Is Your Garden Pesticide Killing Bees?

The world’s most popular pesticides, neonicotinoids (neonics), which have been implicated as a key factor in global bee die-offs, may be lurking in our own gardens. These pesticides remain in plants for the life of the plant, and contaminate nectar and pollen, as well as soil and surface water. More than half of the “bee friendly” home garden plants tested, sold at major retailers under many brands, contain neonics – with no warning to consumers. Many unsuspecting gardeners purchasing plants treated with neonics for “bee-friendly” gardens may actually be poisoning bees and other pollinators.

Europe has already banned these pesticides, and top retailers in the UK are refusing to sell them.

Big industrial crops like corn are the major users. Virtually the entire US corn crop – which covers more than 90 million acres – is grown with seed treated with the chemicals. Neonicotinoids are what’s known as “systemic,” meaning they express themselves in the whole plant when it germinates, including nectar and pollen. That’s precisely what makes them so effective at attacking pests, honeybees, and other beneficial insects, too.

Walk into the garden section of a big box store, and you’re likely to find an example called Bayer 2-1 Systemic Rose and Flower Care, which offers broad-spectrum pest control and synthetic fertilizer in one convenient product. Take a close look at the label, and you’ll find that its one active pesticide ingredient is imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid.

“Apply granules to soil around base of plant, sprinkling evenly in the area under branches,” the instructions state. How does the product work? The label explains: “This product is absorbed by roots and moves through the entire plant. Even new growth is fed and protected against insects for up to 8 weeks. Rain or watering cannot wash off this internal protection!”

Even home gardeners who don’t use these products may be subjecting bees and other desirable insects to neonics. That’s because commercial greenhouses and nurseries commonly treat potting soil with it, particularly on ornamental plants, and the plants continue “expressing” imidacloprid after you take them home. The casualties aren’t just bees. Beneficials like lady bugs and butterflies also suffer.

Some reports found that neonics can persist in soil for months or years after a single application. Untreated plants may absorb these chemical residues left over in the soil from the previous year. There is no direct link demonstrated between neonics and the honey bee syndrome known as Colony Collapse Disorder. However, recent research suggests that neonics may make honey bees more susceptible to parasites and pathogens, which have been implicated as one causative factor in CCD.

As a gardener, you have a unique opportunity to help protect pollinators by avoiding the use of these insecticides, asking your local nursery or garden center if plants have been treated with neonicotinoids, and encouraging your friends and neighbors to use alternatives to neonicotinoids. Read the label to determine whether a product contains these neonics: imidacloprid, acetamiprid, dinotefuran, clothianidin, or thiamethoxam.

Article by Linda Rakey

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