Bee hovering around okra next to a butterfly perched on a flower

Will Diatomaceous Earth Harm Bees or Butterflies?

Diatomaceous earth (DE) is a go-to pest solution if you’re interested in controlling infestations naturally and organically.

But you might be wondering: What will DE do to bees, butterflies, and other beneficial bugs? Will it harm or kill them too?

Generally speaking, diatomaceous earth can kill bees, butterflies, and any other beneficial insects that come into direct contact with it. DE is quite abrasive, and it’ll damage bees’ and butterflies’ exoskeletons, increasing the chances of their dehydration and eventual death.

DE is a helpful way to stop aphids, cucumber beetles, flea beetles, and other garden pests, but you’ll need to understand the potential impacts of DE on bees and butterflies since these bugs play a vital role in pollination.

If you apply DE thoughtfully and precisely, you’ll avoid hurting helpful garden pollinators. But misusing it could inadvertently kill these beneficial bugs and harm your garden ecosystem.

If you’d like to learn more about diatomaceous earth, please keep reading because I’ll cover these important topics below:

  • the effects of DE on bees.
  • the ways that DE can impact butterflies.
  • other beneficial insects that might be harmed by haphazard DE applications.
  • a step-by-step guide to responsibly using DE in your garden.

The goal of this article is to give you everything you need to know to apply DE properly and avoid harming bees, butterflies, and other beneficial bugs in the process.

One final thing before I get into the details. If you’d like to apply diatomaceous earth safely and effectively, I’d encourage you to get your hands on food-grade DE and a high-quality bulb duster. I use these products in my garden, and they’ve been a great help:

Now that we’ve covered the DE products you’ll need to have on hand, let’s get started!

Will Diatomaceous Earth Harm or Kill Bees?

I’ll start with bees because I get really excited whenever I see them flying around my plants.

Bees Looking for Pollen in Mustard Flowers
I found these little helpers buzzing around my mustard plant.

You might forget about bees when applying diatomaceous earth in your garden, and that’s understandable since DE is usually used to stop garden pests such as:

Since they’re beneficial, bees might not cross your mind when you’re working to control these harmful invaders. But bees can also become the unintended victims of sloppy DE applications.

Here’s what can happen:

  1. You might be spraying your plants with DE during the daytime hours when bees are active. If you spray a bee directly with DE, you’ll definitely harm or kill it within 24-48 hours since the DE will cut up its exoskeletons and dehydrate it.
  2. But diatomaceous earth can also wreak havoc on bees if they unwittingly land on flowers that are covered in it and thereby get it on themselves. They might not die within 24-48 hours, but they’ll likely suffer some damage to their exoskeletons, which is never good since DE’s sharp, abrasive particles can puncture their protective outer layer

Simply put, bees can be affected both by direct application and by landing on DE-coated plants. The former is a death sentence, but the latter is bad for them as well.

To protect bees from the negative impacts of DE, please spot-check plants before applying this natural pesticide.

If you see any flying pollinators in your garden, you might want to hold off on applying DE until the sun starts to set and your garden friends stop for the day.

Bee on a Cucumber Plant Flower
Bee Investigating a Cucumber Plant Flower

Spot-checking will help you avoid directly spraying pollinators with DE, but what about indirect contact? Can you minimize the chances that you’ll indirectly harm bees?

Fortunately, you can minimize the risk to bees by using the following methods:

Apply DE Late in the DayBees are most active during the warmest parts of the day, generally between 10 AM and 5 PM. If you apply DE much later when bees are less active (preferably when the sun is setting), you’ll reduce their chances of coming into contact with it.
Target Your DE ApplicationsInstead of broadly applying DE, target its application to areas with visible pests. This method reduces the overall amount of DE in your garden, decreasing the chances that you’ll harm or kill bees with it.
Avoid FlowersAre your plants flowering? You might want to avoid those since bees are likely to visit those flowers. Apply DE selectively, targeting stems and leaves in particular, not flowers.
Try Different MethodsDE is just one tool in your pest management arsenal. Consider using other control methods such as soapy water or neem oil sprays. Using DE sparingly helps protect bees and other beneficial insects.
Table Showing Ways to Minimize Risk to Bees When Using Diatomaceous Earth

Long story short, bees play a critical role in our gardens, pollinating plants and giving us better harvests.

