When President Obama released the White House’s National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators this spring, it sent a message to every American, including all Oregonians.
“One of the things that is being stressed is that government can’t do it all by itself, we need the participation of homeowners, farmers, and other landowners,” says Rose Kachadoorian, an entomologist with the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Pesticides Program.
While the national strategy includes funding for research as well as a directive for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to re-evaluate neonicotinoids, a special class of pesticides, there is an urgency to educate ordinary citizens about their role in protecting pollinators. ODA’s Pesticides Program has some timely advice as Oregon homeowners gear up for the balance of summer.
“Homeowners are encouraged to use an integrated pest management approach in dealing with pest issues,” says Kachadoorian. “We don’t discourage anyone from using pesticide products, we just want everyone to be smart about it. We think plants, pesticides, and bees can co-exist.”
Steps can be taken to help pollinators even before pesticides are considered. It starts with the landscape and providing bee-friendly plants in the yard. Since pollinators actively seek flowering plants in bloom, extending the blooming season is desirable.
“Actually, now is the perfect time of year to go to your local garden center and buy pollinator-friendly plants,” says Kachadoorian. “It’s good to have an array of plants that bloom at different times of the year. Some attract mostly native bumblebees, others bring in honeybees. Many plants attract both.”
Doing some research ahead of the purchase is helpful, with many websites providing good information on which plants are best for pollinators, including information on ODA’s pollinator web page. Most garden centers are also knowledgeable and can direct homeowners to the ideal plants. There is also good information on the labels of the plants themselves, including the timing of blooms.
Once the plants are purchased, putting them into the ground should be strategic. Dry conditions and an expected shortage of water in many parts of Oregon require using the resource wisely. Placing plants together that have the same water requirements can be easier and more efficient when it comes to watering. One of the components of nectar is water, so bee-friendly plants need to be fairly well hydrated even during a hot and dry summer.
When pesticides need to be used, it is imperative that homeowners read and follow the label.
“We say the best way to protect and promote the health of pollinators is to make sure they have plenty of food and water, and that pesticides are used according to the label,” says Kachadoorian.
EPA, which has the responsibility of providing the language on pesticide labels, has worked to clarify those labels, especially when pollinators are concerned. Certain products containing neonicotinoids are now required to contain a bee advisory section. It includes a bee icon that helps inform the user that the product is a potential hazard to bees. The label language prohibits the use of the pesticide product when bees are foraging and plants are in bloom. It also highlights the importance of avoiding drift during application. This information is consistent with messages delivered by ODA the past couple of years.
“We certainly advise homeowners not to make an insecticide application to plants that are in bloom because bees may come visit those plants,” says Kachadoorian. “We also tell people to avoid drift. You may be making an application to a plant not in bloom, but it’s right next to a plant that is in bloom. Make sure the wind isn’t blowing towards the blooming plant or that you aren’t using too fine a spray. Maybe consider using a granular product on the plant not in bloom.”
One challenge to homeowners is that plants bloom at different times and some bloom multiple times. Some product labels may indicate no application can be made until all the petals have dropped, which could force homeowners to search for an alternative product.
“Overall, if people can hold off and just wait until after bloom, that is the safest way to go,” says Kachadoorian. “Pollinators are attracted to most flowering plants in bloom.”
Oregon is at the beginning stages of putting together a pollinator protection plan– something a few other states are also doing. ODA also recognized that specific neonicotinoids used on linden trees and other Tilia species were associated with bee deaths the past two years. As a result, four neonicotinoids are now prohibited from being applied on Tilia species regardless of application method or timing.
ODA’s Pesticides Program has been busy answering questions from the public on pollinator protection, which reflects the great interest Oregonians have in the topic. One question had to do with clover in the lawn.
“Bees were foraging in the clover and the homeowner wanted to know what to do,” says Kachadoorian. “We recommend that people leave clover in their lawn if they can. It’s a great source of nectar and pollen for bees. However, if the grass needs mowed, do it when bees aren’t active– early morning or just before dark.”
Another question came from someone concerned about yellow jackets, which are often mistaken for bees but are much more aggressive.
“This homeowner noticed small ground nesting bees on their property,” says Kachadoorian. “It’s too soon to have a significant yellow jacket problem in most of Oregon. We see adult populations increase later in the summer and early fall. The ground nesting bees we see now are usually gentle and tend to nest in dry areas. A well irrigated lawn discourages them and they will move to another location.”
The fact that these questions are being asked shows that Oregonians want to protect pollinators. The steps that can be taken to help bees may be small, but collectively can make a difference.
For more information, contact Rose Kachadoorian at (503) 986-4651.