Protecting Pollinators: What Role Can the Greenhouse Industry Play?

The Center for Pollinator Research at Penn State University recently released the Pennsylvania Pollinator Protection Plan.
Protecting Pollinators: What Role Can the Greenhouse Industry Play? - News


Female cuckoo bee, Triepeolus remigatus. Photo by Alex Surcică, Penn State

Pennsylvania Pollinator Protection Plan, also known as P4, was developed with input from twenty-eight state and national organizations and stakeholder groups. P4 provides recommendations for best practices and resources to support and expand pollinator populations. While focused on the situation in Pennsylvania, P4 is a useful plan far beyond Pennsylvania’s borders. And a close look at recommended best practices reveals that the greenhouse industry can play several very important roles in the broader efforts to protect pollinators.

The term ‘pollinator’ refers not just to domesticated honey bees, but also to the hundreds of other species of native bees, butterflies, moths, flies and beetles that pollinate cultivated and wild plants. Pennsylvania alone is home to more than 430 bee species, most of which are solitary and live underground. Pollinators pack a powerful economic punch. In the US, pollinators contribute approximately $25 billion to agriculture. In Pennsylvania, their economic services to producers have an estimated economic value of $250 million.

Populations of both wild and domesticated pollinators have been in decline in recent years. According to P4, the most important challenges pollinators face in Pennsylvania include:

  • Habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation
  • Pesticide use
  • Pests and pathogens

Forage and Habitat

Pollinators need a number of things from the landscape in order to survive and thrive. Pollinators need places to nest and reproduce; abundant and high quality food; a consistent supply of water; and minimal exposure to pesticides as they forage. Landscapes that are pollinator-friendly provide these through elements such as soil surfaces, shrubs with pithy stems, and dead branches for nesting; a variety of plants that flower throughout the season for foraging; and water.

Nest boxes containing stacks of hollow tubes encourage nesting of mason bees, an important native pollinator in Pennsylvania. Mason bee (female provisioning nesting tube): Photo by Maryann Frazier, Penn State


Pesticides used in both agricultural and urban/suburban landscapes, have been implicated as factors contributing to pollinator decline. These include insecticides, herbicides and fungicides. The impacts of pesticide use on pollinator populations are complex; pesticides can cause acute mortality or more subtle sublethal effects. Pollinators are often exposed to multiple pesticides which can act synergistically or additively, further diminishing pollinator health.

Pollinators need an abundant, varied, and high quality supply of food throughout the season. Does your product line help customers make their gardens and landscapes more pollinator-friendly? Drone fly, Eristalis tenax. Photo by Alex Surcică, Penn State

The greenhouse industry's role in improving forage and habitat

  • Be knowledgeable about pollinator-friendly plants, including native plants, and practices.
  • Offer and promote plants that support pollinators.
  • Educate retail customers about the benefits of pollinator-friendly gardening.
  • Collaborate with Master Gardeners and others who are educating the general public about pollinators and pollinator-friendly gardening.
  • Promote and demonstrate bee-friendly practices such as high mowing of lawn areas, use of naturalized landscapes, and delaying winter clean-up in the landscape.

The greenhouse industry's role in reducing the impacts of pesticides

  • Use best practices in and around the greenhouse to reduce off-target impacts (e.g. IPM; biocontrols; cautious use of neonicotinoids; avoiding tank mixes)
  • Look for the ‘bee box’ on pesticide labels for additional information about how to protect bees when using particular products.
  • Educate customers about proper, safe and appropriate pesticide use.
  • Know where bee hives are located close to you; communicate with proprietors when applying pesticides.

The 2013 EPA Bee Advisory Box is added to pesticide labels to better protect bees by being clearer and more precise in their directions for pesticide application.

Where to Find More Information:

The Pennsylvania Pollinator Protection Plan (P4)

Penn State Center for Pollinator Research

Neonicotinoids, Native Pollinators, and Greenhouse Production - Tina Smith, UMass Extension. A very useful discussion on the use of neonicotinoids in greenhouse floriculture.

EPA: Protecting Bees and Other Pollinators from Pesticides