Study: Bee-friendly plants killing bees

Bees pollinate flowers in a community garden in Northwest Washington, D.C. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)

WASHINGTON – As bee colonies dwindle nationwide, many area gardeners who intended to help bees may have hurt them instead.

Bee-friendly garden plants sold in D.C. at retailers Home Depot and Lowes are treated with a pesticide that is toxic to bees, a new study says.

“Many home gardens have become a source of harm for bees without gardeners knowing it,” says Lisa Archer, director of the food and technology program at Friends of the Earth.

The pilot study determined the extent of neonicotinoid contamination in nurseries, as Fast Company first reported.

The study found 54 percent of the 26 nursery garden plants sampled had been pretreated with the pesticide that is toxic to bees’ nervous systems, Archer says.

“A growing and very strong body of science is showing us neonicotinoids are showing up as one of the key factors in the global bee die-offs,” Archer says.

Home Depot representatives say the company is looking into the study.

“We certainly appreciate the importance of the bee population. Our environmental team is carefully reviewing the study, and reaching out to the study groups to learn more about their findings and methodology,” Home Depot spokesman Stephen Holmes said in an email to WTOP.

Lowes did not respond to our request for an interview.

The pesticide is approved by the EPA for agricultural use, but Archer says its effect on pollinators like bees was not adequately tested.

“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,” says Timothy Brown, PhD, of the Pesticide Research Institute.

There is legislation in the works to limit the use of the pesticide until further research is done. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., introduced the Save American’s Pollinators Act. They are asking for further field studies specifically from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Archer suggests that it is common practice at most nurseries to use pesticides on their plants to improve their health and prevent pests.

“These are soil treatments. They are also used as foliar treatments, so spray on the leaves in garden centers because, you know, we want to have perfect looking plants but unfortunately, that can carry a price for bees in our gardens,” she says.

Gardeners aiming to avoid pesticides should follow a few simple steps, she suggests.

“Plant your seedlings from seed in organic soil. That’s one of the few ways you can guarantee that you’re not going to be contaminating your garden. Another option is to plant organic seedlings.”

Archer says gardeners can find organic seeds from online retailers.

Follow @WTOP on Twitter.


Advertiser Content