Wildlife gardeners have been fighting an uphill battle against the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, the ones that are thought to be responsible for colony collapse disorder in honeybees. One of the most heartbreaking things is that recently, many home gardeners have become aware that the bee-friendly plants they have planted in their gardens specifically to help out honeybees have actually been part of the problem, because so many commercial growers use this type of long-lasting systemic pesticide. It can last in the plant for over a year and comes out in the plants’ pollen, so those wonderful honeybee-friendly plantings have actually been, in some cases, responsible for continuing to hurt our honeybee populations.
So you can imagine my delight when I got the email last week that Skagit Gardens nursery in Washington has decided to discontinue the use of these pesticides as of January 1, 2015. I called them up to get the scoop, and I learned from Lisa Hervieux, their marketing director, that you and I, the end consumers at retail garden shops, were directly responsible for this change. “Whether or not the evidence is completely conclusive, it’s clear that there is real concern about it,” she says. “The impetus for this change came from home gardeners asking about it at garden centers, both the smaller local shops and big-box garden centers like Lowe’s.”
Isn’t it wonderful to know that regular people like you and I can make such a big difference just by asking these important questions at our local garden centers? Skagit Gardens sells a huge number of plants to retail stores and is known for their high-end selection of perennials, so this change is a big win for the honeybees.
I asked Hervieux about how they prepared to discontinue using neonicotinoids. “It’s not easy, and consumers need to appreciate that,” she says. “We have as a company been trying out alternative biological and organic controls. Even though it is more time-consuming and expensive to investigate and use these methods, it is important for the environment and for our pollinator populations.”
If you find this news as encouraging as I do, here’s what you can do to continue helping the world be a safer place for honeybees:
Keep on asking your local garden center whether the grower of the plant you are about to purchase used neonicotinoids. As you can see, ordinary gardeners can create pressure from the ground up for growers to do the right thing and make these kinds of positive changes.
When a company does decide to discontinue using neonicotinoids, or has never used them at all, be sure to support them by purchasing their plants whenever possible. If you can’t determine whether or not the company is neonicotinoid-free, err on the side of caution and support plants that are labeled as organic or companies that you know avoid this particular pesticide, like Skagit Gardens.
Remember that choosing biological or organic methods of control often costs more for the company, so when you are purchasing from a company like this who is making an ethical choice, try not to be so price conscious, because it’s worth paying more when the health of our environment and our pollinators is at stake.
When you learn about new growers who are avoiding neonicotinoids, spread the news and tell your friends, family, and garden club members, and be sure to educate people at your local garden centers if they don’t know.
Big thanks and congratulations to Skagit Gardens for making this positive change. I have long admired their Gold Collection Hellebores and other premium perennials, and now I feel even better about supporting their company through buying their plants.
Related reading: Honeybee-friendly pesticides