee hive. This also was a new arrival. On observation I’ve noticed the wasps are interested in the bees and are frequently visiting the hive, carting off dead bees etc..and the bees are not stopping them. My query is basically, can I eliminate the wasp nest without threatening the safety of the bees? I threw some Derris dust into the wasp nest entrance the other night, but since then it occurred to me that a wasp with Derris dust on its feet might enter the bee hive and cause a catastrophe. Any Ideas would be appreciated. J.K.

    • Hi John, I sure wish I knew. You might try searching for forums or groups on beekeeping on Facebook, as a lot of beeks I know are part of groups like that and would be able to help you. I wish I knew enough to do so!

  13. I must disagree with you on your safe herbicide list.
    Roundup, 2,4-D, Eraser, And a whole host of herbicides out there are NOT honeybee safe whatsoever.
    I have lost in the last 2 years 80% of my bee hives in my apiary due to Round-up ready crops. My bees will pollinate their soybean crops that are GMO round-up ready and it kills my bees and causes the hives to collapse. Monsanto and now Dow with their new 2,4-D GMO crops will kill off our remaining honey bee population and once that happens you will lose your food supply.

    • I’m glad someone mentioned this. I scrolled down to the comment section specifically to disagree with Round-Up listed as bee-safe because it is NOT!

  14. Dow’s 2,4-D, closely associated with the infamous Agent Orange defoliant used in Vietnam. Besides being linked to cancer and birth defects in humans, 2,4-D is also toxic to honeybees. While the herbicide may not result in the immediate die-off of bees, scientists report that over time, it severely impairs their ability to reproduce.
    Perhaps the most widely used, and most well-known weed-killer in the world is Monsanto’s Roundup. It’s sprayed on home gardens and on roadsides. But by far, the single most use for Roundup is on Monsanto’s “Roundup-Ready” corn, soybeans, sugar beets, canola and cotton.

    Roundup and 2, 4 D should not be used ever. These herbicides kill bees and have other devasting effects on the environment. I have posted a link to an article by organic bytes.

    Roundup is routinely used along with neonics, which implicates it in CCD. But its key active ingredient, one linked by numerous studies to widespread human and environmental health problems, is glyphosate.

    According to the latest figures available from the EPA, in 2007, as much as 185 million pounds of glyphosate was used by U.S. farmers, double the amount used six years prior. Since 2007, more GMO crops have been approved, more acres of GMO crops have been planted. Glyphosate, too, has been linked to the die-off of bees. But it’s also the prime suspect in the dramatically declining population of the monarch butterfly. Roundup kills the milkweed plant, the main source of food for monarch butterflies. According to one leading entomologist, the “main culprit” in the declining population of monarch butterflies is “herbicide-resistant corn and soybean crops and herbicides in the USA” which “leads to the wholesale killing of the monarch’s principal food plant, common milkweed.”

    • thank you for addressing round-up, i agree as do many experts world wide about the destructive nature of round-up. it kills not only bees but other beneficial insects in the garden. it should be out lawed.

  15. What about using garlic, tabaco and chill based pesticides? We have an organic lime farm and we are concerned about protecting our bees population, we don’t want to use anything that would harm them.

  16. I just finished reading an article that says BT or Bacillus thuringinensis which is for caterpillars, is very deadly to our bee population! Please do not use it!

  17. Needing some good advice. Moved two hives to our home garden. Also planted a honeysuckle vine which the bees (and us) enjoyed. Now the honeysuckle seems to have powdery mildew and is dying. What happened and what can I do? So far, the bees are okay but I’m worried about them, also!

  18. Do you know if the plants in the Chrysanthemum family are harmful to bees? I want to plant a number of them to ward off other insects, yet I do not want to cause harm to the bees. I’ve looked into the matter myself, yet have found no hard evidence.
    Thank you,

  19. Bacillus thuringiensis BT and roundup are likely causing bee population collapse.

    Thank the world for bees and beavers these two industrious animals are treated like pests but support much of the life on earth.

    Without the bee food would end in this world. Other insects as well are more valuable than the toxicins populating the air, water and food we need to deter pests.

    Embrace nature, no pesticide is actual safe for animals or the all wonderful insects that pester us but make the world livable.

  20. When we moved into our new home, enchanted by many of the trees and plants in the yard, we found on closer acquaintance that there were five different colors of aphids infesting every tree on the property – leaf and trunk- also affecting the roses, mums, and peony. Also, the elegant dark leaf plum was rife with sap oozing from borers, and the trunk at ground level was much from infestation. Besides using neem on the base of the plum, I broadcast a mix of two homeopathic remedies: Flower Essence Society (FES) Five-Flower Remedy ( a full-spectrum stress remedy, an organic version of the Bach Rescue Remedy) and Vita Fons II, to bathe the yard as a foliar, branch/trunk and soil treatment. After a few weeks of applications, I sprayed foliar vitamins all over the yard, then returned to spraying the blended remedy. Within that season, the entire aphid population disappeared and has not returned – in five years. The ‘pudding bark’ situation was reversed, and we had four years of enjoyment of that plum until the ‘winterkill’ weather of last winter, a 40-degree drop of temperature in less than 8 hours, which took out many trees in the Front Range. The FES remedies are available at health food stores or on the Web. I was introduced to Vita Fons II via a fireman/emergency professional who had experience of this remedy when in an emergency shelter situation for three weeks following an earthquake, and the results on human health recovery and repair were astonishing. There are Vita Fons formulas especially for soil and foliar spray, approved for organic use in the EU: http://www.vitafons.com/engprod.htm But I used the regular formula for universal use, since I had no foliar formula. It worked just fine.

