Pollinator killing plants: questions to ask nurseries

Pollinator killing plants: questions to ask nurseries

I’ve been besieged with a lot of email petitions recently about  a pesticide called neonicotinoids (neonics for short), found in some plants sold by nurseries, which has been shown to kill bees, butterflies and other pollinators – so the word is definitely out. When pollinators visit the flowers or caterpillars eat the leaves of the pre-treated plant, they die. There’s a concern to humans too, as herbs also are being sprayed (see example below).  So what can we do? I received info from the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP) in Seattle WA, regarding questions people should ask their nurseries.

Questions to Ask Your Nursery 

I’ve supported NCAP for years because of the great work they do to reduce pesticide use. To raise awareness and decrease neonic use, please ask your nurseries the questions below.

  • Are your plants or seeds treated with neonicotinoids? (neonics for short)
  • Do you know which of your suppliers use them?
  • Would you consider removing neonicotinoid applications and treated plants from your shelves?
Bee on cherry bloom

Bee on cherry bloom

I called a small local nursery, Johnny’s Nursery in Redlands and talked to co-owner Tess Chadwick. Because they grow their own plants, they do not have plants with neonics. She did admit, however, that they do occasionally get plants from other suppliers and said she does not know for sure their practices.

My take: buy from local nurseries, or any labelled organic. And nurseries may not know — but it’s important to ask.

Examples of problems

I’ve mentioned this issue in my blogs since I first heard about people raising butterflies whose caterpillars occasionally died after eating milkweed or other nursery plants. But those who went back to the nursery were always informed they didn’t spray the plants. The problem seemed to be the vendors that sold the plants to the nursery. For example, there’s Christine Cury in Florida – I posted her experience at the end of my post about milkweed and monarchs.

If Nature Could Talk Home Depot container of butterfly killing milkweed

Christine Cury’s milkweed container bought at Home Depot, which killed her monarch caterpillars

Cury purchased milkweed  in April, 2013 at a Home Depot (15885 Rick Case Honda Way) in Davie Florida. She had too little milkweed for her many monarch caterpillars. “By the next day there was one dead caterpillar and the others were throwing up green liquid and squirming. It was terrible,” she said. When she returned them, the employee repeatedly said they didn’t use pesticides on their plants.

I followed up with Stephen Holmes from corporate Home Depot and frankly, got the run-around one year ago. In several emails he was still checking, including an email in June 2013 saying the following:  “I’m a little stumped as to what we can contribute to this, frankly. But to clarify, our associates do not treat the plants. Any insecticides are applied by the vendor at their nurseries. I’ll reach out to the merchants again to see if I can come up with anything.”

Recent Update from Home Depot: Just heard back from Holmes today – 8/15/14 – and I’m glad to say it sounds like they are addressing the issue. He said, “We’ve been deeply engaged in understanding the relationship of the use of certain insecticides on our live goods and the decline in the honey-bee population. Our vice president of environmental has been in communication with the EPA, insecticide industry and our suppliers for many months to understand the science and monitor the research. We are also very encouraged and support the White House’s Pollinator Health Task Force…. We’ll also require all of our live goods suppliers to label plants that they have treated with Neonicotinoids by fourth quarter 2014.”

One of Christine Cury's adult monarchs successfully raised on non-sprayed  milkweed

One of Christine Cury’s adult monarchs successfully raised on non-sprayed

A more recent and concerning example: I also checked in with So. CA resident Monika Moore, who runs a monarch station, and has bred and supported butterflies for years. She recently bought some fennel for her swallowtail caterpillars at Armstrong Nursery in Huntington Beach, CA. “They all died from the fennel. The thing is I did not give it a second thought that they might treat fennel, we as humans eat fennel,” adding that it takes up to ten weeks for insecticides to wear off.

For me, it’s another reason to eat organic, which assures pesticides are never used.

For more info on neonics and campaigns to reduce use:

Pesticides in Bee-friendly plants study

NCAP Neonics Product Examples

Xerces Society article “Are Neonicotinoids Killing Bees?

EPA Review of Neonicotinoids and other pesticides

Friends of the Earth campaign

Note: Neonicotinoid is a mix of a number of active ingredients: acetamiprid, clothianidin, dinotefuran, imidacloprid, thiacloprid, thiamexthoxam

About Linda Richards

My goal is to educate about the science of nature in layperson speak, through my writing, science and education background. I grew up in the Chicago area, loved living in Minneapolis before gravitating to the West, which is now home.


  1. Carolyn M. Thomas says:

    Thank you for all you are sleuthing. Wonderful. I have nary a bee in my garden where I am located near Cherry orchards. I have zillions of bees when the Cherry orchards bring in bees.
    My daughter who lives 1.5 miles farther from the orchards has many bees.
    Because of this, I support all you do.
    Do you know if schools are still spraying? I guess it is up to me to find out. So many children and teachers were sick after the janitor sprayed. That is several years ago before I retired.
    It was sad to see all the dandelions on the playground withered with the children rolling around on the ground like they do.

    • Hello, thanks for the feedback. I don’t know about spraying tho I think most still do, might want to check with NCAP in the NW, as they seem far ahead with school pesticide use, and might be able to direct you more on that. – Linda

  2. I got a plant from Home Depot that says it is treated with Monica. I was going to put it in the cage for my snake but now I’m doubting if it will harm him or not.

    • Hi, I tried reaching a person at Home Depot – hopefully you tried their garden manager and if no response, their corporate office? – but haven’t heard back. Don’t know and not finding anything online – anyone know what Monica treatment is?

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