Bees are important to our environment. They pollinate our food crops and gardens, and they make honey. Find out how to protect the bees and other pollinators, and to keep them safe and healthy.
Here is advice to help you:
- safely use garden insecticides and chemicals and reduce the harm to bees
- look after the bees in your garden
- know what to do if you think a beehive has been poisoned.
Safely using insecticides and garden chemicals
Some insecticides and other chemicals you use in the garden are especially harmful to pollinators (including bees); for example, neonicotinoid insecticides. There are strict rules and controls around using them.
Follow this advice when using any insecticide or garden chemical, including natural products:
- Always read the label. There is information to keep yourself and others safe. For example, wearing gloves or what to do in an emergency.
- Always follow the instructions. For example, using enough so it does its job, yet keeps bees and other pollinators safe.
- Don’t spray chemicals near budding or flowering plants where bees and other insects are likely to forage. Spray in dry conditions and avoid spraying when it is windy; it’s safer for you too. Spot treat where you can and avoid blanket spraying an entire area. Spray after sunset.
- Keep out of reach of children, up high and in a locked cupboard. Keep in its original container and never transfer to food or drink containers.
- Dispose of garden chemicals correctly. Check the label for disposal instructions. You may need to contact your council or ask at the shop where you bought it for advice on safe disposal.
Spraying large areas of insecticides
- Contact the owners of any beehives in the area you are spraying, including neighbouring properties so they can move or protect their hives. Bees commonly forage within a five-kilometre radius, sometimes further.
- If you are using spray contractors, tell them the location of beehives.
- Choose a calm, dry day for spraying to avoid spray drift onto flowering crops, flowering weeds, beehives and water.
- Make sure that pollinators (including bees) are not foraging in the target area. (Most products have this as a condition of use.)
- Mow flowering weeds to reduce the harm to bees that may be foraging.
There are strict rules and regulations around using neonicotinoid insecticides. These insecticides work by moving around plant tissues to protect the entire plant from insects. Some gardening products contain them and they are used to control insects that can damage some fruit trees, ornamental plants, cereal and vegetable crops.
Never spray neonicotinoid insecticides:
- near beehives; bees can forage far from home so this means no spraying within a few kilometres of a beehive
- on crops likely to be visited by pollinators (including bees) or when these are foraging
- when flowering crops or weeds are present in the treated area
- plants that are in flower or about to flower.
Most importantly, neonicotinoids must not be used on flowering or near flowering crops.
Looking after the pollinators in your garden
- Cut your lawn less and don’t worry about letting clover flowers grow. They are food for bees. Let dandelions flower and mow them before they go to seed. Think about cutting smaller areas of lawn on a rotation so there are more flowers for pollinators.
- Use insecticides and other garden chemicals carefully.
- Do you need a chemical to do the job? For example, you could pull out weeds or squash pests by hand. You could use a net to protect garden vegetable crops from caterpillars. You could use boiling water to spot-kill weeds or moss on your paths.
- Leave patches of garden to grow wild and don’t spray chemicals there. Remember, some flowering weeds are valuable food sources for pollinators. Leave areas of long grass as shelter for our pollinator insects.
- Make clean pesticide-free water available, either in a pond or water feature. You could also fill a saucepan with water and put some twigs or pebbles in for bees and insects to land on while they drink. Keep it in the shade so the water doesn’t get too hot.
- Don’t disturb insect nests.
- Have some banks of earth or bare soil in your garden. Native bees nest in these. Or make a backyard bee hotel for them to build nests – fill pots with sticks or bamboo and secure them in a sheltered place.
- Chat with your neighbours, family and friends about looking after pollinators. Share cuttings and seeds from pollinator-friendly plants to reduce costs. Find out about looking after your pollinators on community land or in schools.
Tell us if you think bees or other pollinators have been poisoned
If you keep bees and you suspect that your beehive was poisoned by insecticides, pesticides or other chemicals, please tell us. We gather reports about pollinator incidents from around New Zealand and send them to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Pollinator Incidents Information System. These reports can help governments around the world make the best decisions for protecting pollinators.
Symptoms of a poisoned beehive
The situation is serious if a large part of a beehive dies. If you think it is from poisoning, look out for the following symptoms.
- There are large numbers of dead bees at the hive entrance.
- Live bees outside the entrance may look sick and move slowly or jerkily.
- There are dead adult bees inside the hive.
- Most or all of your beehives are affected.
- The dead bees may have their proboscis fully extended, their hind legs outstretched behind them and their wings are at odd angles to their bodies.
- There are fewer foraging bees leaving the hive.
- The remaining bees may behave aggressively.
We have a collection of educational bee-related resources for you to download: