Common Garden Pests: How to Treat Plants Without Harming Pollinators

It’s that time of year again…Japanese beetles, tomato horn worms, flea beetles, bagworms, spider mites…I could go on.  And I am sure if you are reading this blog you have had some experience with at least one of these garden pests.  The next problem is treating for these pests while leaving the bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects alone.  There are multiple methods, or combination of methods, you can use to save the pollinators while also saving your favorite plants from pests.

  1. Use mechanical methods of insect control.
    1. Pick off bugs and squish them!
    2. Keep gardens and landscape free of weeds.
    3. Prune sections of plants that are more affected than the rest of the plant. Dispose of the waste.
    4. Remove plants that are heavily affected. Dispose of properly to remove bugs from the area.


  1. Use biocontrols. Avoid using sprays that will knock out all insect life.  Instead, use biocontrols that can target specific pests and leave beneficial insects alone.  Read the label on any bioinsecticide that you decide to use.  It will describe what types of insects that that product will kill.    For instance, there are many sprays that contain bacteria that will kill cabbage worms and tomato horn worms when they eat the spray, but will leave bees and other flying insects alone.  You can also use mineral oils or neem oil to spray on only the affected areas of the plant.  Just coat the leaves and stems of a plant affected by pests and leave the flower alone so that bees and butterflies can feed on the nectar! And ALWAYS follow the application directions on the label.


  1. Select plants that are insect and disease resistant. Simply, don’t plant things that are always under attack by bugs.  With a little research you can find alternative plants that will suit your needs and (fingers crossed) won’t get attacked by pests.


If the above listed methods do not work then resort to chemical pesticides.  Always read the label for proper application methods and insect pests that it will kill.  If using a pesticide that may affect pollinators, try to spray when the bees and butterflies are not foraging, and stay away from systemic pesticides.