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Protecting Pollinators

Honey bees and other pollinators are essential for the production of many of the foods we grow and eat every day. These include fruits like blueberries, apples, and peaches, as well as many vegetables, including cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, beans, melons, and peppers. When crops are not adequately pollinated the results are misshapen fruits, reduced yields, or no yields. Maintain your gardens productivity by encouraging pollinators to visit your garden and protecting them once they are there.


Meet the Pollinators Pollination is the movement of pollen from the male part of a flower to the female part. If pollination is successful and fertilization occurs, the result is a tasty fruit like a tomato or peach. Plants cannot move their own pollen and so have developed other ways to accomplish this task. Some rely on wind for pollen movement. These include pines, oaks, wheat, corn, and rice. Other plants rely on insects to get the job done and produce colorful or fragrant flowers to attract them.

Several types of insects have evolved to serve as pollinators, including moths, butterflies, wasps, and bees. Of these, the honey bee is the indispensable leader, responsible for 85% of the pollination necessary to produce one third of our nation’s food supply. Other bees, such as bumble bees, and solitary bees like the southeastern blueberry bee, play their part, but none are as prolific and industrious as the honey bee.


Attracting Pollinators What you do in your own backyard can greatly affect pollinator activity in your own garden, as well as the larger region. If you have experienced low yields in your vegetable garden this summer, lack of pollinators could be part of the problem. Including plants in your garden that attract honey bees and other pollinators can increase your vegetable yields. Annuals flowers like cleome, cosmos, zinnias, and sunflowers are excellent bee attracters. So are many herbs. Allow basil, fennel, oregano, chives, mint, and dill to bloom in the garden to bring in pollinators and beneficial insects. Cover crops like buckwheat and clover also do a great job, as do perennials like purple coneflower, agastache, joe pye weed, goldenrod, asters, and black eyed susans.


Pesticides and Pollinators Once pollinators enter your yard, you want to make sure to keep them safe. The most important thing you can do is use insect killers

must use an insecticide choose one that is less toxic to bees. Commonly used insecticides that are known to be highly toxic to bees include carbaryl (commonly sold as Sevin), acephate (sold as Orthene), malathion, diazinon, bifenthrin, cyfluthrin, permethrin, and spinosad. Dust formulations, such as Sevin dust, are particularly dangerous to bees because they stick to bees’ bodies as they visit plants and are then taken back to the hive and spread among hive members. Herbicides, which kill weeds, and fungicides, used for disease control, are generally considered relatively non toxic to bees.

If you must apply an insecticide in an area where bees are active, do so only late in the evening when bees are less active, and avoid spraying flowers that bees will visit. Some insecticides that are relatively non toxic to bees include natural products such as azadirachtin, which is derived from neem oil, Bacillus thuringiensis (B.t.) which controls caterpillars, pyrethrum and rotenone, both of which are derived from plants. Esfenvalerate is one of the few synthetic insecticides considered relatively non toxic to bees. When using any pesticide always read and follow all label directions.

Written by: Charlotte Glen, Horticulture Agent

Please note, recommendations for the use of chemicals are included in this article as a convenience to the reader. The use of brand names and any mention or listing of commercial products or services in this article does not imply endorsement by North Carolina Cooperative Extension nor discrimination against similar products or services not mentioned. Individuals who use chemicals are responsible for ensuring that the intended use complies with current regulations and conforms to the product label.


Learn More! If you have questions about pesticides, vegetables, or other gardening topics, contact your local Cooperative Extension office. In Pender County call 259-1235, visit our office at 801 S. Walker Street in Burgaw (office hours: Mon – Fri, 8am – 5pm), or post your questions online using our ‘Ask an Expert’ widget available at

Check out these great links to find out more!

Attract pollinators to your garden! Check out what has been planted in the 'Pollinator Paradise' Garden, created by Chatham County Cooperative Extension -

Find out more about protecting honey bees from pesticides from this Florida Extension publication: a complete listing of relative toxicity of pesticides to honey bees, see pages 75-77 of the Insect Control chapter of the 2010 NC Agricultural Chemicals Manual, available online as a pdf file here:

Make a nest for orchard mason bees! Find out how from this Extension fact sheet:

Learn about apiculture (beekeeping) from the NCSU Apiculture program's website: a local beekeeping group! In Pender County, contact Sabrina Schultes (910-283-0737), president of the Pender County Beekeepers Association (, which meets 7pm on the last Thursday of each month at the Pender County Extension Center in Burgaw. Find more groups listed on the NC State Beekeepers Association website,