Frustration times 10! You’ve planted your veggies and flowers; you cannot wait to reap the harvest and see your yard in full bloom.
Then one morning, you go out into your greenhouse or yard only to find… your spinach is holier than the pope, your walnut tree barely has a scrap of a leaf – it looks like someone went to work with a hole punch, and your rose bushes are screaming “MERCY”!
Every bug in the neighborhood is moving sluggishly because they cannot carry the weight of their bellies, and they all have grateful grins of thanks for the free all you can eat buffet.
Pesticides are the biggest cause of colonies dying off (Colony Collapse Disorder). This is a catastrophe of note because bees are responsible for pollinating crops and flowers ensuring good harvests and beautiful blooms.
Worse yet, globally the world is seeing that many bee species are either already extinct or well on their way to becoming extinct.
The survival of bees is literally in our hands; and their survival is critical to our survival because of the role they play in our food supply.
What can you do? You need to rid your plants of bugs, but you know how important it is not to kill off those valuable little pollinators – bees.
I was at my local nursery, so I thought I would ask the owner for some advice handed down to her about how to rid plants of bugs without killing bees and got two versions of what I could do.
The owner of the nursery said she did not know of any way to kill bugs while not killing bees. She promptly took me to a large shelf full of bottles of poisons to spray on plants.
I told her again, I want something that will NOT kill bees. She shrugged, and that was all it took for one of her awesome workers to step in with advice of her own.
Thinking maybe she could carry my problem clearer, she told her boss that I was not looking for anything toxic, i.e. anything poisonous.
She then turned to me and started to hand over a volley of ways to rid my plants of pests without the use of anything harmful to my dogs, cats, and bees.
Her workers response is what I expected to hear from her. She took the nursery over from her mom, so I expected all kids of home remedies from her. Instead, all I got was poisonous solutions.
It got me wondering what other remedies homesteaders are using? Is it possible that no-one else cares about nature’s most important little pollinators?
So, I went home and decided to write this article to give you all the possibilities I know and (except for the poisons) use myself, to help you make more informed choices when deciding how to treat your plants for pests.
I am going to give you some advice on how to rid your plants of pests without harming bees using both approaches.
Homemade Non-Toxic to Bees Pest Control Remedies
Number one on this list is the first remedy given by the helper at the nursery. I loved the idea because I had a big tub of crushed garlic and ginger that I bought while my dad was living with us that nobody in my house would go near.
My husband and me are ‘highly allergic’ to garlic. We retch just walking past a Portuguese restaurant. We dislike the taste almost as much as we dislike the smell.
Here are home remedies to keep the bugs at bay without harming a single bee…
Pests don’t like the smell of garlic or the taste either. The remedy I was given was to boil garlic in water and leave it to soak for a few days. Then put the water in a spray bottle and spray it on your plants.
I could not wait around for water to boil and soak, so I went home and dumped some of the tub of garlic into each bed and on the leaves of my vegetables and my pecan tree. The result was instant.
Both doors of my greenhouse are open right now because it is summer here, so I need to ventilate. The greenhouse was full of bugs and flies before I anointed my plants with crushed garlic.
Within a minute or two, there was not one bug in the greenhouse. Kindred souls, that is what we are; even I had to leave the greenhouse.
Planting garlic in-between your vegetables, in pot plants, close to rose bushes, between flowers, basically the more the merrier, is a guaranteed way to rid your plants of pests.
I have tested this as well and it too does work. I was wary that my vegetables would all taste like garlic, but they did not. They tasted great!
Mix about 5 tablespoons of dishwashing soap with 4 cups of water in a bottle and spray on your plants. This works very well on aphids as it dehydrates them.
I know this one will raise an eyebrow or two from the beer drinkers, but snails and slugs love the taste too. Placing saucers of beer will trap these yucky pests.
Mix 2 cups of 70% isopropyl alcohol in a quart of water and spray on flowers and house plants.
Add 4 tablespoons of castile soap (the real deal) to a gallon of water and spray on to your plants. You can add cooking oil, vinegar, neem oil, or pepper for a more potent result.
Not the kind you buy for self-defense! Mix 2 tablespoons of red pepper (you could also use black pepper, ginger, dill, paprika, or chili pepper) with 6 drops of dishwashing liquid in a gallon of water. Spray the mixture on your plants.
