What are neonicotinoids (neo nics)?

  • Neonicotindoids (commonly known as neo nics for short) are a class of insecticide used to control a variety of insects.
  • Introduced in 1990’s
  • Improved chemistry makes them more effective at controlling pests and much safer to use for humans and other mammals.

Why are neo nics making the news?

  • The rise of colony collapse disorder (die off of bees) is a growing concern.
  • Pesticides have been identified as 1 of 5 major causes (along with infection of varroa mites, malnutrition, loss of biodiversity, changing beekeeping practices).
  • Neonics are a commonly used pesticide.
  • Some neo nics were banned in 2013 in EU
  • Neonic use as a seed treatment in field crops (ie. Corn, beans, grain crops) has been targeted by Ontario government for 80% decrease in use by 2017.
  • This is still a very new issue which is getting lots of attention, both sides point to scientific evidence to support their case but more information and studies are needed.

How does this issue affect my garden?

  • Your gardens are an excellent food source for bees.
  • Concern over neonic use to help reduce pressures on bees.
  • Garden plants treated with neonics have been tested and found that traces still remain though whether in the pollen or in what concentrations is not yet known.

How can I help the bees?

  • Choose pollinator plants that are excellent hosts for bees and other pollinators. This will help improve biodiversity in the area and give bees more food sources
  • Choose plants that bloom at different times to offer food source over whole season, not just select times.
  • Planting native plants can help to attract native bees.
  • Plant flowers of a single species together rather than scattered so bees are more likely to find them
  • Consult with pollinator lists and select plants from the list to create pollinator friendly gardens.

What should I know when purchasing plants this spring?

  • Different plants bloom at different types. When selecting perennials, vary your selection for full season blossoms
  • Educate yourself:
    • Some growers may use neonics on some or all of their plants as part of their control program
    • Use of neo nics on plants is tightly regulated by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs which set allowable usage amounts and timing of applications for its use. It is illegal for growers to not follow these safety guidelines.
    • The alternatives to neonics are also controversial so do your research to understand the pros and cons.
  • If you’d prefer to choose plants not grown using neo nics, ask the staff at the garden centre if the plant in question was grown using them. Some retailers and independent garden centres (IGC’s) are attempting to offer neo nic free plants or will be posting signs this season identifying plants that have been treated with neo nics.
  • As always, it’s best to shop at a garden centre/retailer whom you trust and can direct any questions you have about pollinator health and the right plants for supporting them.

References to learn more

Health Canada – Pollinator Protection

Ministry of Environment – Ontario Pollinator health

OMAFRA Neonicotinoid Regulations

Grain Farmers of Ontario – Protecting Pollinators

National Post – The bees are dying but can we really blame neonicotinoid pesticides?

Ontario Beekeepers -News and updates

compiled by Will Heeman with input from Linda Armstrong and Curtis Peterson,

London Middlesex Master Gardeners