Update on Neonics

Practicing beekeeping for over 20 years, I have seen the precipitous decline in bee populations. I just lost all three of my beehives this past year, more than at any time in my beekeeping career. Yes, I can replace them, but it is costly at about $180 for each mini beehive nuc. At that point, it becomes an expensive hobby! Last year, according to the USDA, my state of Maryland lost 61% of their honeybee populations, which is two times higher than the national average.

A newly installed package of bees in the spring
This pesticide contains neonics

Segue into what is making it problematic in keeping bees and that is the continued use of neonics (neonicotonoids), a systemic pesticide that persists in all the plant parts,  plus habitat loss. So, are you seeing products containing neonics in stores? You shouldn’t be in Maryland, where I live. As of May 31, 2017, there is a state ban on consumer use of neonicotinoid pesticides  slated to take effect Jan. 1, 2018, after Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan  announced that he will allow S.B. 198/H.B. 211 to become law without his signature. Maryland is actually set to be the first state in the U.S. to ban neonicotinoids for consumer usage. However, it’s important to note that other pesticides affect bees too, and we will have to do much more than simply banning this class of pesticides. As of Jan 1, 2018, all such products containing neonics should have been removed in the state of Maryland.

Don’t spray herbicides on your dandelions-let the bees gather nectar and pollen from them

Check your store and the label of common products (such as Bayer Rose & Flower Care) for neonic chemicals with ingredient names like: acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, thiacloprid, thiamethoxam, nitenpyram, and nithiazine. If you see a product containing any of these chemicals, please take a picture with your phone and send in the store name, location and date to Maryland Dept. of Agriculture Pesticide Regulation Program, Dennis Howard, email: dennis.howard@maryland.gov.

Dead honeybee

Unfortunately, the legislation does include exceptions for farmers and veterinarians, though it still marks a step in the right direction. Another exception involves pet care products, particularly those related to fleas, mites, ticks, and heartworms. Anyone who violates this rule will be forced to pay a $250 fine. Homeowners are known for applying extremely high levels of neonics by not following directions and thinking that the more insecticide they apply the better.

Neonicotinoid pesticides contribute to mortality of all pollinators such as bees, birds and butterflies. Non-pesticide-related threats — loss of forage or parasites — are made worse by neonicotinoid exposure.

Pesticide use affects all our pollinators; go to Neonic-Pesticide Free Nurseries

Pollinator extinction poses a huge threat to food security, because about 75 percent of all foods crops require a pollinator to grow.

Spurred by the high level of bee losses, several cities have enacted outright bans on neonicotinoids. Several states, like California, Alaska, New York, and Massachusetts, are currently considering legislation that would ban neonicotinoids, though none of the proposals have made it through the state’s legislature.

I found these still on the shelf at a local Big Box Store in Maryland and emailed the State of Maryland

Pesticide Free Nurseries and Seed Companies


After picking out dead honeybees from a honeycomb frame recently, I pledged to use only plants that are neonic free. Neonics or neonicitonoids have been implicated in recent bee declines as well as other factors, such as loss of habitat and the bee parasite- the varroa mite. There are a number of studies that have conflicting findings and beekeepers aren’t convinced that there is a number one cause. See this article at The Huffington Post and you will be even more unsure what to believe. But I think that limiting the use of neonics will help.img_4460

Many gardeners have contacted me who say they are no longer buying plants from regular retail nurseries and seed companies because there is no way to tell if the pollinator-attracting plants they are purchasing have been treated with Neonicotinoids/imidacloprid, etc. As a beekeeper, I am interested in keeping my property free of these systemic pesticides.


Honeybees bring back pollen to the hive from flowers that could be contaminated with neonics


Plant Nurseries that don’t use Neonics

Some are wholesale and some are retail; the wholesale ones sell to your local nurseries 

Annie’s Annuals – CA

Arrowhead Alpines – WI

Behnkes Nursery – MD, If the plant is listed as Pollinator Friendly, it hasn’t been treated with neonics

