Garden Docs: Insecticides that are bad news for bees and butterflies

Joan T. of Santa Rosa asks: I was at a nursery the other day, and I had a rose fertilizer/systemic product in my cart. As I was walking through the nursery, a woman approached and asked me if I knew anything about the product, such as what it affects bees and other beneficial insects. I was puzzled and said I did not. After she told me about the concerns with this product, I was surprised, and put it back.

Can you please tell us what certain insecticides do to our bees and beneficial insects and what we should avoid buying?

Neonicotinoids are a group of insecticides that have been, and are being used by gardeners, farmers and professional landscapers. They are supposed to protect plants from sap-sucking and leaf-chewing insects. Neonicotinoids are systemic, which means they are absorbed by the plant, and are spread throughout all parts of the plant, including the nectar and pollen.

Unfortunately, bees, butterflies, and other flower-visiting insects are harmed by them and have been identified as a factor in overall pollinator declines. These systemic insecticides cause entire plants, including pollen and fruit, to become toxic to pollinators. They also are slow to break down in the environment. A large and growing body of independent science links neonicotinoids to catastrophic bee declines.

What is extremely alarming is that these products are readily available at garden centers and nurseries and sold to the home gardener, although the state of California's Department of Pesticide Regulation has imposed a freeze on any new applications for products containing neonicotinoids while the issue is under study. The moratorium comes just as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Trump administration, began considering dramatically expanding use of the highly toxic neonicotinoid thiamethoxam on more than 165 million acres of farmland in the United States.

Before purchasing plants, ask your local nursery or garden center if they have been treated with neonicotinoids. You can also check the label for information about how the plant has been treated.

Products containing Neonicotinoids that you might see at nurseries and garden centers include:


Bayer Advanced 3-in-1 Insect, Disease, & Mite Control

Bayer Advanced 12 Month Tree & Shrub Insect Control

Bayer Advanced 12 Month Tree & Shrub Protect & Feed

Bayer Advanced Fruit, Citrus & Vegetable Insect Control

Bayer Advanced All-in-One Rose & Flower Care concentrate

Monterey, and Ortho


Bayer Advanced All-in-One Rose & Flower Care granules and Green Light products


Amdro products


Ortho Bug B Gon Garden Insect Killer

Ortho Bug B Gon for Lawns

Ortho Flower, Fruit and Vegetable Insect Killer

Ortho Rose and Flower Insect Killer

Ortho Rose Pride Insect Killer


Green Light and Ortho products

Marge E. asks: Do you have a tip or two about how to keep small tools clean?

A 5-gallon bucket, filled with sand and a little vegetable oil, works well in keeping your hand tools clean and lubricated.

It also makes for a good place to store tools. You can also stick your long-handled tools, such as shovels and spades, into the sand/oil mix, and they'll get a quick and easy cleaning and lube job every time you put them away.

If you find that your small-handled tools are in there most of the time, get a second bucket for the bigger tools. Motor oil is not advised, especially used oil, which is bad if it comes in contact with your skin. It also makes it hard to dispose of properly, especially when it's mixed with sand.

Maureen F. of Windsor asks: Do you have any suggestions cleaning caked on clay/soil from my small clay pots? They're looking pretty bad.

You can put dirty clay pots in the dishwasher to make the job of cleaning them easy!

Be sure to first rinse off caked-on soil and debris before putting them in the dishwasher. If the soil doesn't come off easily enough, scrub them with a little baking soda or let them stand submersed in water until the soil softens up. They will be sterilized and clean as a whistle.

Plastic pots can also be washed in the dishwasher. Put them on the top rack to prevent them from melting. You could rub the clay pots with linseed oil after they're cleaned to make them look new again.

Dana Lozano and Gwen Kilchherr are garden consultants. Send your gardening questions to The Garden Doctors, at The Garden Doctors can answer questions only through their column, which appears twice a month in the newspaper and online at

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.
Send a letter to the editor

Our Network

The Press Democrat
Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Sonoma County Gazette