Importance to pollinators: Ash trees can be an important source of pollen for bees during a two-week period in early spring when they bloom. Ash trees do not produce nectar.
BMPs: Emerald ash borer is steadily spreading in the Eastern U.S. and into some western states. It is killing all ash trees in natural and managed landscapes. Insecticides can be used to preserve individual trees, but all are potentially toxic to pollinators if the insecticide moves into ash pollen.
Ash is wind-pollinated and does not produce nectar, but honey bees may collect ash pollen, and some native bees will fill larval chambers with up to 25% ash pollen during late April and early May when ash flowers. In Ohio and Michigan, white and green ash begin flowering at 190 degree-days, peaking at 240 degree-days, coinciding with flowering of many crabapples. Flowering times based on degree-days should be similar in most of the north central U.S.
No information is currently available on the amount of imidacloprid, dinotefuran or emamectin benzoate that moves into ash pollen following treatments for emerald ash borer. Based on research with other types of trees, it is likely trunk injections, trunk sprays or basal soil drenches of systemic insecticides applied before bloom will result in some insecticide in the pollen. To minimize the impact on pollinators, wait until after ash trees are done blooming, typically mid-May in our region, to make treatments.
Photo: Managing emerald ash borer on ash trees. Figure photo credits: Ash tree flowers - forestry.ohiodnr.gov; EAB adults - David Smitley, MSU Entomology; EAB larva - Dave Cappaert, MSU.
Importance to pollinators: Hemlock trees produce large amounts of pollen in the spring, but this pollen is not a nutritious food source for bees. However, because hemlock pollen may dust all the surrounding plants for several weeks, bees may be exposed to trace amounts that mix with the pollen of more preferred plants. Hemlocks do not produce nectar.
BMPs: Because hemlock pollen is not usually collected by bees, it is unlikely that standard insecticide treatments of hemlock trees to protect against hemlock woolly adelgids will impact pollinators. However, because abundant amounts of pollen may be produced, contamination of other types of pollen can be minimized by treating hemlock trees with systemic neonicotinoid insecticides in late spring after trees have finished flowering. Also, recent research indicates that imidacloprid is much less likely than dinotefuran to appear in pollen and nectar the year after treatments are made. Another concern is neighboring flowering plants may pick up systemic insecticides from soil treatments of hemlocks, if the plants’ root systems overlap.
A treatment method that mitigates this risk is to apply systemic insecticides through trunk injection or as a basal bark spray. A single application of a systemic insecticide typically provides at least two and up to seven years of protection of hemlocks from injury by hemlock woolly adelgids, and consequently, is a very efficient treatment option.
Frequent sprays with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil have been suggested as alternative products for controlling hemlock woolly adelgids because they are less harmful to pollinators. However, these products tend to be less effective as the soap or oil must contact the insect and are impractical for treating large trees.
Importance to pollinators: Euonymus, pachysandra and bittersweet pollen can be collected by bees, but they are not considered an important source of pollen.
BMPs: Susceptible types of Euonymus sp. are almost guaranteed to become infested with euonymus scale, decline slowly and become thin and unsightly. The most effective insecticide treatments for euonymus scale are an IGR (Pyriproxyfen) or horticultural oil applied as a foliar spray during crawler emergence in late spring. Pyriproxyfen is not harmful to adult bees or butterflies, but it is not known if it affects bee larvae fed with tainted pollen. A 2% concentration of horticultural oil applied during crawler emergence is the safest treatment for pollinators. Avoid spraying when bees are present.
Importance to pollinators: Hybrid tea roses, rugosa roses and the popular Knock out roses are weak nectar and pollen producers. In a survey in Colorado, most Rosa spp. in gardens were observed to be “rarely visited by bees,” but a few rose plants were “frequently visited by bees.” Linden trees, birch trees, raspberries and blueberries are highly attractive to bees.
BMPs: Rugosa rose foliage is not skeletonized by Japanese beetles, but the beetles may feed on flowers. Flower feeding on rugosa roses is not nearly as much of a problem as it is on hybrid tea roses.