If your chrysanthemum flowers wilt and die, do not throw the flowers away. Crush them into a powder, add the powder and about 2 tablespoons of dishwashing soap to about a liter of water and spray on your plants.
It is better to spray this on flying insects when you see them rather than using doom. It paralyzes flying insects on contact so it is really great for getting rid of mosquitoes, but it can harm bees if you spray the bees.
It is better to spray this on your plants at night when bees are tucked away, asleep in bed.
Herbal Water Spray
Soak thyme, sage, basil, rosemary, mint, rue, or lavender, or a mix of these and crush the leaves, throw the crushed leaves and trimmings in a bucket of water to soak overnight. Strain the water and spray the water on your plants.
For me this is a free remedy because I grow all but rue in my herb garden. The presence of these herbs is also a deterrent to pests. So, grow them everywhere.
Soak 1 cup of dried, crushed tobacco leaves in a gallon of warm water and add ¼ of a teaspoon of dish soap. Leave it to soak for at least half an hour, then strain the nicotine out and spray the water directly onto your plants.
Insects also love the taste of grape juice. You can set traps using a little bit of grape juice in saucers. Bees may come to have a drink too, but they are used to being in sticky situations so they will not be harmed. You can also use grapefruit or orange rinds to set traps.
Instead of throwing used aluminum foil away, wrap pieces around the base of your plants or tear it into small pieces and mix these in your compost.
The bugs will be confused by the sun’s, reflection and they will move along.
Hummingbirds love to eat all the pests that feed off your plants.
By combining 4 cups of water and 1 cup of sugar, and adding some red food coloring to make it more attractive to make nectar and placing this mixture to your hummingbird feeder you will attract hummingbirds to your garden to feast not only on the nectar, but also on your pests.
Many bugs are not harmful to plants because to them the pests that are eating your plants are manna from heaven.
Consider introducing beetles, hoverflies, ladybugs, or butterflies to your garden to control your pesky problem. You can even plant plants that look like predators to scare the bugs away.
White wine vinegar and apple cider vinegar are the best to use. You can spray either directly on your plants or you can mix one cup of Epsom salt, one gallon of water, and a tablespoon of castile soap to spray on your plants.
Epsom salt or normal table salt
I got startledother day, I was pulling a packet of seeds and found myself holding a great big slimy snail that latched on good and properly.
Sprinkling Epsom salt around your garden is the best way to get rid of snails and slugs. It dehydrates them on contact. The only downside is after every rainstorm you will have to sprinkle more down.
Plant chrysanthemums close to vegetables and plants under attack. Bugs hate the smell, so they avoid the area. You can also make Pyrethrum spray from the dead flowers.
Plant-based sprays – you can pulverize pepper, garlic, and onions in a processor and add to a gallon of water. Let it sit for 24 hours and spray the water onto your plants.
Other Ways to Combat Pests While Protecting Bees
There are many other things you can do to get rid of the pests without harming bees. Follow these practices to protect your plants:
- Remove weeds and any plants that are infested with aphids
- Plant parsley, celery, and other plants from the Umbelliferae family – these plants attract predators that feed on pests
- Release predators like butterflies, ladybugs, wasps (if the garden is well away from your home), and syrphid flies.
- H2O – yep, good old water. If you have a bug problem, spray a strong stream of water at the leaves of the plants to wash pests off. You will need to take care though not to damage your plants.
- Do not treat your plants when they are in bloom.
- Handpick aphids off your plants as soon as you see them and drown them in soapy water.
- Plant flowers for each season that are native to your area to support your bees.
- Create a bee-friendly garden with a safe space where bees can set up home and turn your beautiful flowers into delicious honey.
- Plant bright, colorful flowers like daisies, roses, and dandelions.
- Use floating row covers.
- Treat your plants with any of the safe methods at night when bees are not foraging.
- Always read the label when buying insecticide.
- Scatter bird and butterfly seeds to attract the right kind of wildlife.
- Use crop rotation or grow different plants close together to confuse and repel pests.
- Do not use adjuvant or fungicide when plants are in bloom.
- Do not spray anywhere near a beehive.
- Speak to your neighbors about what plants grow well and do not attract pests and discuss pest control – especially if you have a beehive.
- Buy bug traps.
Chemical Ways to Rid Your Yard of Pests Without Killing Bees
The most important thing to do if you choose the chemical route is to read the information on the bottle or bag. Most bottles will clearly state ‘Safe for Bees’ if the product is safe for bees. If you do not see this, it is probably harmful to bees.
