A neonicotinoid tag – What to do about it

Updated June 19, 2019: At this time, the neonicotinoids used on Home Depot’s plants are used only because the government requires it.

According to Home Depot, “Through partnerships with our suppliers, we’ve made tremendous progress on removing neonics from our plants and they are now 98 percent free of neonicotinoids. However, there are states that require some plants be treated with neonics. The Home Depot is one of the few retailers that labels plants that are treated with neonics so customers can choose for themselves.” Read the Snopes report here.

Original page below:

First, thank the nursery for the tags that say ‘neonicotinoid’. They did not have to mark plants treated with neonicotinoids. They would sell more plants if they didn’t mark them. On social media, these stores are blasted for the tags.  Instead, we should thank them for warning us as they do the transition to non-neonicotinoid plants.

(NOTE: Please be aware that plants are often treated with non-neonicotinoid pesticides.  Absence of neonicotinoid pesticides isn’t an indicator that the plant isn’t treated with a pesticide.  It is only an indicator that the plants were not treated with a neonicotinoid pesticide.)


You see the tags at the nursery and are shocked – WHAT? They sell plants treated with neonicotinoids? The truth is that they don’t have much choice. Few large wholesale nurseries grow plants without neonicotinoids.

Yes, thank them. They do not have to mark the plants as treated. They chose to let us know that the plants are treated.

If we shun those stores and write nasty letters because of the tags, they may take the tags away. Then they’ll be like other nurseries that sell plants treated with neonicotinoids. You’ll buy them and not have an idea that they were treated until it is too late.

We want clear precise labeling on our food in the grocery store. Let’s thank the nurseries that label the plants they sell. Let’s buy the plants that aren’t treated with neonicotinoids. Don’t punish them for clear labeling.

The tags are worded in the way they are because it is the wholesale nursery that makes the tags. The wholesale nursery doesn’t want to word it in a way that will make them look bad. They believe in what they do. (We may not understand why, but they have their reasons. That is a different topic and we won’t address it here.) The retail store that requires the nursery to tag the plants believes you should know that the plants are treated with neonicotinoids. Yes, we repeat, thank the retail store.

The first step that some of the larger retail box stores are taking is to label plants that are treated with neonicotinoids. In the meanwhile, they are working with wholesale growers to coax them to grow plants without the pesticide. That is a big step. A wholesale nursery will not suddenly stop treating plants. That process takes time and baby steps.  If the wholesale nursery won’t take that step, the stores will find wholesale nurseries that raise plants without neonicotinoids.

A small nursery will find it easier to control plant pests by controlling what they grow and the number of plants they grow. They can train their employees to spot pests and to take steps to handle them before they become a major issue, when possible. Treatments to control plant pests that work at a large nursery are less expensive and much simpler if the grower can simply spray the plants with a few chemicals and be done with it.

Methods that will work to control pests at large nurseries will be more expensive to implement. Employees will need more training. Some of the treatments will be more expensive than broad-spectrum (kills everything) pesticides. Large wholesale nurseries are under pressure to produce massive number of beautiful plants very quickly at rock-bottom prices. As they begin to move away from neonicotinoids, expect prices to climb a bit. They have to make major changes and those changes will cost the nursery. That expense will be passed on to us. If we demand that the wholesale nurseries make these changes, we must be willing to pay a little more for the plants.

So as we (1) thank the stores that require the wholesale nurseries to label the plants and (2) we buy plants without the label, wholesale nurseries will realize that we (the final customers) are buying non-treated plants. Nurseries (wholesale and retail) will then focus more on plants that are not treated with pesticides.

Let’s do our part. Thank the retail stores for the tags. Consider shopping at stores that require the tags unless you normally purchase from a special nursery that does not use neonicotinoids (or pesticides) at all.

Please take time to read the statement on Home Depot’s page: Home Depot’s commitment