In order to kill weeds without killing bees, avoid using weed killers with glyphosate (such as Roundup) and acidic household chemicals like vinegar. Instead, employ the following tactics to suppress weeds and allow pollinating bees to thrive:
- Use a weed killer with 2,4-D or Atrazine as the active ingredient.
- Mow your lawn prior to spraying weeds. This will cut off weed flowers and reduce bee contact with any herbicide you’ve sprayed.
- Spray weeds between the hours of 8:00 PM and 8:00 AM, when bees are not foraging.
- Attack weeds early in spring, before they begin flowering and attracting bees.
- Hand-pull or hoe weeds to get rid of them without chemicals
- Kill weeds with boiling water.
It’s essential to follow these guidelines to get rid of the weeds in your yard and garden without killing bees that come to feed on the flowers. Bees are vital pollinators and should be protected.
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Avoid Weed Killers that Harm Bees
Some commercial weed killers and even some organic herbicides will harm the bees that are essential to pollinating flowers. It’s important to avoid the following:
- Glyphosate-based weed killers (Roundup) are harmful to bees.
- Weed killers that contain Dicamba can harm pollinators.
- Homemade vinegar sprays kill and repel bees.
Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, not only kills all plants it comes in contact with, but it also harms bees. According to a University of Texas study, Glyphosate kills helpful bacteria in the bee’s gut, leading to infection, sickness, and bee death. Dicamba, another popular herbicide, has also been shown to be harmful to beneficial insects.
Will Vinegar Kill Bees?
Vinegar will kill bees in your yard. Despite the claim that it is a “natural” weed killer, vinegar contains acetic acid. This compound kills many insect species, including bees.
- Vinegar kills bees on contact, even in small amounts.
- Both white vinegar and apple cider vinegar are harmful to bees.
- There is evidence to suggest vinegar also drives bees away, disrupting olfactory and respiratory processes.
Vinegar also acts as a bee-deterrent, driving them away from potential food sources. The odor of vinegar disrupts a bee’s ability to respirate and locate food. This potentially starves the bee and the hive it’s trying to feed. Don’t follow any guide that touts vinegar as a bee-friendly alternative to control weeds. These are misinformed. Using vinegar will harm and kill bees, while also not killing weeds to the root anyways.
7 Weed Killer Methods Safe for Bees
Bees come in contact with herbicides when they land on a flowering plant that has been sprayed with a weed killer. In order to keep bees safe from harm, you can use weed killers that have been scientifically proven not to harm bees, use methods to reduce bee exposure to weed killers, or try organic alternatives to herbicides.
Use 2,4-D Herbicide
According to the EPA, 2,4-D is classified as “practically non-toxic” to bees. It is much safer to use around bees than other weed killers. Additionally, 2,4-D, when mixed properly, is a selective broadleaf weed killer that can kill everything from dandelions to clover.
- Classified as bee-safe by the EPA
- Safer for bees than Glyphosate, Dicamba, or vinegar.
- Use a pure 2,4-D product. Some commercial products combine 2,4-D with harmful Dicamba.
Because many commercial products combine 2,4-D with Dicamba, it’s important to use a product where 2,4-D is the only active ingredient.
Apply Atrazine to Weeds
Atrazine is another weed killer that has been shown to be safe for use around bees. The National Pesticide Information Center considers Atrazine practically non-toxic to bees. It’s important to note that although Atrazine is a selective weed killer, it can be harmful to many grass species, like Bermuda, for example. Keep the following in mind when using Atrazine.
- Classified as practically non-toxic to bees by the NPIC.
- An Atrazine weed killer sprayed on weeds will not kill bees.
- Atrazine will not harm St. Augustine, Centipede, and Zoysia grass. It will kill other turfgrasses.
Atrazine is a powerful weed killer that both kills existing weeds and stops new weeds from sprouting. If you have an Atrazine-friendly lawn, or you can spray in areas without affecting sensitive grass, it’s a very powerful weed killer that won’t kill honey bees.
Mow Before Spraying Weeds
Bees are attracted to flowers and flowering weeds. They land on the flowers to collect the pollen they use to make honey and feed their hive. In order to prevent bees from making contact with any weed killer you’ve sprayed, mow weeds first, to get rid of flowers the bees are drawn to.
- Bees are drawn to flowers, including flowering weeds.
- Mow flowering weeds before spraying, to cut off flowers. This will reduce the chance of a bee landing on the weed after you have sprayed it with weed killer, reducing bee exposure to chemicals.
- Spray weeds after mowing.
This simple trick helps prevent bees from coming into contact with any herbicides you use.
Spray Weeds Between 8 PM and 8 AM
Bees forage in the daytime hours when the sun is at its height. In the evening and early morning, when temperatures are cool, bees are more sluggish and spend their time resting. In order to reduce contact with herbicides, spray weeds with weed killer in the evening (after 8 PM) or early morning (before 8 AM).
- Bees are not active between evening and mid-morning.
- Spray weeds after 8 PM or before 8 AM to lower the chance bees come in contact with weed killer.
Simply changing the timing of your weed-killing routine can do a lot to protect bees. The weed killer will have penetrated the plant by the time bees are active and may land on plants you’ve sprayed.
Attack Weeds Early in Spring
Because bees are drawn to flowering plants, one good way to kill weeds without harming bees is to spray weeds before they flower. This kills weeds before bees are even drawn to them, so the chance of a bee landing on a herbicide-soaked plant is much lower.
- Spray weeds with pre-emergents and other weed killers before they flower, reducing the chance bees will land on the plant and come in contact with the herbicide.
- Begin your weed-killing plan in early spring, when weeds first sprout.
Not only will you protect bees with this method, but you will also have an easier time killing weeds. Young plants are much easier to kill than established, flowering weeds.
Try Hand Pulling and Hoeing
One surefire way to keep bees and other pollinators from coming into contact with any herbicides is to simply not use any. Put on some gloves for hand pulling, or use a hoe to dig up and destroy weeds. Although organic herbicides, like vinegar, can still be extremely harmful to bees, hand pulling weeds won’t put any bees at risk.
- Introduces zero chemicals into your yard or garden.
- The most natural and bee-friendly solution for weeds.
Although this solution isn’t for everyone, considering weed-pulling can be time-consuming labor, a little goes a long way. When possible, hand-pull weeds rather than resort to chemical solutions. A special weed pulling tool can also make it easier to pull weeds.
Kill Weeds with Boiling Water
Do you want a zero-chemical approach that kills weeds and protects honey bees? Simply boil water and pour it on any weeds you wish to kill. Boiling water destroys weeds fast and cheaply. Not only that, but as long as there aren’t any bees resting on the plant at the time you douse it, then there’s no danger to the bees.
- Pour boiling water on weeds to kill them.
- Keep in mind, boiling water will also kill any grass it is poured on.
- A chemical-free way to eliminate weeds.
Keep those honey bees safe by using your tea kettle as a weed-killing force. It’s a lot cheaper than glyphosate products and a lot better for the environment.
What Herbicide is Safe for Bees?
2,4-D and Atrazine are two herbicides shown by studies to be safe for use around bees. Use commercial products containing these ingredients to spray for weeds without harming bees. Other common weed killers, such as Glyphosate (Roundup), Dicamba, and even household vinegar will kill bees.
In addition to using a bee-safe weed spray, mow weeds prior to spraying, to cut off flowers and keep bees away from sprayed weeds. Spray in the evening or early morning, when bees are not active. Also, spray weeds when they first sprout, to kill them before they begin to flower and attract bees. If you would like to go the natural route, hand-pull weeds or douse them with boiling water instead of using herbicide sprays.