Gardening: The dangers of bringing plants home from a holiday abroad

Banana divisions on sale in Funchal, Madeira.Banana divisions on sale in Funchal, Madeira.
Banana divisions on sale in Funchal, Madeira.
The RHS and Defra are asking holidaymakers not to bring plants back in their hand baggage from holidays, saying it could introduce new pests and diseases to the UK.

Millions of plants enter the country legally, bought by tourists, leading to fears that problem insects and bacterium like Xylella fastidiosa could find their way into our gardens.

A survey by the RHS reveals that of more than half (57 per cent) of respondents planning to travel abroad in the next 12 months, nearly one in ten (nine per cent) would consider bringing a plant back with them, equivalent to 2.5 million people.

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Lavender, which is susceptible to Xylella infection.Lavender, which is susceptible to Xylella infection.
Lavender, which is susceptible to Xylella infection.

Importing plants is already subject to some restrictions that vary depending on country of travel and plant type, leading the RHS and Defra to buy plants in the UK instead.

Fuchsia gall mite is now rife in the South East has been attributed to an enthusiast illegally importing cuttings from South America.

There are more than 1,000 pests and diseases on the plant health risk register while Xylella – a bacterium which is known to affect more than 350 species, including lavender, hebe and rosemary – has been found in Italy, France and Spain.

Defra will launch the ‘Don’t Risk It’ campaign this summer to raise awareness of the risks of bringing back cut flowers, fruit, vegetables and plant material from holiday destinations.

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Rosemary, which is susceptible to Xylella infection.Rosemary, which is susceptible to Xylella infection.
Rosemary, which is susceptible to Xylella infection.

Sue Biggs, director general of the RHS, said: “For many people, wandering the olive groves of Italy and lavender fields of France are as much a part of the holiday experience as the cities and beaches.

“We’re asking people to leave these beautiful plants where they are for future visitors to enjoy and not to bring them back home with them. This is vital if we are going to win the fight to protect our gardens against the growing threat of pests and diseases.”

Defra chief plant health officer, Nicola Spence, said: “Our inspectors now make more interceptions of harmful organisms than any other EU member state but we can’t eliminate all risks and we all have a part to play in protecting our plants and trees.

“Through our ‘Don’t Risk It’ campaign we’ll be asking everyone to enjoy the exotic plants and flowers they see on their holidays – but only bring them back to the UK in their memories and pictures.’’

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Cut back delphiniums and geraniums after the first flush of flowers to encourage a second flowering period. Feed after cutting them back.

Divide clumps of bearded iris.

Pinks and carnations that have become leggy, can be propagated by layering or by cuttings. Propagation can improve the look of untidy clumps.

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Most perennial weeds are best dealt with in the summer when the weeds are in active growth. Digging out often works, but applying a weedkiller can be more practical, particularly for large areas.

The sudden collapse of apparently healthy clematis, especially the large-flowered cultivars, could indicate clematis wilt.

Prune June-flowering shrubs such as Philadelphus and Weigela after flowering. Prune deciduous magnolias if necessary.

Tie-in climbing roses and ramblers as they grow. Remove rose suckers and tree suckers.

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Many conservatory and greenhouse pests will be active during the summer months. Check plants regularly for signs of glasshouse whitefly, leafhopper, glasshouse red spider mite, mealybugs and scale insects. Yellow card sticky traps are a valuable, low-cost tool for monitoring numbers and types of flying pests in the greenhouse. If large numbers of a particular pest are found, treatment can be instigated.

Cover ponds with nets or safety grilles in gardens where young children play. These have the advantage of preventing leaves falling into the pond.

Clean out debris lurking in the depths of the pond. This will improve the water quality and prevent excess debris from promoting the growth of weeds, algae or marginal plantings, and from releasing toxins that could harm fish or wildlife.