Is Your Local Garden Center Taking Action on Neonicotinoids?



What’s killing the bees?  The pesticide neonicotinoid, for one thing, and it’s routinely used on plants for sale and earlier in the plants’ lives, at the wholesale growers’.  That discovery has led to an anti-neonic campaign targeting the boxes in particular, leading to headlines like “Bee  Activists Swarm Home Depot and Lowes.”

Though the impact of HD and Lowes changing their ways would be huge, bee-lovers aren’t holding their breath waiting for them to take action.  Groups like Friends of the Earth  aimed more locally and approached the beloved family-owned Behnkes Nurseries about the problem, and got results.  Behnkes president Alfred Millard announced changes the company is making on their website:  stopping the sale of neonics, not using them on the plants it sells, and giving preference to growers who don’t use the pesticide.  (Full disclosure, I’ve been a Behnkes customer for decades and now blog for them.)



It’s too soon to know the effect this move will have on the company’s bottom line, but immediately upon the announcement local writer Alison Gillespie wrote “Behnkes to Avoid Neonicotinoids!

I would like to officially salute Behnke’s Nurseries in Maryland for making a bold statement on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides.  ….I am tremendously proud of this local nursery and so very appreciative that they are making an effort to give gardeners in the DC Metro area a place to find plants that are truly pollinator-friendly.

And later, in bold:

I would love to see statements like this from other nurseries.  I would gladly publicize them on this blog.

So garden shoppers and especially shoppers who blog or use social media, how about suggesting to your favorite garden center that they take action on this bee-killing pesticide and promising that if they do, you’ll shout about it from your digital rooftop?

Karen Coppens, Evelyn Hadden, Larry Hurley, Becky Beaver and Alfred Millard

Here’s the Rant’s own Evelyn with Behnkes perennial department folks and president Alfred Millard.


  1. The Wu studies are fundamentally flawed and have been heavily criticized by entymologists studying CCD because the dose of imidicloprid used in the studies are not field realistic but 10x field realistic dosages. The biggest danger from neonics is not the low dosage from pollen and nectar but improperly applied seed coat treatment.

    • Thanks for pointing this out. I am all for saving the bees, in fact I can’t think of anyone who actively wants to kill them, but I also can’t stand misinformation, flawed studies that get used as reference and media sound bites that fuel conflict instead of resolution.

    • The study highlighted by FOE acknowledges the difference between field applied and plant applied neonics because that is exactly how the insecticide is actually used by garden suppliers and nurseries. The concentrations are more heavily applied in garden plants. The study also advises these neonics leach into the soil and contaminate any other plants in the soil. The EPA has allowed this poison on a temporary basis – for years – showing us how infiltrated our government agencies are with industry appointees. We/our planet cannot survive if bee, insects and the part of the food chain that ingests them, dies. It’s not about a beautiful poison free garden anymore, it’s about survival and sustainability of our plants, for your children and grandchildren and I for one am having no more of business as usual.

    • The Xerces overview is a pretty good one. The number one takeaway being that residential application rates on the lavels are too high and should be brouht down to agricultural rates as it specifically states that agricutural rates are extremely unlikely to cause acute harm. The long term effects of subleathal doses are not yet clear. They also specifically state that CCD is a complex syndrome with a variety of synergistic causes. This is accurate and the accepted understanding of CCD. It is not believed that simply getting rid of neonics will solve the problem. There are millions of bees that get exposed to neonics that don’t collapse. The flourishing of urban bees in some areas has to be resolved with the residential use of neonics.

      I think we have to be careful about throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Neonics are a lot safer than what they replaced. We should definitely be careful about their application like with any pesticide. We should definitely integrate the most recent research into the labels and application rates. Calendar applications are definitely problematic.

      The moves of nurseries to not use neonics just strikes the cynic in me as a marketing move to draw market share back from the big box stores.

      • Agree with you about the report, and especially those residential figures! Another big takeaway for me was the recorded persistence in soils. That always gets me worried about long-term cumulative and synergistic effects.

        I would love to see growers develop more successful IPM strategies to replace the spraying regimens. Of course there are many barriers. More local growing and selling of small plants would help with this, but that is not where the profits are.

        If it’s a marketing move, I hope it works.

        • I don’t know what the retail nurseries are like where there are actual winters, except for the high prices. I about died many years ago when I was back in Ohio and my mother wanted help planting some window boxes and I saw the prices. Being able to sell plants all year long does have its advantages. However, the quality of the plant stock in our retail nurseries can be absolutely terrible compared to bbs stock. The bbs stock isn’t great either, but they at least have enough turnover that plants don’t sit in the same pots for years getting more and more root bound. The independents generally take better care of annuals but not always. I don’t know any that I would buy a big shrub or tree from. Instead of pulling market share by preying on the fears of customers, I would like to see them supply higher quality plant stock.

        • I’m glad you talked about persistence in the soil, Evelyn, because that is another head of this hydra.
          My issue is why use them at all? I have alot of sympathy and empathy for ag workers, nursery workers, and the hort industry at large – this IS a business, of course, but finding better ways to do things that don’t risk undermining our population of beneficial insects and pollinators has to be a good thing for everyone. Neonicotinoids are disruptors of the central nervous system – it is how it works as an insecticide. I simply don’t think we need to be taking chances with our environment when the same ends can be achieved by other, safer means. A change in policy will benefit everybody in the end, I believe, and I am so thrilled that businesses are starting to change policies for the better!

