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Looking for Pollinator-Safe Plants? Talk to Your Nursery

By Sharon Selvaggio on 22. June 2023
Sharon Selvaggio

Shopping for pollinator-safe plants can feel like a dicey experience. We think, “Oh, that one is so beautiful, and it attracts pollinators!  But wait, does it contain pesticides that might linger in the plant, putting my bees and butterflies at risk?”

We worry because even plants well known for their pollinator value, like milkweed, can be contaminated with pesticides. In fact, a recent study found that milkweeds purchased from retail nursery stores across the U.S. all contained pesticides—yes, every single one of the 235 milkweeds tested from 33 stores.


Monarch caterpillar on milkweed plant in garden
Purchasing plants free from harmful pesticide residues is an important step in protecting pollinators in your garden. (Photo: Ray Moranz.)


Pesticides used in the nursery can linger in plants, putting foraging pollinators and other insects at risk once in your garden. And while many people focus on finding neonicotinoid-free plants, other insecticides and fungicides used by nurseries can also be risky to bees and butterflies. Use of some of these chemicals, often regarded as effective substitutes for neonics, are even on the rise. 

So while it’s good to look for neonicotinoid-free plants, it’s even better to try to find plants that were grown organically. While organically approved pesticides can also be toxic to beneficial insects, organic pesticides are generally short-lived and won’t last long in your plants.

Ultimately, to really understand if nurseries are avoiding a broader suite of risky pesticides, it takes a conversation, and that can be intimidating.

That’s why we’ve created a series of short videos to show you how! If you’d like to be part of the solution but don’t know where to start, we encourage you to start here!

Why it’s important to buy pollinator-safe plants


How to approach nursery staff


What to ask


How to respond to what you hear




Learn more and get involved

Sharon assists Xerces staff, partners, and the public to reduce reliance on pesticides and understand pesticide risk to invertebrates. Sharon previously worked at Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service, and integrates her focus on pesticides with her experience managing natural areas and agricultural lands.

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