When using DE in your pest management routine, please keep in mind the safety of these beneficial helpers since it’d be a shame to unwittingly injure or kill them.

I mentioned soapy water and neem oil sprays above. If you don’t have much experience with those pest control methods, I highly recommend learning more about them since you can easily use them in conjunction with diatomaceous earth.

Here are a few articles I’ve written that’ll teach you more about how I use them in my garden:

Will Diatomaceous Earth Harm or Kill Butterflies?

Now that I’ve covered bees, let’s take a quick look at what can happen if you spray butterflies with diatomaceous earth or if they land on plants you’ve covered in diatomaceous earth.

Unlike bees, which can sometimes be hard to see if they’re crawling around your flowering plants, butterflies are pretty obvious.

Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillar on Dill Plant
Please take care: Butterfly caterpillars are not obvious!

When spraying DE in your garden, you might accidentally harm or kill butterflies if you engage in broad applications since wider dispersal patterns send more DE onto plants and into the air.

If butterflies are anywhere in the vicinity of your plants, do not spray DE at all. You could unintentionally coat nearby butterflies. Even a light sprinkling of DE is enough to dehydrate and kill them.

Here’s the potential harm: If a butterfly comes into direct contact with DE, its exoskeleton will be damaged by the abrasive particles, causing dehydration and even death.

Even indirect exposure can be harmful. If butterflies land on flowers coated with DE, they can still encounter abrasive particles that’ll damage their legs or wings.

So, how can you avoid accidentally killing butterflies with DE?

TimingButterflies are active during the day, so it’s best to apply DE in the early evening when the sun hasn’t yet set. You’ll have plenty of light to work with, but the butterflies will be done for the day.
Selective ApplicationBags of Harris Diatomaceous Earth come with plastic bulb dusters—which are better than applying DE by hand—but I prefer the high-quality bulb dusters made by Dr. Killigan’s since they allow me to be more accurate with my applications.
Limited UsageDE isn’t the only option for pest control. Explore other methods—such as soapy water sprays and neem oil—and use DE sparingly to reduce the risk to butterflies and other beneficial insects.
Table Showing How to Avoid Killing Butterflies When Using DE

Remember, your garden does best when you’ve got a balanced ecosystem in your yard. While DE can help control destructive pests, you’ll want to use it responsibly so as to keep beneficial pollinators safe from harm.

10 Beneficial Insects That Diatomaceous Earth Can Harm

Diatomaceous earth doesn’t distinguish between friend and foe since its abrasive particles can damage the exoskeletons of both beneficial and harmful bugs alike.

With that in mind, here’s a list of helpful bugs that will be harmed or killed by direct or indirect contact with DE:

AntsCertain types of ants, especially those that aren’t harmful like fire ants or leafcutter ants, help control pests and aerate soil. But they can also protect aphids, so you’ll need to keep a close eye on them.
Assassin BugsThese predators contribute to controlling populations of pests like aphids and caterpillars.
BeesPrimary pollinators, bees can suffer damage to their exoskeletons and eventually die when exposed to DE.
ButterfliesThese pollinators can have their delicate wings and bodies damaged by DE, impairing their ability to fly, feed, and reproduce.
Lacewing BugsKnown as “aphid lions,” these insects feed on aphids and other pests. DE can harm these helpful predators.
LadybugsNatural aphid predators, ladybugs can have their exoskeletons damaged by DE.
Pill BugsAlso known as roly-polies, these bugs play an essential role in decomposing organic material. They can be harmed by DE.
Praying MantisesPredators of various pests, praying mantises can fall victim to DE’s abrasive qualities.
SpidersDespite their scary reputation, spiders control various pests, and most are perfectly harmless. But they can be negatively impacted by DE.
WaspsSome wasps, like the braconid and ichneumon wasps, keep pest populations in check. They, too, can suffer from contact with DE.
Table Showing Helpful Bugs That May be Harmed by Diatomaceous Earth

When using DE, please apply it selectively to your plants and consider its potential impact on these helpful bugs.

