Monday, July 27, 2015

Why I'm SOMETIMES Buying Plants at Home Depot...and How

Earlier this spring I visited Home Depot and was shocked by their new plant tags.  How in the world could they be promoting their plants treated with bee-harming Neonic pesticides as a friendly convenience?  

I was ashamed to have been purchasing there.  Shocked by it all, I researched the topic and wrote Why I'm NOT Buying Plants at Home Depot or LOWES and quickly vowed to go on strike against them and any other nurseries using Neonics.

As it turns out, this has been an immense challenge.  I started by visiting my local nursery.  I spoke with a senior associate and asked if they use Neonics on their plants.  "We give the plants everything they need to be healthy" was his painfully ambiguous reply.  When I pressed further for details on what categories of pesticides their plants are treated with, he explained that "pesticides are complicated" with a you-should-be-minding-your-own-business-young-lady tone and confessed that in reality he had no idea which of their thousands of plants are treated with what. 

It turns out that many local nurseries, despite being locally owned, purchase their plants from a limited number of large growing facilities.  These facilities, and not the nurseries themselves, are usually where the Neonics are applied to plants.  

The associate at my nursery had no way of identifying which plants came from which growers, let alone if those growers use Neonics or not.  And I've found that to be the case at each 'local' nursery that I've visited so far.

Which brings me back to my original article.  In a world of less-than-perfect options, it turns out that Home Depot's signage, while shocking, is a very welcome glimmer of transparency.  While shopping there, I at least know which plants I need to avoid.  Most flowers, some succulents and bushes, and an occasional fruit or veggie plant.  A leap of faith that their staff has correctly marked their plants feels like a safer choice than a completely blind guess at other nurseries.

 That said, here is my new strategy for including as few neonic-treated plants into our home and garden as possible.

1)  Buy Organic Plants
By definition, these plants nor their seeds, cannot have been treated with any types of pesticides.  Which makes them very bee-friendly!  Most of the more common vegetables are available in organic seedlings, and many more veggies are available in organic seedlings.

2)  Grow your Own
This is second on my list, because neonics can stay in plants and soil for 5 years - so its no guarantee that I'm not spreading a previously-treated plant.  That said, even if it was treated in the past, the dose has likely weakened and the effects will be much less than a new plant. 

Propagate organic fruits and vegetables, and borrow cuttings or seedlings from friendly neighbors.  Friendly comment'ers on my last article even mentioned that when they see a plant they like, they knock on the home owner's door and simply ask for a piece - with amazingly positive and friendly results!

Here are a few links for how to propagate organics from the grocery store:

3) Support Local Growers 
These are hard to find, but I've been told DO exist!  Local growers (not just local nurseries) will know just what the plants have been treated with - because they're the ones doing it!  If you know of local growers in your area, encourage them to grow without the use of Neonicotinoids.  And if they do, share that address with everyone you know to help spread the use of neonic-free plants!

4)  Buy plants labeled as Neonicotinoid-free 
This is where I've changed my mind on Home Depot.  In situations where the three options above aren't feasible, at least there I have an indication of which plants are and are not treated with Neonics.  In a world where most nurseries keep this information secret, at least Home Depot tells us which plants have been treated.  And therefore which plants have not...or I suppose from a cynical perspective which plants are treated but someone forgot to tag...

I've noticed that most of their berry and fruit trees are unlabeled.  A good portion of their succulents are also unlabeled.  Since these are options not usually available in the organic section, and since my local nurseries cannot give me a clearer response, I've made an exception and purchased an unlabeled lime tree and raspberry bush.

Home Depot - Its a step in the right direction.  Let's start tagging neonic-free choices, so that we as consumers can make an even more educated decision!

5)  Wait.
The good news is that some stores are slowly taking action.  Home Depot has begun labeling neonics-treated plants to help consumers make educated decisions.  Lowes will begin to label them as well, and has announced it will phase out their use by 2019

So if your garden can wait - 2019 might be the year to stock up at Lowes!

What is your method for growing a bee-friendly, neocotinoid-free garden?


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