Bee aware

Features - Sustainability

Here’s how to talk to your customers about bees, and what you can do to help these vital pollinators thrive.

November 5, 2013
Anne Nagro

Honeybees are in trouble. In the last 50 years, experts say the domesticated honey bee population declined nearly 50 percent. This year was one of the worst on record, with some U.S. beekeepers losing 60 percent of their hives.

Colony Collapse Disorder – the phenomenon in which worker bees disappear leaving behind a queen, food and a few nurse bees – started making news in 2006. The term has since come to encompass the broader issue of bee die-offs. The topic has since shifted to a much broader discussion about protecting bee health around the globe.

Pollinators are exposed to many pesticides. One class of chemistry – neonicotinoids – has been in the media and regulatory spotlight as of late. Pollinators are exposed to these widely used insecticides through direct contact with sprays and residue on plants. They also are exposed by ingesting the pollen and nectar of neonicotinoid-treated plants, though at lower levels.

This summer 50,000 bumblebees died in a Wilsonville, Ore., parking lot, and it was determined that a misapplication of a dinotefuran pesticide sprayed on 55 linden trees to control aphids, was the cause. In response, the Oregon Department of Agriculture restricted the use of 18 products containing dinotefuran. The 180-day restriction applies to outdoor applications of ornamental, turf and agricultural pesticide products used by professional applicators and homeowners.

The die-off put the spotlight on pesticide use in suburban and urban areas and the impact these use patterns could have on bee populations. Perimeter and landscape pesticide application suddenly became a big part of the bee health conversation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and members of Congress stepped up their involvement.

A pending New Jersey bill would ban all neonicotinoid pesticides in the state. (A similar bill is pending in Puerto Rico as well.)

The one thing experts seem to agree on is that many factors affect bee health: mites, viruses, bacteria, disease; poor nutrition and beekeeping practices; the transportation of hives cross country; habitat loss; genetically modified plants; lack of genetic diversity; weather and pesticides.

Lansdcapers and lawn care operators play a big role in both protecting pollinators and encouraging their continued success, through smart applications of chemicals and promoting the best kinds of plantings. What’s difficult is helping customers cut through the noise and understand what you’re doing to help.

To help you answer customer questions about your work’s impact on bee health, Lawn & Landscape developed this to-do list. Here’s where to start.

Stay informed – Follow news reports, learn about the issues and how you may need to respond. Create a Google Alert for bee news in your region. Two valuable sources of information are the NPMA and RISE, which are monitoring issues surrounding pollinator health and share relevant information as it becomes available.

Retrain employees – New labels require new training. Technicians must review and follow labels in their entirety, including the environmental hazard and precautionary statements, prior to product application. Fundamental training on label comprehension, compliance and application safety is paramount.

Go beyond – Technicians need to think beyond the label and remember that many pesticides – not just neonicotinoids – are toxic to bees when exposed to direct treatment or residues, so don’t apply these products when bees are visiting the treatment area or if the applied product may drift. Also be aware of backyard beekeeping in neighboring yards.

Planting for pollinators

One of the best ways to help bees and other beneficial bugs thrive is to give them a place to eat. Consider these plantings for your customers who want to do their part.


1. Salvia
(many spp. and varieties) Just about any kind of salvia works well, although my bees tend to prefer the ‘Indigo Spires’ over all the other salvias in my garden.

2. Texas Sage (Leucophyllum spp.) These silver foliage beauties bloom in response to changes in barometric pressure. When they bloom, they bloom gangbusters! The shrubs practically vibrate with bees collecting pollen and nectar.

3. Aster Fall blooming Asters provide a food source when many other plants have finished blooming.

4. Caryopteris (Blue Beard) This late summer bloomer can help feed bees during the heat of summer.

5. Esparanza (Tecoma stans) Bees especially like the large tubular flowers.

6. Lavender All lavenders are good plants for bees.

7. Oregano Allow some of your oregano to flower and it will be covered with happy bees.

8. Scabiosa This perennial is practically a non-stop bloomer, which makes it a reliable food source for bees.

9. Vitex agnus-castus (Chaste Tree) A beautiful small tree or large shrub. The large clusters of purple, pink or white blooms attract bees.

10. Mahonia You wouldn’t think it, but the small yellow blooms produced by this shade-loving shrub are popular with the bees.

11. Ceanothus One of the prettiest blue flowering shrubs – the bees think so, too!


Address questions – Stay “one step ahead” of customer inquiries and own the responsibility for educating them about your pest management practices as they relate to pollinator health. Develop an elevator speech for the front yard, and acknowledge customers’ concerns. Then tell them you take your environmental stewardship seriously and rely on an Integrated Pest Management approach. Explain how neonicotinoids and other products are important tools to control destructive pests. Assure them you read and follow the product’s label, which includes specific actions to avoid harming non-target pollinators.

Get involved – Consider becoming active in organizations like the Pollinator Partnership or local beekeeper associations.

To read more
Get tips for planting pollinator gardens, participating in citizen science projects, buying local honey, even becoming a backyard beekeeper, in L&L’s sister publication, A Garden Life. Read it online at or download the app in the iTunes store.