Something else to remember is that not all organic pesticides are bee friendly. Some can be toxic to bees. Read the ingredients and compare them to the lists below.
There are ingredients that make a product more dangerous to the bee population. The following list contains products that have chemicals that are harmful to bees and indicate actual chemicals you should avoid completely to ensure the safety and survival of bees.
Non-Toxic and Toxic Chemicals That Will Rid Your Yard of Pests
There are products that can be divided into three groups
- Safe for Bees – these are products that have been treated and deemed safe for use around bees.
- Less harmful for bees – it is advised that you spray these onto you plants at night when bees are not foraging. They should not be sprayed around a beehive or directly onto bees.
- Deadly to bees – these are the pesticides and the ingredients that you need to be checking for if you go the pesticide route. These are absolutely deadly to bees and are directly linked to Colony Collapse Disorder. PLEASE DO NOT USE THESE!
When you are reading the labels, you should avoid products that are labeled: “highly toxic to bees” or “toxic to bees” or “residual times” or “extended residual toxicity”.
Safe for Bees
- Organocide® Bee Safe 3-in-1 Garden Spray Non-Toxic for Bees
- Bacillus thuringiensis
- Kaolin clay
- Corn gluten
- Gibberellic acid
- Efekto’s Garden Care Products
- Safer® Diatomaceous Earth
Less Harmful for Bees
- Bacillus thuringiensis exhibits very low toxicity
- Short residual treatments
- Caution on the label
- ☑ Low impact products that break down very quickly
- ☑ Insecticidal soaps – made of potassium salts of fatty acids
- ☑ Horticultural oil – made of petroleum-based, grains, vegetables, or neem tree seeds
- ☑ Microbial or bio-pesticides – made from naturally occurring pathogens like fungi and mold
- ☑ Bacillus thuringiensis
- ☑ Metarhizium
- ☑ Chromobacterium subtsugae
- ☑ Azadirachtin
- ☑ Hexythiazox
- ☑ Buprofezin
- ☑ Etoxazole
- ☑ Boric acid
- ☑ Neem
- ☑ Ryania
- ☑ Adjuvants
- ☑ Horticultural vinegar
- ☑ Copper
- ☑ Lime sulfur
- ☑ Pyrethrum
EPA Reduced Risk products, are officially not harmful to bees but should only be sprayed at night when bees are not foraging:
Toxic Chemicals That Will Be Harmful to Bees
Dust or powdered chemicals are much more harmful to bees than spray because they stick to the fine hairs on the body and legs of bees.
When the bee returns to the hive, she takes the poison into the hive which will lead to the hive collapsing.
- ❌ Diazinon
- ❌ Imidan
- ❌ Malathion
- ❌ Sevin
- ❌ Drift of spray applications
- ❌ Preventive cover sprays
- ❌ Monsanto’s popular glyphosate-based herbicide, Roundup
- ❌ Neonicotinoids
- ❌ Diatomaceous earth
- ❌ Insecticidal soap and oil
- ❌ Pyrethrins
- ❌ Rotenone
- ❌ Sabadilla
- ❌ Spinosad
- ❌ Copper sulfate
- ❌ Orthene
- ❌ Seven
- ❌ Diazonin
- ❌ Bayer Systemic
- ❌ Ambush
- ❌ Raid
- ❌ Insecticidal soap or oil
Is it not devastating that the list of pesticides that are harmful to bees is so much longer than those that are safe for bees?
I think it is time to look to nature for natural repellents.
Let’s Protect Those Bees!
With all these options to treat your garden without breaking the bank, you can help save the global population of bees.
75% of all our plant food relies on bees to pollinate and produce good crops. Every person who takes the time to save a bee is also saving the world’s food supply.
When you think about it, there is very little more preparation involved with preparing a bee-friendly alternative than shopping for a bee-friendly option which will undoubtedly cost much more than what you have in your home or garden.
I love the idea of planting flowers that repel pests and attract bees. Do you know of any other solutions that kill off pests while protecting bees? Let us know in the comments below.
Di-Anne Devenish Seebregts was raised in an environment where daily life consisted of hiking, environmental conservation, growing fruit and vegetables, and raising poultry for meat and eggs.
She combined her passion for the writing word with her love of the pride that comes with not relying on others. She raised three children (who are now adults) to value the environment, and understand the value of being self-sufficient.
Find out more about Di-Anne on our About Us page.