During the last two years, several new research studies indicate that bumblebees and other native bees can be affected by very low levels of neonicotinoid-class insecticides in pollen and nectar (less than 20 ppb). Several environmental groups have been actively campaigning for more careful use of neonicotinoid insecticides or banning their use entirely.
The burgeoning number of new stories can leave anyone’s head spinning. What does “bee-friendly” really mean, and how can an ornamental plant grower grow plants that are safe for pollinators?
Plants that are bee-friendly provide pollen and nectar to pollinators — in other words, they are a good food source. However, bee-friendly can also refer to pest management practices used to grow plants with no harmful insecticide residue on the flowers or in the pollen and nectar.
Bee-Friendly Pest Management Practices – Part 1
Choosing which pest management practices are best is still under debate. There has not been enough research on insecticide residuals in ornamental plant pollen to develop reliable guidelines to protect pollinators. As a baseline, growers can use the following guidelines to produce plants that are safe for pollinators:
• Don’t spray flowering plants with any insecticide, unless it is one of our listed alternatives in Table 1, during the last three weeks before shipping plants to your customer.
• Avoid soil drenches with neonicotinoids and other systemic insecticides as much as possible. If systemic insecticides need to be used in hanging baskets, do not exceed the labeled rate and do not drench them any later than five weeks before shipping.
• Growers should not use a systemic soil drench on linden trees or other trees and shrubs that are highly attractive to bees.
To read the full “Bee-Friendly Plants And Pest Management Strategies – Part 1” story, visit the Michigan State University Extension website.
Why Should You Consider Marketing Your Plants As Bee-Friendly? – Part 2
“Bee-friendly” can refer to plants attractiveness as a food source for bees, and it could also refer to pest management practices. This can create some confusion for consumers as to what bee-friendly means.
Do Consumers Find “Bee-Friendly” Confusing?
According to a recent nationwide survey by Michigan State University of more than 3,000 participants, 67 percent of consumers described that bee-friendly meant that bees are not harmed, and 46 percent described it as the use of products without bee toxicity. Approximately half of respondents identified bee-friendly as environmentally friendly or as better for the environment. In a free-form question, more than one-third responded that bee-friendly meant practices that are not harmful to bees while 19 percent said it indicates the plant is attractive to bees.
If The Term Bee-Friendly Is Ambiguous, Why Should We Market Our Plants As Bee-Friendly?
According to the same survey by researchers at Michigan State University, there may be a couple of reasons to still use the terminology bee-friendly. First, when compared with other terms tested such as “grown with beneficial insects,” “grown with traditional pest control” and “grown without neonicotinoids,” bee-friendly was the most well understood phrase. In contrast, more than two-thirds of participants responded they had never heard of or did not understand the word “neonicotinoid” when shown a plant labeled with “grown without neonicotinoids.”
Secondly, consumers of some demographic segments may be willing to pay a premium for plants marketed as bee-friendly. Table 2 shows the price premiums that consumers were willing to pay for 4-inch indoor or outdoor plants or 12-inch hanging baskets.
To read the full “Why Should You Consider Marketing Your Plants As Bee-Friendly? – Part 2” story, visit the Michigan State University Extension website.