      • Skr, what corporation have you been hired by to tamp down discussions on websites bringing this issue to light and discussing it? Folks, the “cynic in me” has seen this same posting on multiple sites and I find it highly suspicious. I cannot imagine the chemical business producing these poisons are too thrilled about losing billions of dollars if they have to take this off the market. They really don’t care about the harm it does, just that the public will know about it and decry it’s use. Scientists have been pointing to neonics for years but their funding is always threatened if they are too vocal and don’t use caveats like “the science it there yet” or “we don’t think the threat is as great as some have suggested.” It’s time for a change in business and this is an important place to start!

  2. The local garden radio host is always touting systemics. We need to learn more about this.

    It’s nice to see the USDA stepping up to address the issue of pollinator decline.
    My insectivore nest box trail is located on the USDA property right near Behnke’s.

    For the 20 years I have done this, I can certainly see the pollinator loss and, of course, the effect on insectivores.

    I think the focus on floral forage is extremely important. I’d like to see recommendations from USDA regarding this topic. Habitat loss is accelerating as more farms for food are needed to feed the world. I know there has been a new focus on forage at USDA here in Beltsville, however, I think it could be approached differently and I am meeting with the ecology committee shortly.
    Of course, there is little federal money for this topic as I know you know.

    Any way, you might find this interesting:,-but-losses-remain-significant#.U5X3OXYfgf0

  3. Hmmm, these comments are getting really deep and a little too sophisticated.

    For me, it’s very simple. If not using a certain pesticide saves the bees, then fine. I’ll do it and ask local garden centers to do the same.

    • Agree with Laura. Bottom line is, neonics continue to harm bees long after application…and for those buying plants to attract pollinators, this is completely unacceptable.

  4. Susan , I am a buyer for an independent garden center in Northern California. We made a conscious decision to discontinue neonicotinoids this year. We also discontinued Sevin . These were all high margin/high volume items. This has had no negative effect on our revenue, and we are still up from last year. It’s important for sales staff to be trained to offer alternatives to customers who are looking for these products, without appearing self-righteous . We have no regrets, and incorporate IPM practices into our customer recommendations.

  5. ks, if retail customers opt not to use IPM practices, what will they be purchasing rather than neonics or Sevin? I agree with ‘skr’ that banning neonics is unlikely to answer the problem of CCD. A common example given is that Australia uses neonics and does not have bee declines.

    When it comes to home use of pesticides, it’s worth getting a little sophisticated. I worry that removing neonics will lead to the application of more toxic alternatives.

    Bug Girl has a good overview of the issues here.

    • Fiona Gilsenan# Australia is having problems the same as everyone else and we are all very aware of the effects of Neos. As a professional horticulturist I rarely recommended the product in the first place and now openly encourage its non-use. What we don’t have as yet due to very rigid quarantine are some if the other horrendous diseases n bugs that also attack hives. See how we go fighting those off. Cheers

  6. Thanks for this. I just started gardening a few years ago and, the more I learn, the more shocked I am at how downright toxic gardening can be if you don’t know any better.

    When I first learned about neonicitnoids I approached two of my favorite local nurseries (because they both market themselves as local and sustainable sources for plants & products). I was SO disappointed to hear that many of their plants come from outside suppliers who themselves use pesticides. I have no doubt that the majority of their customers just assume that everything is 100% safe, including for the creatures that share their gardens.

    That said, I absolutely agree with one of the earlier comments: It’s important for retailers (and experienced gardeners who know the truth) to help educate other gardeners without appearing self-righteous. Belligerence isn’t going to help — education and helping gardeners find truly safe solutions will.

  7. Nature bats last. I do realize the neonicotiods were developed as a safer alternative to an earlier class of pesticides, but once again, we’ve unleashed powerful chemicals on the world without fully understanding their impacts. We need to adopt the precautionary principle. Don’t worry, I won’t hold my breath. You may be right in the short term, Fiona, when you say people will use more dangerous chemicals if we ban these dangerous chemicals, but then I guess we just need to be working to get those off the shelves as well, don’t we? We shouldn’t grow things we can’t grow without the use of dangerous chemicals. Companies should be required to prove their products are safe rather than the public needing to prove they are not safe. It feels crazy needing to wonder if I’m actually poisoning bees rather than benefitting them when adding more nectar rich flowers.

  8. Wonderful comments and thank you for this post! I will share it with our local nurseries and hope they do the right thing. We need to move forward, not waste time arguing over things we know are harmful and need to be changed.

  9. So if neonics are conclusively safe, why did the European Union ban them? The home of the Enlightenment isn’t exactly an anti-science kind of place.

  10. Frank, the EU operates based on a much stricter precautionary principle than the US. Plenty of people have concerns about the effectiveness of the ban, especially since there are no good procedures in place to study the effects, and farmers are very concerned about what they’ll need to use instead. And I think they’ve only banned three types of neonics and then only for certain crops that are bee-pollinated. So it’s a bit of a mess.

    For anyone who loves bees (and who doesn’t) I recommend Dave Goulson’s book A Sting in the Tale. Although it’s set in England, it’s a wonderful read about bumblebees and their very intriguing habits. Here’s a piece by him that sums up the situation here in Europe.

  11. Sadly, I have been going through my flower bed and pulling the plants I bought at Lowe’s because I cannot take the chance of killing more bees. I am planting heirlooms and indigenous plants instead. The report presented by Friends of the Earth also posited that it is possible the bats who eat the mosquitoes and bugs that have ingested these poisons, have had their immune system compromised and as a result are succumbing to all types of diseases. As an aside, I spoke with my local extension office and was advised that in my area on Lake Superior, they expect a massive die off of bats in 2015. It will be so dramatic it will not be ignored.

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