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Bee-Safe Nursery Plants

A view down a row of display tables in an outdoor plant nursery. The flowers are red, yellow, purple, lilac, and white.
Photo: Nancy Kennedy, iStock

Are you creating or enhancing pollinator habitat in your yard, a public park, or other space? If so, take time to ensure you have bee-safe plants for your project.

Be aware that nurseries—even those producing pollinator plants—may have treated their plants with pesticides. Growers are very sensitive to consumer intolerance for plant damage, and sometimes states mandate pesticide applications to prevent the spread of certain pests. Toxic levels of insecticides and high levels of fungicides have been detected in nursery plants repeatedly. Unfortunately, bees and butterflies may encounter risks from the commonplace use of pesticides during plant production, which can leave residues on or in plants.

Creating a welcoming home for pollinators is reason enough to choose plants free from harmful pesticide residues. But how do you figure out if the plant you want is safe? How do you learn if the nurseries you patronize actively prevents pest problems instead of relying on pesticides as a routine fix?

Talk to your nursery! Let them know you want plants free of harmful pesticide contamination. Nurseries are more likely to make investments in pollinator-friendly production if their customers make it clear this is what they want. Our guide, Buying Bee-Safe Plants, covers four ways to help you find plants that are safe for bees, and includes tips and questions to use at the nursery. In particular, we recommend that you:

  • Ask for USDA certified organic plants and seeds,,
  • Avoid plants grown with neonicotinoids and similar insecticides,
  • Shop at nurseries that practice pollinator-friendly pest management, and/or
  • Grow your own plants.

 

What is Pollinator-Friendly Pest Management?

Three core elements of pollinator-friendly growing include using non-chemical methods to prevent and manage pests, monitoring of pest pressure, and limiting risk to pollinators if pesticides are used. These concepts are rooted in integrated pest management and are familiar to most growers. Our new resource, Offering Bee-Safe Nursery Plants: A Guide for Nurseries, explains these concepts further and was created for nurseries and retailers to explore, encourage, and implement pollinator friendly pest-management. The guide provides a starting point for retailers to inquire into the management practices of their suppliers, and for growers to assess their own practices. It also offers a deeper dive for those consumers who want to learn more about sustainable practices.

 

Get Involved - Join Xerces Days of Action This Spring!

Join with Xerces Society in a nationwide effort to protect pollinators this spring. We will be telling garden centers and nurseries that we want plants free of pesticides that might harm pollinators and we need your voices!

Sign up for one or more of our nationwide Days of Action. The Days of Action are scheduled for Saturday March 13 and Thursday April 22 (Earth Day). By joining a Day of Action, you're making a commitment to go visit, call, or write to your local garden center or nursery, to ask for plants free of pesticides that could hurt pollinators. Sign up in advance at this link.

When you visit your nursery or garden center, use the talking points and questions in the fact sheet Buying Bee-Safe Plants and share a copy of the Offering Bee-Safe Plants: A Guide for Nurseries with the nursery manager.  To be most prepared, attend our webinar on February 26Buying Bee-Safe Plants: How You Can Help. The webinar will provide you with tools for identifying pollinator-friendly growing practices in nurseries and greenhouses, and will help you develop a plan for talking to your nurseries. Register here.

 

Spread the Word

Share these materials with friends and neighbors. Let your social media contacts know what you’re doing too. You can post Xerces tips about how to buy bee-safe plants by linking to this web page. While you are at it, tag with #BeeSafePlants to increase exposure. And don’t forget to post and tag when you’ve asked your nursery questions about their use of pollinator-friendly production practices—you’ll inspire others to do the same.

 

Resources

Buying Bee-Safe Plants (fact sheet)

Offering Bee-Safe Nursery Plants: A Guide for Nurseries (fact sheet)

Pollinator Conservation Resource Center