Photo: Managing Japanese beetles on linden trees. Figure photo credits: Linden flowers - Np Holmes, Wikimedia Commons; Linden leaves - Steven Katovich, USDA Forest Serv., Bugwood.org; Japanese beetle - Courtesy Clemson Univ. USDA Coop. Ext. Slide Series.
Standard insecticide sprays used to protect hybrid tea roses (carbaryl, bifenthrin, cyfluthrin and other pyrethroids) are highly toxic to pollinators and other beneficial insects. Chlorantraniliprole is an alternative insecticide that provides good control of Japanese beetles as a foliar spray, but is much less toxic to bees. Chlorantraniliprole is the preferred product to use for Japanese beetles to protect bees, even if some drift is expected to other flowers. If carbaryl, bifenthrin, cyfluthrin or another pyrethroid insecticide is used, do not spray for Japanese beetles until after all flowers have dropped (usually after July 1 in Michigan), and avoid any drift to other flowers or food plants for caterpillars
Importance to pollinators: Viburnum flowers are often mentioned as being attractive to bees. Some types of viburnum may be more attractive than others. Two species described as very attractive to bees are Viburnum plicatum and Viburnum davidii.
BMPs: Viburnum leaf beetle adults and larvae are active from late spring to early summer. Because of a lack of natural enemies, extensive feeding injury can defoliate viburnum shrubs. Avoid spraying when viburnum plants are flowering, or use chlorantraniliprole during bloom to minimize impact on pollinators. An insecticide applied after the flowering period is over will not be harmful to bees unless there is some drift to nearby flowering weeds or perennial flowers.
Importance to pollinators: Bees are often observed collecting pollen from oak and birch catkins in May in Michigan. Oak, birch and poplar flowers are wind-pollinated and do not produce nectar.
BMPs: The most widely used insecticide for protecting oak, birch and poplar trees from defoliation by gypsy moth caterpillars is B.t., which is not harmful to bees or butterfly adults. However, B.t. is toxic to all butterfly larvae (caterpillars). B.t. does not persist more than seven to 10 days after it is sprayed and should not be harmful to caterpillars that hatch more than two weeks after it is sprayed.
The IGR dimilin is also used to protect trees from gypsy moth caterpillars. It is not harmful to adult bees or adult butterflies, but a negative impact on bee larvae fed tainted pollen is suspected. Dimilin is toxic to all caterpillars and persists for at least two months after application.
Importance to pollinators: Some types of flowering magnolia are highly attractive to bees for their pollen and nectar, but bee activity on early blooming (April) species depends on the daily temperature, with little activity when the temperature is below 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Species and cultivars vary in attractiveness, but the most fragrant cultivars tend to be the most attractive.
BMPs: Magnolia scale does not affect tree health unless the sugary waste excretion (honeydew) drips onto leaves under the scale insects causing a black fungus (sooty mold) to grow that may completely cover leaves. Most infestations can be ignored. If trees become unsightly, a 2% solution of horticultural oil can be sprayed after magnolias are done flowering in spring to suppress magnolia scale, but this approach is not always successful.
One practice that is being used by some arborists is applying a dilute solution of imidacloprid or dinotefuran around the base of infested trees (a basal soil drench). Both of these insecticides are highly toxic to bees and should not be applied until trees are done blooming. This will minimize any potential impact on pollinators the following year. Dinotefuran degrades more rapidly and is less likely to be present at harmful concentrations in pollen and nectar the following spring. Acetamiprid may be used as a basal spray for systemic control of insects and is much less toxic to bees than either dinotefuran or imidacloprid.
Importance to pollinators: Although birch is a wind-pollinated tree, the spring catkins produce a lot of pollen that may be collected by bees.
BMPs: The best option is to grow species of birch native to North America because they are resistant to bronze birch borer. However, many garden centers still carry European white birch, Betula pendula, which is very susceptible to bronze birch borer. In fact, European white birch trees will very likely die within 20 years of when they are planted due to borer injury. The standard practice to preserve European white birch trees is to use a trunk injection of emamectin benzoate every third year, or a trunk injection or soil drench of imidacloprid each year. Trunk injections should be made in late May after birch trees are done flowering. We do not know at this time how much, if any, insecticide will be in the pollen the following year.
