Finding Pollinator Safe Plants – a Summary
Amid increasing concern about the immediate as well as long-term, cumulative effects of sytemic pesticides, especially neonicotinoids, on pollinators, birds, soil life, and ecosystems, there is currently a groundswell of activism on the part of consumers. As toxic systemic pesticides continue to be routinely and widely used in agriculture, home gardening pest products (which can be legally applied in much higher concentrations than for agriculture), and perhaps to a lesser degree now in commercial horticulture, many gardeners want to make sure they are not contributing to what they consider an extensive poisoning of our environment. Though neonics aren’t the only pesticides used in horticulture, the info presented here applies to this class of pesticides as a starting point based on consumer concern.
In the Denver Metro & Front Range area, some gardener/consumers have started to take action in an effort to avoid supporting the use of neonics and to educate others who wish to make informed choices. In early 2020, a gardener from West Metro Denver decided to start calling garden centers in her area to find out about their pesticide practices. She posted her detailed list of Bee-friendly garden centers and nurseries on the internet. Others did the same this year in their Larimer County and Colorado Springs neighborhoods. Recently they have expanded and coordinated their efforts, while refining the process with the help of Colorado’s People and Pollinators Action Network (PPAN).
The information obtained so far has many grey areas but generally shows that most garden centers are very aware of the issue and state that they are “interested in saving pollinators”. This is somewhat open to interpretation. Many who grow their own plants say they don’t use any systemic pesticides on these, though some say “unless there’s an outbreak” (of pests). Many use trusted wholesale suppliers who don’t “treat” with neonics for the most part, others “aren’t sure” about all their suppliers. "We don't use neonics ourselves, but I can't speak for our suppliers," was heard repeatedly. Some carry neonic pesticide products on their shelves, even if the plants they grow are neonic-free. Some use neonics on hanging baskets only, or on certain size pots. And some businesses were more forthcoming about sharing information than others.
Big Box stores like Lowes & Home Depot were also contacted and asked about their pesticide practices. From all of the responses one thing is clear: you are always better off buying from an independent local garden center than a big box store for many reasons, but especially if avoiding neonics and other toxic pesticides is a prime concern. For a retail consumer it isn’t always clear if a plant that’s for sale has been treated or who the supplier is, but at an independent garden center you can at least ask and you will likely get an informed answer. While many growers have moved away from using these systemic pesticides, it’s always best to ask a manager or long-term employee about how to identify bee-safe plants. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Many of the garden centers that were contacted suggested this. And, say those involved in gathering information, “Please do say thank-you for growing Bee-Safe plants!”
While there are many excellent nurseries and garden centers along the Front Range and beyond, if your main criteria for buying plants is avoiding neonicotinoid pesticides, here are a few local/regional companies that you can be 100% sure about.
RETAIL LEADERS IN THE BEE-SAFE MOVEMENT
WHO GROW THEIR OWN NEONIC-FREE PLANTS
1. Desert Canyon Farms, Canon City
2. Harlequins Gardens, Boulder
3. High Country Gardens, mail-order
4. High Plains Environmental Center, Loveland (N. American natives only)
The following wholesale suppliers state that they use no neonics
Desert Canyon Farms
Elliott Gardens (organic vegetable starts)
Gulley Greenhouse (for all plants grown on site)
Here is a list of some other garden centers that merit recognition because they have been very forthcoming about their practices, they rely on suppliers who do not use neonics, and/or they grow their own plants without any systemic pesticides. You may still have to ask questions.
Al’s Pine Nursery, Wheat Ridge (they grow and guarantee all plants are neonic-free except the bareroot small fruits that they don’t grow)
City Floral, Denver
Fort Collins Wholesale Nursery, Fort Collins (all grown in-house are neonic free & they try to buy neonic-free & organic whenever possible. But they do carry neonic products)
Gulley’s Greenhouse, Fort Collins (for all grown in-house)
Nicks Garden Center, Aurora (very committed but they don’t grow any of their own plants)
Sage Thymes, Lakewood – small & seasonal, April thru Summer
Southwest Gardens, Wheat Ridge
Sunset Greenhouse, Colorado Springs (except for dahlias)
Summerland Gardens, Colorado Springs
Tagawa Gardens, Centennial
(This list is just a beginning. It is based on the information provided and is not guaranteed to be 100% accurate or comprehensive.) The intent is to educate and encourage Bee-safe practices so seeing this list grow would be a great result. Any nursery or garden center who believes they merit inclusion please get in touch with Joyce at PPAN (firstname.lastname@example.org) as this list will continue to be refined and updated.
MORE ABOUT NEONICS
“Neonics” were embraced in part because the technology of their application in agriculture (seed coating treatments) makes them much less overtly harmful to mammals, including the human workers who apply and are exposed to them, than other commonly used pesticides. That’s a good thing, but the mostly neurological effects on insects, including bees and other pollinators, were downplayed and ignored until honeybee colonies started collapsing over 20 years ago, and studies showed that neonics, even at extremely low levels, were implicated. Lest we forget, insects are the basis of the food chain and we are already seeing a steep deline in bird populations due to insect decline.
Imidacloprid (the most widely used)
HOME GARDEN PRODUCTS CONTAINING NEONICS (but always check labels)
Bayer Advanced 3-in-1 Insect, Disease, & Mite Control
Bayer Advanced 12 Month Tree & Shrub Insect Control
Bayer Advanced 12 Month Tree & Shrub Protect & Feed
Bayer Advanced Fruit, Citrus & Vegetable Insect Control
Bayer Advanced All-in-One Rose & Flower Care concentrate
DIY Tree Care Products Multi-Insect Killer
Ferti-lome 2-N-1 Systemic
Hi-Yield Systemic Insect Spray
Knockout Ready-To-Use Grub Killer
Monterey Once a Year Insect Control II
Ortho Bug B Gon Year-Long Tree & Shrub Insect Control
Ortho MAX Tree & Shrub Insect Control
Surrender Brand GrubZ Out
SOME BRIEF REGULATION HISTORY
In March 2012, the Center for Food Safety, Pesticide Action Network, Beyond Pesticides and a group of beekeepers filed an Emergency Petition with the EPA asking the agency to suspend the use of clothianidin. The agency denied the petition. In March 2013, the US EPA was sued by the same group, with the Sierra Club and the Center for Environmental Health joining, which accused the agency of performing inadequate toxicity evaluations and allowing insecticide registration based on inadequate studies. The case, Ellis et al v. Bradbury et al, was stayed as of October 2013.
On 12 July 2013, Rep. John Conyers, on behalf of himself and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, introduced the "Save American Pollinators Act" in the House of Representatives. The Act called for suspension of the use of four neonicotinoids, including the three recently suspended by the European Union, until their review is complete, and for a joint Interior Department and EPA study of bee populations and the possible reasons for their decline. The bill was assigned to a congressional committee on 16 July 2013 but did not leave committee.
The US EPA has taken a variety of actions to regulate neonicotinoids in response to concerns about pollinators. In 2014, under the Obama administration, a blanket ban was issued against the use of neonicotinoids on National Wildlife Refuges in response to concerns about off-target effects of the pesticide, and a lawsuit from environmental groups. In 2018, the Trump administration reversed this decision, stating that decisions on neonicotinoid usage on farms in wildlife refuges will be made on a case by case basis. In May 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency revoked approval for a dozen pesticides containing clothianidin and thiamethoxam as part of a legal settlement.