Neonicotinoids: Helpful or Harmful pesticide?

Written by Beth Lavenz

Back in March, Kristine Nemec of the Tallgrass Prairie Center gave a presentation about planting a small prairie or butterfly garden in your backyard. Students were fascinated by her information and how easy it seemed until we began talking about plants. Kristine talked about where she purchases her plants from and mentioned that many big box stores sell plants that have been treated with nicotinoids already. She tends to avoid these stores for plant purchases as she believes in limiting the number of pesticides that her gardens receive and rightfully so. When it comes to using pesticides, those troublesome garden insects are not the only organisms being removed. Non-target organisms can also be affected and may include natural predators for invasive bugs and garden visitors like bees.  Many plants we purchase today have already been treated with pesticides and may be impacting our gardens without us knowing about it.

While “low impact” pesticides exist, some gardeners and activists believe that even a low impact on the environment can be too much. However, the argument for or against pesticides is for another day. Long-time gardeners have tailored their garden practices to include a number of natural and commercial applications however the impact of one group of pesticides in particular, neonicotinoids, is beginning to get a lot of attention.

Neonicotinoids are pesticides that are chemically similar to nicotine. Companies began developing neonicotinoids in the early 80’s in response to pest resistance, especially in agricultural and crop settings and the pesticide became widely available in the 90’s. Hailed as the latest and greatest, the pesticide was promoted for its low toxicity to other insects and animals, however, the research is divided in regards to the effect of this pesticide on the environment. There are seven neonicotinoids used in a variety of garden products available today. You can tell if a product uses a neonicotinoid if it has any of the following as ingredients: acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, nitenpyram, nithiazine, thiacloprid, or thiamethoxam.


According to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, neonicotinoids severely impact the health of non-target insects, especially bees. Once applied, the pesticide is absorbed through the soil and through testing, the plants attempting to take nutrients from the soil have been found to transfer some of the pesticides to the pollen and nectar of the plant. This increases the chance that non-target insects, like bees, will receive secondary exposure through the pollen rather than primary exposure, such as being sprayed with the pesticide. Due to the difference in the size of bees vs the plant they take pollen from, smaller amounts of exposure can easily impact the health of bees. Another concern focuses on the length of time that neonicotinoids remain in the soil and the amount that remains after multiple applications. Another issue related to the use of neonicotinoids include the application process which can transfer the pesticide to other plants through the air and water.

Neo Info.PNG

This infographic comes from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation’s publication “How Neonicotinoids Can Kill Bees” 

Neonicotinoids work by paralyzing insects and blocking the messages sent to the insects’ nervous system. A study done by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation found that four out of the seven neonicotinoids were found to be highly toxic while the other three were found to be moderately toxic to honey bees. Incorrect application procedures can cause drift from the target plant to others in the area or be carried along in water and sent downstream affecting more than just the originally treated plant. Preventative applications often found in agricultural settings change the need for previous biological predators which can impact the variety of insects, both good and bad, visiting your garden.

Ultimately neonicotinoids can be used as an absolute last resort to pest management but the best option for gardeners looking to limit their impact on the diversity of insects in the garden would be to prepare an integrated pest management plan and use other options such as crop rotation and neem extract to fight against pests in the garden. By learning more about the effects of the products we use in our gardens we can help to limit the amount of exposure vulnerable populations, such as bees receive to these deadly pesticides.

References & Resources to learn more: (The infographic comes from this resource and can be found on page 17)




A History Rewritten: 2000

Written by Paul Kammerdiner

CVABG-Part 5

We have now arrived at the two thousand’s, despite all the fears of computers causing the end of the world (remember y2k?), we kept on chugging along at the Arboretum.For whatever reason, there was not much in the way of photos or other documentation for the beginning of this first decade. I have to be content with showing you what I have, beginning with what the CVABG looked like this year





Even though the service road off the entrance now extends to the West to the Head House, for the next few years people continue to park up around the tower.


This photo really gives us some perspective, looking back from now. Notice, to the West, no Rose Garden. Also to the North, everything ends at the fence. To the West, there are no Arrival Gardens, just the Nursery and then the Head House


No photos or documents to look at. I am sure, however, that the annual retreat took place and some plans were made.

2000-3This photo from March shows the beds for the Community Gardens, we have planted some type of conifer trees along the fence to the North and the shelves remain from the Bonsai display.


Again, no documentation for me to look at. I know there was a Fall Harvest Festival at least.


  • Children’s Garden

Remember in 1999 that a ceremonial groundbreaking took place for a new Children’s Garden. This is the year for the project to begin in earnest.


This document outlines that beginning

  • Head House

Looking at the site file on the head house, I find this one line in the history summary: “2000.  Office was built in the Head House.” I do know that prior to this year, this building was used for equipment storage, so am assuming that space was made for an office, probably for the Executive Director. It was still there in the left side corner when I first volunteered here in 2009.


  • Community Gardens
  • Display Gardens
  • Enabling Gardens

Again, I have little in the way of documentation for this year, but if you look closely at the photo that is a repeat of one of the first shown, you can see evidence of the continuation of the community and the different annual gardens.


The community gardens are on the right side of the photo and left would be the Iris beds, Raised beds, and the Herb garden. Top right, in front of the parked cars I think are the Green Scene gardens


This is one of the enabling garden beds in front of the greenhouse

This looks like a special occasion, but I don’t know what it was, how tantalizing traveling back in time can be



My computer disk only shows 5 trees for this year; here they are

Tree Species Number Planted
American Yellow Wood 2
Scarlet Oak 1
Harvest Gold Crabapple 1
Hackberry 1 

In an article in the View written by Arnold Webster, I find reference to an espalier being planted on the new fence adjacent to the community gardens. It is called an Apple Wall in the article because it is composed of apple tree branches. Espalier, according to Wikipedia, is an ancient form of training tree branches against a flat surface, usually fruit trees. I am going to say this qualifies as tree planting


I didn’t have any photos of the Espalier in 2000, but here it is in 2008


Only one photo of a volunteer that I know for sure comes from 2000.



Tim Sprengeler


Our stay here is only for as long as we have things to look at, so away we go