Thursday, February 26, 2015

Finding Bee-Friendly Plants

At the end of last season, our closest local nursery went out of business after over 20 years. Even though their plants were slightly more expensive than the big-box stores, I was able to get a great variety of healthy, pesticide free flowers and veggies. They also had a wonderful selection of trees and shrubs that were well suited to our area.

With their closing, the nearest local nursery is now about 20 miles away from us. For me, it's well worth the extra miles to buy from a reputable grower. Many others, however, aren't going to travel- they're going to head over to the nearest Lowes, Home Depot or Walmart to get their plants. Here's the catch- many of the plants sold at big box retailers are treated with neonicotinoid pesticides long before they arrive at the store. Neonics are the pesticides linked to the bee colony collapse problems, and plants treated with them are not required to be labeled as such.

So what's a responsible gardener to do? Not everything is easy to start from seed, and let's face it, not everyone has the time, either. But, if you can start from seed, I highly recommend it. Here are some other tips:

  • Buddy up. Talk to your gardening friends and neighbors and organize a plant swap. It's much less intimidating starting one or two kinds of seeds, and then trading the starts with your friends.
  • Buy local. Farmer's Markets and Farm Stores often sell plant starts. You can talk to the farmer about their plants, and find out if the starts have been treated with anything.
  • Support your small garden centers. Take a moment and run a quick Google search on nurseries in your area. You might be surprised at how many there are! Once you're there, you can talk with the growers and see what chemicals they do or don't use. 
  • Plant wildflower seeds. Most bee and butterfly mixes require little more than sprinkling the seeds on the ground, raking them in, and watering. The more bee friendly plants we can grow, the better off they'll be. Plus, many wildflowers will attract other pollinators and beneficial bugs to your garden.
  • Vote with your dollars. It's not just about signing petitions and sending letters to corporations. If you don't like what's being sold at the big stores, don't buy it. Every time you do or don't make a purchase, you're telling companies what you want. If we stop buying questionable pesticides and/or plants grown using those products, they will eventually get the message.
  • Check your local extension office or community college for plant sales. Garden clubs also frequently have fund-raiser sales in the spring and summer. Not only will you know what you're getting, but you may also find a group of like-minded folks to connect with.
  • Health food stores and Feed Stores. Our local Co-Op grocery brings in loads of local, organically grown plant starts each year. Same thing goes for my feed store, and yet the prices are comparable to the larger stores. 
What about you? Can you suggest any other ways to bring plants into your garden that you know are safe?

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