Have you ever found yourself asking – Is Organic Neem Oil Safe for Bees? Here is why as plant growers we need to know.
A significant concern in recent years has been to preserve and restore the world’s bee population.
Bees are essential and one of the few (and some would say only) natural producers of human-friendly processed food.
From bee pollen to honey, honeycomb, and even bee larvae, bees play a crucial role in the human diet.
As the primary pollinators of ornamental plants, flowers, and vital food crops, they’re even more critical for plants.
We recently discovered that pesticide products were the main reason for the declining bee population. Now countries worldwide have set strict rules and guidelines for treating plants.
Organic Neem insecticide oil is one of the safest, most effective pest control products on the market. But some countries such as Great Britain have banned its use.
As neem (and most neem products) are still widely used in the US, it’s essential to know if this product is safe to use on plant leaves and around bees.
Is Neem Oil Safe For Bees?
Organic pesticides like Neem oil require some sensible and safe use rules for the plants’ bees visit. Otherwise, it can also kill them. Always read the product label and follow the label directions as listed.
So how do you use this fantastic product safely?
How Does Neem Oil Kill Bees?
Neem oil is considered bee-friendly but CAN be deadly if misused.
When used as a foliar spray, direct contact with neem will clog the airways of insect pests and cause them to suffocate.
Also, ingestion of neem places the primary active ingredient, Azadirachtin, into the insect’s body.
Azadirachtin doesn’t act as a direct killer. It instead confuses the victim’s body due to its similarity to the insect hormone systems.
“Azadirachtin acts in the following ways: It deters certain insects, such as locusts, from feeding and it interferes with the normal life cycle of insects, including feeding, molting, mating, and egg-laying.” – EPA Fact Sheet
A bee visiting a freshly treated plant may collect pollen containing neem oil and take it back to the hive where other bees ingest it.
Since most bees are workers, the damage may be negligible. But some Azadirachtin may reach the queen, or drones could eat it. Either can be devastating for a hive.
When Is Neem Oil Safe For Bees?
It’s easy to use neem oil safely around bees and other pollinators when you follow a few simple rules:
Don’t Spray Near Hives
Using any form of insecticidal or pesticidal spray creates a risk that the wind may carry off droplets, contaminating the hive.
Only Spray at Dusk and Dawn
Bees, other pollinators, and most beneficial insects tend to be diurnal or nocturnal. The neem oil in foliar sprays dissipates in 45 minutes to an hour, leaving no residue.
By spraying at these times, there is minimal risk of contaminating bees during their midday foraging runs.
Use Soil Soaks or Neem Cakes as Part of Your Treatment
These remedies kill ground-borne pests without harming earthworms. Neem soaks become a systemic insecticide when absorbed.
As bees and other beneficial insects won’t pierce the plant’s surface, they never come into contact with the Azadirachtin.
Does Neem Oil Hurt Bees When Bought Commercially?
Many commercial products advertise the inclusion of neem oil or Azadirachtin, but they can harm bees.
Such products may contain neem and have a list of other ingredients that may be toxic to bees.
As a general rule, never buy a neem product with added ingredients unless you know what each one is and what it does.
Homemade foliar sprays and Neem drenches are cheap and take mere minutes to create. Consider investing in a bottle of cold-pressed raw neem oil or clarified hydrophobic neem oil instead of buying a premade spray.
The base ingredients for homemade neem solutions are:
- Dawn dish detergent or pure castile soap for plants
- neem oil
Make sure anything you add beyond the base ingredients is safe for use around bees. Essential oils and other common additives can leave behind residue.