Bluestone Perennials – OH

Brushwood Vines – GA

Dancing Oaks – OR

Dawn’s Wild Things – NY

Digging Dog – CA

EcoTulips – VA

Edible Landscaping – VA

Far Reaches Farm – WA

Fernwood Nursery & Gardens, ME

Forest Farm – OR

Greener Earth Nursery – OR

High Country Gardens – NM/CO

Hostas Direct – MN

Iseli Nursery- OR

Joy Creek Nursery – OR

Lazy S’s Farm Nursery – VA

Mountain Valley Growers – CA

Niche Gardens – NC

Plant Delights-NC

Prairie Moon Nursery – MN

Prairie Nursery – WI

Rolling River Nursery – CA

Santa Rosa Gardens – FL

Select Seeds – CT ,They also sell plants

Streambank Gardens – DE

The Tasteful Garden – AL

Tripple Brook Farm – MA

Valley View Farms– MD, Read their policy concerning pesticide use at the link provided

Walters Gardens-MI, this is a wholesale nursery that provides a lot of Proven Winners Plants

Xera Plants – OR

Big Box

Lowe’s garden stores and BJ’s Wholesale Club have agreed to phase out all neonic-treated products on their shelves.  Home Depot has asked its suppliers to label any plants treated with neonics.  Many local garden stores are doing the same.

This is where it all starts-Monarchs mating
Neonics affect all insects, not just honeybees

Should you boycott nurseries that use neonicotinoids?

No! Many trees, conifers, ornamental grasses, ferns, and other plants provide habitat and tremendous wildlife value and don’t attract pollinators. There is no need to throw out the diverse array of plants available from these nurseries.

Every certified backyard habitat has a variety of plants-pollinator attracting ones and evergreens that shelter animals
Every certified backyard habitat has a variety of plants-pollinator attracting ones and evergreens that shelter animals

Neonics are both good and bad. Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater! The application process is relatively safe in comparison to spraying of the old-time organic phosphate chemicals.  The old chemicals that were applied were a lot more toxic because they left a residue. The difference with Neonicotinoids is that they are watered in and taken up by the plant roots to permeate the plant internally, all throughout the plant tissues. For a great article disputing that neonics are causing pollinator problems, go to Financial Post. This article says that “Neonics are a minor issue for bee health and the continued false allegations are pulling resources away from stopping the real threat” and that according to an apiculture scientist there are three top reasons for bee colony death and they are “varroa mites, varroa mites, and varroa mites”. These tiny parasite like ticks suck the blood from bees and they can weaken the entire hive.

Pollen is collected from flowers and carried by the bee to the hive
Pollen is collected from flowers and carried by the bee to the hive

The problem for bees is the pollen that they collect. When plants treated with a neonicotinoid produce flowers and pollen, the pesticide is concentrated within the pollen and bees bring it home to their hive, where even small amounts can affect the health of the bee.

Bumblebees are affected by neonics like honeybees
Bumblebees are affected by neonics like honeybees

Many nursery owners who use neonics say they take precautions by not applying them when the plant is in bloom.Though growers who use neonics say they take these precautions, the chemical is still carried through the entire plant system-enough to harm honeybees.

Some seed companies that don’t use neonics

Seed Companies that don’t use Neonics

  • Adaptive Seed
  • All Good Things Organic Seeds
  • Annie’s Heirloom Seeds
  • Baker Creek
  • Blue River Hybrids
  • Botanical Interests
  • Burpee
  • Denali Seed Company
  • Fedco
  • Goodwin Creek Gardens
  • Grow Organic
  • Gurney’s Seed Nursery Co
  • Harris Seeds
  • High Mowing Seeds 
  • Horizon Herbs
  • Hudson Valley Seed Library
  • Johnny’s Selected Seeds 
  • Maine Potato Lady
  • Native Seeds
  • Northeast Seeds
  • Peaceful Valley
  • Pinetree Seeds
  • Renee’s Garden
  • Seed Savers
  • Southern Exposure
  • Sustainable Seed Company
  • Territorial Seed

Other plant sources that are usually safe

Local native plant sales (ask to be 100% sure). Local farmer’s markets ( many growers are not organic and so it is important to ask). If you shop at big box stores and aren’t sure where the plants come from, the grower’s label is usually applied to the pot.Where Can I Find More Information?

So much has been written on this subject and here is some further reading:Xerces Society

Buying Bee-Friendly PlantsHow Your Bee-Friendly Garden May Actually be Killing BeesA Native Bee RancherBeyond PesticidesHome Depot to Label Neonics