Gardeners know just how crucial bees are, but if you bought your flowers from a major retailer, you may be hurting your pollinators not helping them.
"We know that no bees means no food," said Shaina Kasper of the Toxics Action Center.
The problem is neonicotinoid insecticides, which can be applied to the plants as adults or seeds. Those are deadly to bees and believed to be one of the causes of the sharp decline in bee populations worldwide. According to a new study, 23 percent of flowers and trees sold in major retailers nationwide have been treated with bee-toxic pesticides. That's down about 50 percent from three years ago. At a news conference Tuesday, activists cited the study saying gardeners want the toxins out of their plants and are more likely to shop at places that are bee-safe.
"We've known for years that neonics kill bees, and we should be phasing them out. We're really glad that businesses are starting to listen," Kasper said.
Businesses and cities-- like Burlington. The Queen City wasn't included in Tuesday's study, but this spring, the City Council unanimously passed a resolution banning pesticide application on city land and starting the push to only use plants that have not been treated. They're hoping to make it a formal change in the fall.
"There definitely can be an extra cost to making sure that we're sourcing, particularly if you're sourcing organic plants and flowers," said Jesse Bridges, Burlington Parks director. "But that, we think, is worth it-- certainly worth it-- because without the bees, we have nothing."
The challenge for home gardeners is often finding plants that have not been treated with the pesticides. There is no requirement to label whether a plant has or hasn't been. But there are still a few things you can look for.
At Gardener's Supply in Williston, nursery manager Todd Fisher knows they don't use pesticides here. He says gardeners can also look for local or organic plants, because the flowers they source from Vermont don't use the neonics. But he says he'd like to see a labeling requirement for others.
"It's impossible for us to determine what plants have had them," Fisher said.
He says this time of year, many customers also come in for products to get rid of unwanted bugs or diseases without thinking about the bees.
"We remind people that the pesticide doesn't discriminate," Fisher said. "It lands on a flower, that bee lands on the flower, then takes that back to the hive."
He hopes that by generating buzz in the store about the dangers of pesticides, they can keep the pollinators coming back to their customers' gardens.
If you're shopping at a major retailer for your plants, the study says Home Depot and Lowe's have committed to phasing out pesticide use and labeling some treated plants. Others like Ace Hardware, True Value and Wal-Mart have not.
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