what’s a neonicotinoid?

As pollinator month continues at BB Barns we’re getting very serious about how we take care of our plants and pollinators. This is a crucial step toward helping.

Neonicotiniods are systemic pesticides. Unlike contact pesticides, which remain on the surface of the treated foliage, systemics are taken up by the plant and transported to all the tissues (leaves, flowers, roots and stems, as well as pollen and nectar).

These systemic pesticides are sometimes called neonics. Much easier to say, but giving them a cute nickname doesn’t cute-n it up, some entomologists say. Many entomologists and environmental groups believe that neonics are the cause of the Colony Collapse Disorder, a phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear and leave behind a queen, plenty of food and a few nurse bees to care for the remaining immature bees and the queen.  If your pesticide has one of the following active ingredients in it, then it is classified as a neonic.

  • Acetamiprid
  • Clothianidin
  • Dinotefuran
  • Imidacloprid
  • Nitenpyram
  • Thiocloprid
  • Thiamethoxam


Not all groups agree with the stance on neonics.  The Environmental Protection Agency is working to clarify the subject (it is a complicated one) and governmental wheels turn slowly. A Pollinator Health Task Force was created in June of 2014 to promote the health of honey bees and other pollinators. Likely, the subject will take years to fully understand.

BB Barns takes the stand of caution. If there’s the possibility of harm to pollinators then why take the chance? While scientists and groups argue over a potentially dangerous threat to pollinators, we’ll err on the side of caution and focus on what we already know works:  a more Integrated Pest Management approach. 

So here’s what we’ve done:

We’ve removed neonicitoids from our shelves with the exception of product used on non-pollinated plants (ex: wooly adelgids on hemlocks). We’re asking our growers not to use the systemic on plants sold to us by them, and while not all our growers have quit using them, many have and many are headed in that direction. We’ve partnered with our growers for years, built relationships with them and now, continue to do so on such important issues as pollinators. 

Cartoon bee

nectar and pollen

Nectar is a sweet substance, produced by some plants to attract pollinators such as bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Bees collect nectar and make it into honey. While collecting the nectar, pollinators accidentally transfer pollen from male flowers to female flowers.

Pollen is a fine powder of microscopic particles from the male flower that can fertilize the female flower to produce seed. Pollen is produced by anthers, the male reproductive organs found in most flowering plants.

The issue of using neonics or not is important because honeybees are crucial to our food supply. About one-third of the human diet comes from insect-pollinated plants, and the honeybee is responsible for 80 percent of that pollination. If the systemic insecticide is taken up by the bees during pollination, then some scientists say the bees ability to forage or find their way back to the hive is impaired. Taking care of our plants and the investment we make in them is important, but taking care of the bees is essential. 


It is a process for growers to remove the product, but it is not impossible and the goal is to work with them toward that end. We ask you to partner with us too, in helping to save and promote the life of pollinators. Our lives literally depend on it.

Written by Cinthia Milner, Garden Coach, OSA, and blog writer.

BB Barns serves all of Western North Carolina and upstate South Carolina and Tennessee.