The Rockdale Gardener

Gardening Posts From Rockdale Cooperative Extension

Adding Beneficial Insect Preservation to Your Pest Management Business

by Steve D. Pettis

Rockdale County Extension Agent

The Monarch Butterfly may be in decline due to several factors including habitat loss. Planting host plants in your landscape can help these beautiful creatures.

The Monarch Butterfly may be in decline due to several factors including habitat loss. Planting host plants in your landscape can help these beautiful creatures.

Pollinators in the news

Pollinators have been headlining the news for months now. With reports of declining Monarch Butterfly populations and honeybee deaths seeming in the news daily, homeowners are becoming aware of the plight of pollinators and other beneficial insects. Just some of the headlines recently:

“After a Year of Pledges and Promises, Are We Any Closer to Saving the Monarchs?”

“Decline of bees and other pollinators could worsen global malnutrition”

“As Pollinators Decline, Plants Could Go It Alone”

So, why should landscape professionals such as lawn managers, tree and shrub care professionals, nursery and garden center operators consider beneficial insects? Because homeowners are becoming more aware of the benefits beneficial insects. The media is covering the plight of beneficials such as Monarch Butterflies and Honeybees so often that the average news consumer is aware that ‘there is something wrong’. So, if your clients care, you should care.

Besides, preserving beneficial insects could become a selling point. Making efforts to preserve beneficial insects could give your company an edge over the competition, especially in competitive high-end markets. Also, the Environmental Protection Agency or EPA is already making agricultural chemical companies label insecticides as to their relative safety for beneficial insects. EPA is also ‘encouraging’ farmers to take greater care when using pesticides. In short, regulatory changes are coming.

So what is wrong with pollinating insects?

Honey production is big business.

Honey production is big business.

There may be many factors that contribute to pollinator decline; loss of habitat, loss of food source plants and the misuse of pesticides are all likely disrupting populations. Just a few of the possible reasons; loss of habitat– manicured lawns, clipped hedges and tidy, suburban landscapes deprive beneficial insects of the habitats they need for reproduction and over-wintering; loss of sufficient flowering plants for forage – exotic, non-native and cultivated, hybrid flowers may not produce the pollen that insects need for protein, or the nectar that bees, birds, butterflies and bats need for energy; pesticide misusePesticides may kill pollinators and beneficial insects directly, and some chemicals may be retained in the pollen that bees store to feed their young.

Presidential Pollinator Protection Action

The President has launched a Research Action Plan to address issues related to pollinators. The Administration is encouraging a ‘leadership role’ for federal agencies through research granting, EPA regulations, habitat preservation and development, insect research, etc. When the White House gets involved in the issue, related industries must take notice.

hawkmoth glenn

Hawkmoth on Lantana photo by Glenn Parsons

The Georgia Pollinator Plan

A plan has been put into place in Georgia to protect honeybees in row crop agriculture. According to a UGA flyer, “A 2014 economic impact study by the University of Georgia determined that the annual value of pollination to Georgia is over $360 million. While many insects such as flies, beetles, moths, butterflies and wasps can be important pollinators, bees outperform them all because of their dietary need for pollen and nectar, their hairy bodies that carry pollen grains easily and their rapid flight from flower to flower.” The pamphlet goes on, “Species such as bumble bees and honey bees can be managed on a large scale suitable for the high-acreage pollination demands of modern agriculture.

As important as managed bees are for pollination, the services provided for free by unmanaged, wild bees are at least equally valuable.” The Georgia Pollinator Protection Plan includes guidelines for farmers to protect pollinators.

What can landscape companies do?

Really, the questions are “What can landscape professionals do better and how can we let the public know that we care.” Plant pest managers should use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) as a component of a holistic Plant Health Care approach for managing crop pests. IPM uses all available plant health care tactics, including cultural controls (growing plants properly), biological controls (preserving and encouraging beneficial insects), host plant resistance and the judicious use of environmentally friendly pesticides with more powerful pesticides saved as a last resort. IPM assures that economic losses and environmental side effects are minimized.

The key to IPM is monitoring insect pest populations to determine whether or not infestations require pesticide treatment. Landscape managers should work with clients to set reasonable economic treatment thresholds for commonly occurring insect pests in landscapes. Other IPM actions that can be taken to reduce the use of Pesticides include landscapers utilizing native plants that are beneficial to pollinating insects and are relatively pest free, put plants in the proper environmental situations, irrigate properly, etc.

swallowtail glenn

Eastern Swallowtail photo by Glenn Parsons

How do you integrate beneficial insects into your business?

Many companies already take care to protect beneficial insects by utilizing IPM practices. But do they let their clients know this? Landscape companies should be ready to let clients know that they use  selective pesticides that have minimal impact on non-target species. This practice protects pollinators and conserves natural enemies. If a landscape company uses native plants, make people aware of this fact. Let clients know If all recommended pesticides are equally hazardous to beneficials, use one with the shortest residual effect. Market your environmentally friendly practices to improve your image and that of the pest management industry so that our industry doesn’t get blamed for all of the harm that is happening to pollinators.

Right now, it is just ag…

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is now requiring a “Protection of Pollinators” advisory box on certain agricultural pesticide labels. The bee hazard icon’ in the directions alerts users to read and learn the restrictions and use instructions that protect bees and other insect pollinators at each application site. Will this happen in the turf and ornamental plant industry?

Get educated: talk the talk

It is true that an application of a systemic insecticide to the soil around trees and shrubs minimizes direct exposure of pollinators to the insecticide through spraying. However, some active ingredients of systemic insecticides can eventually be incorporated into nectar and may harm bees according to recent studies. If possible, avoid soil application of systemic insecticides during or just prior to bloom. Learn everything you can about the products you use. Always thoroughly read the labeled instructions. Stay abreast of current issues pertaining to the industry.


Changes are coming for all users of pesticides including homeowners. For pesticide professionals, pesticide licensing regulation changes have been proposed at the EPA level and pesticide labeling is getting more restrictive. The clientele who hire landscape professionals is becoming increasingly environmentally conscious. If our industry gets to work we can make ourselves the leaders in a new ‘environmentally friendly’ pest control industry. Let’s establish more flowering plants, shrubs and trees that are native to Georgia and the Southeast, use pesticides more carefully by avoiding treating plants in bloom and using biorational insecticide options such as horticultural oils, BT and soaps. Finally, let’s educate our clientele about our efforts to be as environmentally friendly as possible.