Home Depot Decides Secret Pesticides Probably Don't Belong in Bee-Friendly Plants

Plants sold at the chain that contain neonicotinoid pesticides will be labeled by the end of the year.

(Photo: Jeff R Clow/Getty Images)

Jun 30, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

I found four dead honeybees in my backyard over the weekend. Usually, the apian behavior back there tends more to lively buzzing—in the orange tree, the lemon, the massive pink peppercorn that seems to always be in bloom. If you stand underneath the latter's drooping branches, it almost sounds like the tree is humming, thanks to its halo of bees.

So finding the little pollen-coated bodies lying on the ground was worrisome, especially in the wake of the Friends of the Earth and Pesticide Research Institute study released last week that found that neonicotinoid pesticides were present in a majority of the tested specimens of bee-friendly plants purchased from major garden retailers. I had just planted a couple of shrubs I picked up on a whim from Home Depot—one of the retailers indicted in the study.

Had I inadvertently introduced a highly effective pesticide into my chemical-free garden? Did I kill those bees? Those aren’t questions I’ll be able to answer in regard to flowers I recently added to my landscaping, but by the end of this year I won’t be playing pesticide roulette if I buy more plants from Home Depot. The leading home-improvement retail chain announced that it will require suppliers to label any plants that contain neonic pesticides.

"The Home Depot is deeply engaged in understanding the relationship of the use of certain insecticides on our live goods and the decline in the honeybee population," Ron Jarvis, vice president of merchandising and sustainability, told Reuters. Home Depot is also conducting a number of trials to see if it’s possible to stop using the pesticides altogether in the nurseries that supply its plants.

Although it's weird to think of a plant having something like an ingredient list, it's a suitable solution for this class of pesticide. Unlike other pesticides, neonics are systemic: The seeds of a plant are treated with the chemical, which remains present in all parts of the plant, including the pollen and the nectar.

Of course, it’s possible that the bees I found were killed by something else altogether. Mites, parasites, and exposure to other types of chemicals have all been tied to the steep decline of pollinator populations. But considering the high concentrations of neonics that are used in ornamental plants—300 milligrams might be used to treat the seed of a perennial shrub, whereas a seed of corn will have just 1.34 milligrams of pesticides applied to it, according to the report—both labeling and reducing the amount of pesticide-treated plants at such a massive retailer will surely help make all yards a bit safer for bees.