Sunday, February 15, 2015

Avoid the 'Noids in 2015

This subject is on my mind way too often, but I don’t want to be the only one thinking about it. We all need to be concerned and educated when it comes time to choose our plants this spring.

I’m talking about neonicotinoids (NEO-nik-oh-teh-noids). Neonicotinoids are a type of pesticide that has been widely touted in the last few years as a “safer” type of pesticide against sap-sucking and leaf-chewing insects because it is taken up by the plant through the roots (it is watered in or applied to the seed as a pre-treatment) and doesn’t involve the hazards to humans from treatments like spraying.

These pesticides have been found to not be “safe” for insects that eat or gather pollen and nectar from the treated plants because there are residual amounts of the chemical in the pollen and nectar. That means we don't want these chemicals applied to any plants that require insect pollination (like our fruits and vegetables) or the plants that we use to attract and sustain butterflies.

Neonicotinoids are now considered a likely contributor to problems with bees, problems as serious as killing them outright or at least causing disorientation such that they cannot find their way back to their hives (in the case of European honey bees) or their nests (in the case of native bees). Bees leave the hive or nest to gather pollen and nectar to bring back. Along the way, they will eat some of what they gather for their own nourishment.

Frankly if they cannot find their way back to the hive or nest, they are as good as dead anyway because they are not helping the next generation of bees.  

So what's a conscientious gardener to do? Both plants and seeds need to be considered. One approach is to pre-research everything. A blogger on the West Coast has put together a fabulous collection of information on many of the large growers and seed providers. She contacted them and has published their responses. 

Gardeners who are concerned about purchasing products treated with neonicotinoids have asked for companies to label their plants so that treated plants can be avoided. The Home Depot announced last year that they would require their suppliers to let them know about treatments so that they could label the plants. Bravo! I'm not aware of any other major plant retailer in Georgia that has agreed to provide labeling.

Blueberries treated with neonics

The new labels have now arrived at Home Depot and I thought I'd take a field trip to see how plants and seeds are being labeled there. What is clear is that the labeling on plants is being used to definitely indicate which plants have been treated. Plants that are not labeled can - I assume - be considered as not having been treated by neonics. 

Or the label fell out. Or that pot was missed. You might have to search around to see if other plants (same kind of plant) in the area have tags and the one you picked up was just not labeled. You can see here that the label is just tucked into the pot, and sometimes it is shoved all the way to the soil line.

Here is a picture of the label and it looks like they are probably being applied at the store once the plants are delivered (in other words, it is Home Depot's tag, not the grower's tag). 

I examined all the seed packets at Home Depot and none of them are labeled for neonicotinoids. Several have "non-GMO" labels but that is not the same thing. One package was labeled as "organic" but I am not sure that is a guarantee.

This package happens to be from Ferry-Morse which is not using neonics according to the blog on referenced earlier. It would be more clear if they'd say that.

Non-GMO does not mean no neonics
Does organic mean no neonics?

You also need to consider the pesticide products that are sold for use in the home garden. Look at the labels. Neonicotinoids include chemicals like imidacloprid, clothianidin, thiamethoxam, acetamiprid, and dinotefuran so look for these on the labels. The Xerces Society has a great page about products that are available for home use and which ones should be avoided by consumers.

So if protecting pollinators (bees, butterflies, etc.) is important to you, start reading labels - plant labels and package labels. If you're not sure, ask at the store. Retailers won't realize it is important to us unless we speak up.


  1. Thanks for this information. I started hearing about it last spring, and did talk to a local nursery about it. It's too bad we have to be so careful when we want to garden with nature in mind.

  2. How disappointing, and insidious, and the effects seem to be long lasting. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I will be asking about neonicotinoid use before making future purchases.