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Gardening Articles: Care :: Pests & Problems

Hitchhiking Garden Pests (page 2 of 3)

by Howard Waterworth

How to Import Plants and Foods

Always comply with U.S. Customs and APHIS regulations. Discourage friends and family from mailing foods from overseas unless the foods are properly inspected first. Don't smuggle foods or plants from other countries, and don't order or accept plants shipped directly from overseas. Obtain foreign material plants, fruitcakes, meats, dried flowers, and wreaths-only from domestic suppliers that have already taken the appropriate precautions.

Know Before You Go

Gardeners are especially likely to snatch a plant part and smuggle it home for propagation. To import plants, you can download an permit application from the APHIS Web site: Submit your request at least two months prior to travel.

Provide essential information about the plant species, whether the material includes plants or seeds, amounts, your destination, your return date, the port of entry, and your flight number. APHIS will determine whether you can bring in the items and, if you can, will provide you with an information packet that includes the conditions under which you may grow the plants in your garden. For example, some items may be subject to further inspection or quarantine for two years.

Several factors determine whether or not you can import plant material. These include crop species, country of origin, and prior import permission. The United States generally allows in seeds of many vegetable and ornamental crops without a permit.

APHIS won't issue a permit to bring in noxious weeds (all are listed in published regulations). Likewise, the agency usually won't allow you to return with cuttings of certain plants. These include fruit crops, grasses, potatoes, sweet potatoes, sugarcane, some woody ornamental shrubs, and shade trees. Many of these plants are restricted because of latent disease-bearing organisms or because of their country of origin.

Home gardeners cannot easily purchase seeds directly from foreign seed suppliers because they may not have met American regulatory requirements. Soil and some live materials-plants, cuttings, tubers, and bulbs-are also prohibited. Endangered species of cacti and orchids are subject to additional import requirements.

If you have access to the World Wide Web, you can find more information about pest exclusions at

For more about U.S. Customs regulations, see

Howard Waterworth is a plant pathologist with the U.S. Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, Maryland. For their help with this article, he thanks Robert Trumbell, Maryland Department of Agriculture, and Victor Harabin, APHIS.

Photography by Agricultural Research Service, USDA

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