Did you know you can unwittingly expose pollinators to harmful pesticides? Some plant growers still use strong insecticides when growing their garden plants. Neonicotinoids, commonly referred to as “neonics,” are very toxic to pollinators, beneficial insects, and aquatic invertebrates, and are the most widely used class of insecticides in the world. The active ingredients in neonic containing products are absorbed into the plant and circulated throughout it, making the entire plant, including pollen and nectar, toxic to pollinators that feed on them. The insecticide’s potentially long-lasting presence in plants makes it possible for these chemicals to harm pollinators even when the initial application is made months before the bloom period.
New studies from the University of California, finds that neonics not only directly affect bee health, but effects from past exposure can carry over to future generations. So, what can a gardener do to protect our invaluable pollinators?
- Avoid using pesticides. Try the least toxic approach for managing pests – use cultural, mechanical, and biological control methods first.
- Choose plants suited to your environment and select disease and pest-resistant plant varieties.
- Grow a variety of flowers that provide nectar and pollen and that bloom at various times, spring through fall.
- Plant native flowering plants choosing species that are naturally resistant to insect pests.
- Provide habitat by leaving patches of bare ground and brush piles or installing nesting blocks for solitary bees, and plant caterpillar host plants for butterflies and moths.
- Shop at smaller nurseries, green houses, and garden centers that grow their own stock or purchase them locally. Check plant labels or ask staff whether the plants have been treated with neonicotinoids.
Fortunately, many retailers and wholesalers have recognized the risk and have eliminated use of neonics. You can find lists of neonic-free nurseries (including small local native nurseries) online.