    • Well, UC research seems to indicate it does not cause acute bee toxicity. Who knows if it contributes to longer-term issues? I wouldn’t use it personally for other reasons, though!

  21. I just read this entire article, I gained nothing from it, if I can’t keep the beetles, Slugs, spiders, and everything else away without using a pesticide, and the only advice I have on not using one is “I don’t know” then I’m going to go out and buy a ton of pesticides. Thanks for wasting my time trying to save the bees, butterflies, and humming birds. They can die with the million bad things, just wish I could have saved them and found some useful information, smh

    • What are you talking about, Ken? You can use any of these, as listed in the article. You can also use organic sluggo on slugs with no harm to bees.

      From the article:

      “While it’s not nice to spray while bees are around, these are fairly non-toxic to them:

      Sulfur (fungicide)

      Serenade (biological fungicide)

      Insecticidal soap

      Petroleum-based oils

      B.T. or Bacillus thuringiensis (biological control for caterpillars)”

      There is ALSO the list of pesticides you can use at dawn or dusk when bees are not out. That broadens the list of what you can use.

      Lastly, many beetles and nearly all spiders are beneficial or not harmful in the garden. So trying to kill them is counter productive as spiders eat many garden pests.

      That was a pretty troll-like comment but I’m posting it anyway in case you genuinely didn’t “get it”. Hopefully this helped.

    • That’s the mentality that’s killing off the beneficials! Hopefully there will be more of us than of you.

  22. i have read a lot about Bacillus thuringiensis (bt) and i have read it to be harmful to bees and it actually causes their stomach line to breakdown, i was just wondering your view on Bacillus thuringiensis and weether you think its actually safe.

  23. I can’t say much about some of the pesticides that are listed as “bee safe” except one. Roundup. THIS IS NOT SAFE FOR BEES. It kills bees. And it is the number one reason why we have seen such a decline in them. The first year in our county that GMO crops came into town, we saw a steep decline in bees. Coincidence? I think not. They were everywhere every year before that. And I personally put together a local group to educate the public about GMO. Particularly with corn and soybean crops, which are so prevalent. We spent two years informing our community about it. Shortly afterwards, the farmers there stopped using GMO. And the others moved away because people wouldn’t buy their products. What else did we gain from it? More bees. Why did they come back?? Someone do tell! Stop using Roundup. The damage it does has been proven long ago in Europe and other countries. America is the one place in the world that doesn’t mind poisoning its people little by little. The FDA is a group of lying idiots. They cannot be trusted. So there you have it.

  24. Roundup is indeed toxic- due to adjuvants. It’s bioaccumulative and has been declared carcinogenic, causing lymphoma.
    Adjuvants kill bees, and the majority of residential use is illegal, not removing blooms and spraying after darkness when bees are back in their hives. This product needs to be boycotted.
    Please research reputable sources and correct this misinformation. Thank you

  25. I’m composting organically causing gnats everywhere. I’ve mixed tumric, peppers, mint, garlic and a touch of Dawn as an insecticide but now I’m hesitant to use it because I’ve just recently convinced the neighborhood bees that my patio garden is THE place to hang out. Will this mixture repell my new friends?

  26. Looking for a pesticide to keep red Lily beetles in check without harming honey bees. I have a large plot of Asiatic lilies so picking them off is not practical. What’s best?

  27. I hate killing bees, but my roses are decimated and not wintering every year by Japanese beetles. If I don’t spray the blossoms, do you think I could spray the leaves with sevin? I don’t care is the beetles eat the blossoms as I usually bring in a few buds before they blossom.

    • Try using milky spore to take care of your Japanese beetle problems, although getting your neighbors use it as well is evdn more effective. Apparently it only targets the beetle larva in the soil. You will need to make three applications in the ground during one year. There is also a newer formulation tbat only requires one application, but it must be applied in a grid pattern.

  28. Found article logical and helpful. Just found some info on using sevin and it’s effects to bees. Anyway that was enough to start looking at other options. I used my last. Keep them cheerful fellows working.

  29. I am a SE FL hibiscus fanatic. I have a wall of assorted hibiscus 12’L X8’H. There is a 13′ gap between them & a hibiscus tree interspersed w passion vine hosting zebra wings & gulf frittilaries, & milkweed (monarchs). Also a few ft further, 5′ sunflowers. Snflwrs & hibiscus tree infested w mealybugs. Bought Bonide Neem Oil for organic gardening. Inside peel back info states it is “toxic to bees to bees visiting treatment area”. So I totally debrided my tree & pulled my sunflowers. I will spray branches tonight. Problem is, no way can I do that to the wall which shows no sign of infection. Have bought lady Beatles in the past for aphids but they disappear.

    • Does anyone know if using nicotine (from soaking cigars in water) would be safe as an insectacide for bees. I grow roses and the aphids are decimating the leaves. I would rather let nature take her course instead of spraying anything to kill the aphids as it may harm the spiders, lady bugs, bees and the occasional humming birds that visit my small garden.

      Thanks for any information.

  30. My son-in-law just complained that he keeps finding dead bees next to a large pot of chrysanthemums on his doorstep. He wonders whether these have been sprayed with a pesticide. I think that pyrethrins were first discovered in South African chrysanthemums, and wonder whether the flowers themselves have insecticide properties. Or maybe it’s just seasonal. ??

  31. I am wondering about the use of picaradin contining insect repellant while tending honeybees. Would picaridin on my skin/clothing be in any way injurious to the bees?

  32. Is “Ammoniated soap of fatty acids” considered in the category of “insecticidal soap”?

    If so, can it be assumed to be safe for honey bees?