They’re integral to maintaining a balanced and thriving garden, so you’ll want to be careful when and how you apply DE to your plants.

With that in mind, I’d like to share a step-by-step approach that I use to apply DE carefully and selectively.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Applying Diatomaceous Earth

Bowl of Powdery Diatomaceous Earth

Using diatomaceous earth responsibly not only reduce the likelihood that you’ll kill off helpful garden bugs and beneficial pollinators. When used in conjunction with other pest management strategies, it’ll also ensure the health and safety of your plants.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to using DE in your garden:

1. Spot-Check Plants for Beneficial Bugs: Before you apply DE, thoroughly inspect your plants. Look for any signs of beneficial insects you don’t want to harm.

Take time with Step 1 since you’ll be amazed at how much you see when you look closely. For example, I’ve found ladybug larvae under leaves and lacewing bugs hanging around my beans and spinach.

If you apply DE, neem oil, or soapy water to your plants, you’ll likely kill these bugs.

Should you see any such bugs crawling around your plants, you should consider a more targeted application or maybe even wait to use DE until they’ve moved on.

2. Wear Protective Gear: DE can irritate your eyes and lungs during the application process, especially on windy days.

When handling or applying DE, I wear gloves to avoid getting the DE powder all over my hands. I also wear other protective gear like goggles and a mask to protect myself from any stray particles that are blown into the air.

3. Use a High-Quality Bulb Duster: A high-quality bulb duster, like those made by Dr. Killigan’s, can aid in applying DE in a targeted, efficient manner.

If you buy bags of Harris Diatomaceous Earth, you’ll likely get a free plastic bulb duster, but those plastic versions are often challenging to use and spray out too much DE at once. Better bulb dusters allow you to control the flow of DE so you’re only using exactly what you need.

High-Quality Bulb Duster Versus Plastic Bulb Duster
I prefer the Dr. Killigan’s bulb duster (left) to plastic ones (right).

Unless you’re dealing with an extreme infestation that requires a broader application, use a good bulb duster and focus your DE dusting on problematic areas only.

4. Check the Weather: DE is most effective when it’s dry. Avoid applying it when there’s rain in the forecast because the rain will wash it away, and you’ll have to reapply it again.

If that happens, no worries. Simply reapply the DE to the infested places once they’ve had a chance to dry.

5. Apply DE at Sunset: Pollinators like bees and butterflies are less active later in the day.

Unlike neem oil, you can apply DE at any time of day, but I suggest waiting until early evening, when the sun’s setting but there’s still light outside.

You can apply DE at other times of the day, but why take the chance that you’ll harm helpful flying insects? Just wait until those bugs have finished their work for the day, then carefully apply DE to your plants.

6. Reapply As Necessary: DE doesn’t have a residual effect like harsch chemical pesticides. That means that you’ll need to reapply it somewhat regularly under normal conditions but especially so if it’s rainy, very humid, or incredibly windy outside.

Keep an eye on your plants and reapply once a week if you feel there’s an ongoing infestation you need to stamp out.

7. Integrate Other Pest Control Methods: DE is just one tool in your pest management toolkit. For optimal pest control, consider integrating it with other methods, depending on the type of infestation you’re dealing with.

Soapy water sprays or neem oil sprays are 2 of my favorite pest management methods, and they can be effective for certain pests and offer alternatives to ensure you’re not overusing DE.

Some people even use peppermint oils, orange spray, boric acid, pyrethrin sprays, and other pest management methods, but generally speaking, soapy water, neem oil, and DE are my go-to options when I see pests in my garden.

Final Thoughts

Using diatomaceous earth responsibly ensures its effectiveness while protecting beneficial insects.

The last thing I want to do is cover my garden plants in chemical pesticides, so DE allows me to target infested plants while respecting the garden ecosystem I’m trying to foster in my backyard.

As I’ve noted above, DE is a powerful tool for gardeners, but it doesn’t distinguish between friend or foe.

Every application has the potential to impact not only harmful pests but beneficial insects as well. Since these beneficial bugs play critical roles in the lives of our plants and soil—contributing to pollination, decomposition, and natural pest control—you’ll want to be particularly careful when using DE around your garden.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this article and want to learn more about DE, I recommend these related posts:

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