One of the things that we need to be careful of when we are buying plants and trees is to ensure that they are neonicotinoid free. (Black Press file)

LOCAL FLAVOUR: Flowers offer more than a pretty face

Flowers can make our homes more beautiful as well as support local pollinators

As the weather warms and we get into our gardens, many will be heading to the garden stores and other suppliers to purchase flowering annuals, perennials and trees. These are not only a great way to make our homes more beautiful but also present an opportunity to support local pollinators.

The Island Pollinator Initiative has some great resources for you if you are looking to learn more what you can do, and what we need to pay attention to when we are gardening this spring. A fantastic new guide has recently been released called Selecting Plants for Pollinators: A Guide for Gardeners, Farmers, and Land Managers In the Eastern Vancouver Island Ecoregion (find it at islandpollinatorinitiative.ca). This is an excellent resource as it provides very localized information on local pollinators, as well as extensive plant lists for gardeners of all stripes.

Roger Lang of Pollinator Partnerships, who created the guide, says that “Flowering plants across wild, farmed and even urban landscapes actually feed the terrestrial world, and pollinators are the great connectors who enable this giant food system to work for all who eat… Including us.”

As we add colour and beauty to our homes, gardens and patios, it’s good to think about this relationship and that individually we can have quite an impact on this elegant system, beneficial or not.

One of the things that we need to be careful of when we are buying plants and trees is to ensure that they are neonicotinoid free. Neonics gained popularity in agricultural and commercial ornamental production because they are effective against a wide range of insects and are not considered dangerous for humans. However, one of the things that has now been well researched is the harmful effects of neonics on pollinators, including honeybees, bumblebees and solitary bees.

Neonics act in a systemic way where they travel through the plants vascular system and are distributed to plant tissue including its flowers, nectar and pollen. So while they keep the plants from getting chewed on, they can also be toxic to the insects that feed on, or transport their nectar and pollen. So while those blooms are beautiful, they could be a toxic hazard to our pollinators.

The District of Saanich developed its pesticide bylaw in 2010. The bylaw states that “Saanich recognizes its unique location and environment and celebrates the need to safeguard its waterways, ecological habitats, and cultural heritage.” While the bylaw supports an integrated pest management approach, it is primarily focused on application, and does not address the use of treated plant and tree material. There is growing evidence, however, that this is an area that we need to be looking at more closely.

The good news is that home gardeners can choose to buy neonic-free trees and plants. Due to consumer pressure there is increasing labelling of neonic-free plants. Many larger retailers are responding to customer concern with eliminating or phasing out plants that are treated with neonics. For example Home Depot, one of the large retail chains that holds a fair share of the flower and nursery market, is requiring a label in each pot of plants treated with a neonicotinoid insecticide with a commitment to phase out sales of treated plants by the end of 2018.

Lowe’s, another retail home garden plant source, is working with growers and suppliers of live plants to eliminate the use of neonics on plants that attract bees and other pollinators. It has pledged to phase out the pesticides by 2019, and to make brochures and fact sheets about pollinator health available in stores. In its corporate responsibility report Lowe’s states “Following studies that say many factors, including neonicotinoid pesticides, could potentially damage the health of pollinators, Lowe’s has committed to take several steps to support pollinator health,” and that “Lowe’s will include greater organic and non-neonic product selections, work with growers to eliminate the use of neonic pesticides on bee-attractive plants it sells and educate customers and employees through in-store and online resources,” it added.

The best way to know if the bedding plants you are purchasing contain neonics is to ask at the nursery or retailer. Even doing the asking, shows that this is an area of concern to residents and customers and will encourage retailers to provide the plants that people are looking for.

Another thing to think about in purchasing your bedding plants and flowers is to consider what fits best with our local ecosystem. This not only includes considering the wide range of pollinators but also in terms of doing well with our weather. Native plants are “custom built” for the west coast, and there are so many different beautiful ones to choose from. If you want to learn more about great native plants for your garden, we are lucky to have a wonderful resource here in Saanich called Saanich Native Plants. You can find them at saanichnativeplants.com.

Well Saanich there is a lot to think about when we dig in this spring and get our hands dirty, I wish you the best in your creative endeavors. Let’s get growing.

Linda Geggie is the executive director with the Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable and can be reached at lgeggie@cfair.ca.

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