US study finds 'bee friendly' plants contain neonicotinoids

Many "bee friendly" home garden plants sold at Home Depot, Lowe’s and other leading US garden centres have been pre-treated with pesticides shown to harm and kill bees, according to a new, first-of-its-kind pilot study released today by Friends of the Earth and allies.

The pilot study, co-authored by the Pesticide Research Institute, found that seven of 13 samples of garden plants bought at retailers in Washington D.C., the San Francisco Bay Area and Minneapolis contain neonicotinoids.

The report, Gardeners Beware: Bee-Toxic Pesticides Found in "Bee-Friendly" Plants Sold at Garden Centers Nationwide found 54 per cent of common garden plants studied contained neonicotinoid pesticides.

In the samples with detections, concentrations ranged from 11 to 1,500 micrograms per kilogram (μg/kg or parts per billion) of plant material.

The report gave recommendations for garden retailers:

• Do not sell off-the-shelf neonicotinoid insecticides for home garden use.
• Demand neonicotinoid-free vegetable and bedding plants from suppliers and do not sell plants pre-treated with these pesticides.
• Educate your customers on why your company has made the decision to protect bees
and other pollinators.
Recommendations for wholesale nursery operations supplying retailers:
• Use only untreated seeds for plants grown from seed.
• Do not use neonicotinoid insecticide soil drenches, granules, or foliar treatments when growing vegetable and bedding plants.
• Offer neonicotinoid-free and organic vegetable and bedding plants to your customers
and label them as such.
• Inform your customers about why your nursery operation made the choice to limit the use of neonicotinoid pesticides.
• If quarantine regulations require use of systemic insecticides on certain plants that are hosts for invasive pests, treat only those plants, and minimize the number of treatments.
Use pest exclusion systems wherever possible to avoid having to treat plants.

The European Union is set to suspend the use of three neonic pesticides later this year, after a scientific review by European Food Safety Authority found that neonicotinoids pose an unacceptably high risk to bees.

Friends of the Earth food and technology program director Lisa Archer said: "Our investigation is the first to show that so called ‘bee-friendly’ garden plants contain pesticides that can poison bees, with no warning to gardeners. Bees are essential to our food system and they are dying at alarming rates. Neonic pesticides are a key part of the problem we can start to fix right now in our own backyards."

Friends of the Earth, Sum of Us and allies have sent letters, along with petitions signed by more than 175,000 people, to Lowe’s, Home Depot, Target and other garden retailers asking the stores to stop selling neonicotinoids and plants pre-treated with the pesticides. Many  of the UK’s largest garden retailers, including Homebase, B&Q and Wickes, have already stopped selling neonics. The new U.S. campaign can be found at:

"The pilot study confirms that many of the plants sold in nurseries and garden stores across the US have been pre-treated with systemic neonicotinoid insecticides, making them potentially toxic to pollinators," said Timothy Brown, PhD, of the Pesticide Research Institute. "Unfortunately, these pesticides don’t break down quickly. They remain in the plants and the soil and can continue to affect pollinators for months to years after the treatment."

The US Environmental Protection Agency has delayed action until 2018.

HTA horticulture head Raoul Curtis-Machin said this week: "It may be that when you have a bug like vine weevil we could be inflicting a lot of damage on the nursery industry and gardens if we take out the neonicotinoids used in the production. There's not enough evidence at the moment that these specific chemicals are harming bees."

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Sign up now
Already registered?
Sign in

Read These Next



The range of colours and flowering times makes for cheerful and economic displays, Miranda Kimberley reports.

Pitches - seeds and consumables

Pitches - seeds and consumables

The right seeding and inputs are essential for keeping grass in top condition and ensuring that pitches look and perform at their best, says Sally Drury.



Customers do not often know about the different leaf colours and shapes offered by hollies, Miranda Kimberley reports.

Opinion... Standardisation good for the trade

Opinion... Standardisation good for the trade

Horticulture could benefit from streamlining in the supply chain.

Opinion... Get rid of plastics in Horticulture

Opinion... Get rid of plastics in Horticulture

Blue Planet II eloquently showed the rich tapestry of life in the oceans. It also focused public awareness on plastic pollution damaging wildlife.

Opinion... Gardening needs better promotion

Opinion... Gardening needs better promotion

British horticultural firms and organisations have not been the best at working together to promote our industry.

Follow us on:
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • Google +
Horticulture Jobs
More Horticulture Jobs

Horticulture Week Top 60 Ornamentals nurseries

See our exclusive ranking of ornamentals nurseries by annual turnover. 

Tim Edwards

Boningales Nursery chairman Tim Edwards on the business of ornamentals production

Read Tim Edwards

Pest & Disease Tracker bulletin 

The latest pest and disease alerts, how to treat them, plus EAMU updates, sent direct to your inbox.

Sign up here

Are you a landscape supplier?

Horticulture Week Landscape Project Leads

If so, you should be receiving our new service for Horticulture Week subscribers delivering landscape project leads from live, approved, planning applications across the UK.

Peter Seabrook

Inspiration and insight from travels around the horticultural world

Read more Peter Seabrook articles