Basal soil drenches of imidacloprid applied after flowering, will also protect birch trees while minimizing the impact on pollinators the following year. Dinotefuran is not recommended because it may appear in pollen the following year.
Importance to pollinators: The pollen of Austrian pine, Scots pine, all pine and spruce trees is not used by bees, and therefore is not important to pollinators.
BMPs: There is little risk to pollinators because bees do not use pine pollen. However, the standard practice of spraying trunks and large branches in April or May could result in insecticide spray drift to nearby flowers. Most of the bark-applied insecticides persist a long time, so it would be best to spray in late March or early April before most trees and shrubs bloom, and before most bees become active. Honey bees will sometimes use pine tree sap to make propolis, which acts like a glue to hold the hive together. Check to make sure bees are not on the trunks or branches before spraying.
Importance to pollinators: Arborvitae pollen is not used by bees.
BMPs: If a spray is used, avoid drift to surrounding plants. If surrounding trees or shrubs are attractive to bees, and the roots grow into the arborvitae root zone, apply basal soil drenches after the surrounding trees have bloomed.
Importance to pollinators: The flowers of nearly all Prunus species are highly attractive to bees.
BMPs: Eastern tent caterpillars can be removed by scraping the caterpillar-filled tent off the tree and putting it into soapy water. Eastern tent caterpillars can also be controlled by spraying the tree canopy with B.t. or chlorantraniliprole, which are not harmful to bees. If any other insecticide is used, spray after the cherry trees have bloomed and avoid drift onto nearby flowers.
A number of different types of caterpillars feed on trees in spring and may be referred to as spring defoliators. Fall and spring cankerworm, gypsy moth, forest tent caterpillar and eastern tent caterpillar are some of the more common ones. With the exception of gypsy moth in outbreak areas, spring defoliators rarely cause enough feeding damage to justify using an insecticide. Shade trees can lose over one-third of their foliage from caterpillar feeding without any harmful effects on tree health.
If trees are losing more than a third of their entire canopy, a B.t or chlorantraniliprole spray will stop caterpillar feeding without harming pollinators. These are the only two products that can be used when trees are flowering without harming bees. Spinosad or diflubenzuron sprayed after the tree is done blooming will also minimize any impact on beneficial insects in the area.
Protecting susceptible crabapple trees from apple scab without harming pollinators will require carefully timed sprays. Gradually replacing susceptible crabapples with resistant ones or another type of tree is the best long-term strategy. The problem is that several commonly used fungicides can be toxic to bee larvae when they are fed tainted pollen. Avoid using captan, ziram, iprodione, chlorothalonil and mancozeb when they are in bloom, and during the last week before the flowers open. Other fungicides may not be as harmful to pollinators, but can still inhibit beneficial fungi that ferment bee bread in honey bee hives.
Unfortunately, fungicide sprays to prevent apple scab are usually recommended to be applied between green tip (just before the leaves open) and petal fall, which includes the time when flowers are open.
The best schedule to protect trees while minimizing impacts on pollinators is to spray when leaves begin to open before the first flowers open. Then spray again when the flowers are done blooming and the petals fall off. This is the best schedule for pollinators regardless of which fungicide is used. Still, it is best to avoid using the fungicides listed above that are known to be harmful to bees before the flowers open. After petal fall they are unlikely to affect bees, unless the spray drifts onto the flowers of nearby trees and shrubs, or onto perennials, wildflowers or flowering weeds below the trees.
Authors: David Smitley, MSU Entomology; Diane Brown, Rebecca Finneran and Erwin Elsner, MSU Extension; Joy Landis, MSU IPM; Paula Shrewsbury, Univ. of MD Entomology; Daniel Herms, The Davey Tree Expert Company, Kent, OH; and Cristi L. Palmer, IR-4 Project-Rutgers - May 1, 2019. Copied, with permission, from the Michigan State Extension – Pollination website
Last updated May 10, 2021