bumblebee on a white flower

Why Many Bee-Friendly Flowers Are Terrible For Pollinators

Gardening is often seen as a sanctuary, a place where we cultivate beauty and life. Many gardeners conscientiously choose bee-friendly flowers with the noble intention of supporting our essential pollinators. The mantra seems simple: plant flowers, support bees, and contribute positively to the ecosystem. However, what if this well-meaning act is inadvertently causing harm?

It’s a jarring thought, but a crucial one to consider as we delve into the little-discussed topic of how many so-called “bee-friendly” flowers may actually pose a threat to these invaluable creatures.

Why are some bee-friendly flowers bad for pollinators?

From large-scale nurseries to your local garden center, plants are frequently treated with pesticides and other chemicals to ensure their health and longevity. Unfortunately, these treatments don’t discriminate, posing potential risks not just to garden pests, but to beneficial pollinators as well. The irony is sharp: in an effort to bolster our gardens and local ecosystems, we may be introducing elements that harm the very species we aim to protect.

If you’ve been selecting flowers based on their pollinator-friendly labels, this article is a must-read. We’ll uncover the inconvenient truths about chemical treatments on popular bee-friendly flowers and offer you safer alternatives for creating a truly bee-friendly garden.

If you’re a conscientious gardener looking to create a pollinator-friendly oasis, you’ll want to be aware of which plants are most likely to be chemically treated.

Additional Resource: 16 Flowers That Attract Bumblebees

High-Risk Categories

  1. Bedding Plants: These are the flowers you’ll most often find in large flats, ready for mass planting. Examples include petunias, marigolds, and pansies.
  2. Exotic or Tropical Plants: Due to their non-native status and the difficulty in growing them, tropical plants like orchids or bromeliads are often treated with pesticides to survive the local climate.
  3. Roses: One of the most popular but also most pesticide-intensive plants. Roses are highly susceptible to a range of diseases and pests, making them a frequent target for chemical treatments.
  4. Flowering Shrubs: Azaleas, rhododendrons, and hydrangeas often get the pesticide treatment, especially when mass-produced.
  5. Herbs: Surprisingly, potted herbs like basil, mint, and rosemary can be treated to keep them looking fresh for purchase.
  6. Hanging Baskets: Plants like geraniums and fuchsias are often displayed in hanging baskets and may receive pesticide treatments to ensure they look their best.

Red Flags to Look For

  • Shiny or Waxy Coating: This could be a sign of neonicotinoid treatments, a type of pesticide that’s especially harmful to bees.
  • Uniform Perfection: If all the plants look absolutely flawless, it might be due to chemical treatments.
  • Lack of Pollinator Activity: A very pristine, insect-free zone in a garden center may signal heavy pesticide use.

It’s crucial to inquire about the use of pesticides when purchasing plants, especially if your goal is to create a safe haven for pollinators. Opt for organic, pesticide-free, or locally grown plants when possible. And if you’re unsure, it’s always safer to grow from untreated seed. Your garden should be a sanctuary, not just for you but for the vital creatures that help it flourish.

Additional Resource: 10 Practical Ways To Help Native Pollinators

Avoiding pesticides that harm bees

The decline in bee populations has raised alarms among scientists, environmentalists, and conscientious gardeners alike. Bees are essential pollinators that play a critical role in our ecosystems and food supply. One way to protect these invaluable insects is by making sure that the plants and practices in our gardens are truly bee-friendly. But how do you ensure that your well-intentioned gardening doesn’t accidentally harm bees through pesticide exposure? Below are some best practices to keep your garden a safe haven for pollinators.

1. Source Responsibly

  • Ask Questions: When buying plants, ask the garden center or nursery whether the plants have been treated with pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids, which are especially harmful to bees.
  • Go Organic: Opt for certified organic plants, which are grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers.
  • Local Nurseries: Smaller, local nurseries often use fewer chemicals than large-scale commercial operations.

2. Choose Native Plants

Native plants are naturally more resistant to local pests and diseases, reducing the need for chemical intervention. These plants also provide native bees with familiar forage.

3. DIY Pest Control

  • Physical Barriers: Use row covers or netting to protect plants from larger pests.
  • Natural Remedies: Neem oil, garlic sprays, and vinegar can act as natural insect deterrents. Always test a small area first to ensure they won’t harm the plant.

4. Companion Planting

Some plants naturally repel pests. For instance, planting garlic near roses can help deter aphids. Basil is another good companion for tomatoes, as it can repel tomato hornworms.

5. Monitor and Identify

Before taking any pest control measures, make sure to identify the pest correctly. Some insects are beneficial and could even help control unwanted pests.

6. Timing is Everything

If you absolutely must use a pesticide, opt for one that is less harmful to bees and apply it during late evening or early morning when bees are less active.

7. Avoid Systemic Pesticides

These pesticides are taken up by the plant and expressed in all tissues, including the nectar and pollen that bees collect. Neonicotinoids are a well-known class of systemic pesticides that are particularly harmful to bees.

8. Read Labels Carefully

If you do purchase pesticides, read the label thoroughly to make sure they are approved for your intended use and follow all safety precautions. Some products are labeled as “safe for pollinators” when used correctly.

9. Create a Bee Sanctuary

Allocate a part of your garden where no pesticides are used at all, a place rich in bee-friendly plants, fresh water, and potential nesting sites.

By taking these measures into consideration, you’re not only making a positive impact in your local environment, but you’re also contributing to global conservation efforts. Your garden can indeed be a refuge for bees, where flowers bloom not as a hidden danger, but as a source of sustenance and life.

Keep Reading: 10 Bees Native To North America (And How To Help Them)

Thomas Nelson
Gardening Expert
Hi! I'm Thomas, one of the founders of The Garden Magazine. I come from a long line of gardeners who used the art of gardening as a way to live long, healthy lives. I'm here to share my knowledge of gardening with the world!