Take care to protect bees this fall

From University of Kentucky AgNews

by Aimee Nielson

National attention has focused on the decline of honeybees, but native bumblebee populations are also struggling. Diseases, pesticides, and habitat loss or fragmentation are all plaguing bee populations. UKAg entomologists say native bees need to pick up the slack left by honeybees, but they need some help from farmers and homeowners.

“Native bees are becoming more important as we lose honeybees,” said Jonathan Larson, PhD ’14 turfgrass entomology. “Homeowners and gardeners who are interested in helping promote native pollinators should be conscientious about what they plant.”

Larson said native plants are a great benefit to these important pollinators. Native flowers and garden plants are easy to add into any landscape and possibly the best way to help the bees flourish. A range of plants that offer a succession of flowers will provide pollen and nectar throughout the growing season.

“You don’t need a large area to plant things that attract native bees,” Larson said. “You can start a pollinator garden in a small area in your backyard that gets about six hours of sun each day.”

Bees may encounter insecticide residues on the crops they pollinate or on wildflowers or flowering weeds that have been inadvertently sprayed. Many chemical insecticides used to control insect pests in lawns, landscapes, and gardens are acutely toxic to bees, which is why they have label precautions not to apply them to plants that are in bloom when bees may be present. It’s important to avoid treating blooming plants, especially with liquid sprays, as that could lead to bees feeding on contaminated nectar. Anyone using insecticides should carefully read the product’s label before applying them to plants that native bees may frequent.

“As native bees are solitary or part of small colonies, the consequences of being poisoned could be more severe than if a few honeybees from a 30,000-member colony die,” Larson said. “The old saying, ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,’ rings true. If people use caution and don’t create scenarios where bees are exposed to insecticidal residues, then it’s fine to use insecticides.”

Many lawn-care providers use insecticides to control grubs and other pests. But they should understand the issue and be able to reassure customers their services don’t contribute to the problem, said Dan Potter, UKAg entomologist.

“Bees in suburban areas commonly forage on flowering lawn weeds,” Potter said. “Indeed, we’ve surveyed and collected dozens of species of native bees visiting dandelions and white clover in Central Kentucky lawns. Many of the species we caught are also pollinators of garden crops, fruits, and berries, and of ornamentals such as flowering crabapples and hollies. Bumblebees, for example, are especially good pollinators of tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers in home gardens.”

Potter and Larson said that with a few sensible precautions, like controlling flowering weeds with herbicides before applying insecticide, delaying grub treatments until after peak bloom of spring-flowering weeds, using granular formulations, and notifying homeowners to mow off any flower heads before or soon after liquid applications have been watered-in, it should be possible to use insecticides for grub and billbug control without harming bees.

“It’s important to remember that even if you think you are just one person following these considerations, individuals add up to change on a larger scale,” Larson said.

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