The RHS warns gardeners against buying plants online – here’s how to shop plants safely

Make sure you know where your plant is coming from
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  • The Royal Horticultural Society has issued a warning to gardeners to make sure they’re buying plants from reputable British garden centres. This is to reduce the risk of introducing new pests and diseases into our gardens.

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    Three million of us discovered the joy of gardening over the past year, with many of us filling even the smallest of spaces with clever small garden ideas. But, the RHS predicts that this increase in demand could see us unwittingly taking risks.

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    The RHS’ warning about buying plants online

    At worst, this could introduce new plant health issues, damaging our landscapes. ‘The boom in gardening has seen online sales rocket over the last year, enabling many to find solace among their plants,’ says Lisa Ward, Principal Plant Health Scientist at the RHS.

    ‘However, gardeners need to be made aware of the issues around buying material that has not been subject to the right checks and approvals. A plant may be cheaper to buy online,’ Lisa says, ‘but the potential for that plant to cause problems on your own and surrounding plots isn’t a risk worth taking.’

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    Pests and diseases imported from abroad have the potential to spread widely, damaging gardens and crops. Plants and seeds from reputable British companies might have originated from overseas. However, they’ll have been imported following the government’s strict plant health regulations.

    This means the risk of introducing new pests and diseases is significantly reduced. The key thing to note is that when you’re buying plants from online platforms and market places, you might not know where they’re coming from.

    Anna Waterfield, Founder of Plant Pet Club, says ‘The majority of small online retailers, like us, are obtaining plants through reputable plant wholesalers whose reputation depends on complying with the latest regulations.

    conservatory with plant and armchair

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    ‘Where we need to be more mindful are the online market places, which tempt plant collectors with the latest breeds and rare varieties at low prices. One should avoid temptations of ordering plants from websites where the origin of the plant material is unknown and is likely to enter the country in the unmarked postal box,’ Anna says.

    One particular concern, not currently thought to be in the UK, is Xylella fastidiosa, a plant bacterium known to infect over 500 different species of plant. This pathogen originates from Central America and was introduced into Europe in 2013, where it has caused severe losses in Italian and Spanish olive and almond groves.

    If it were to come into the UK, it would have devastating consequences for the UK’s gardens and horticultural industry.

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    If you haven’t been able to invest in a new haul of plants you can still give your outdoor space with our budget garden ideas.

    How to buy plants online safely?

    The RHS has laid out some guidelines.

    • Ensure the online shop that you buy plant material from is based in Great Britain and is a reputable garden centre or nursery by checking the address and contact details of the company on the website.
    • If the origin of the plant or seeds you are buying is not clear, don’t buy them.
    • Don’t plant up seeds or other material that arrived unsolicited via the post, even as a gift, unless you are sure that it is from a reputable British supplier or you know the origin.
    • If you want to order plant material from a reputable overseas garden centre or nursery, you need to check that what you want to buy is allowed into Britain and what the requirements are for importation.

    Related: Jobs to do in the garden in May – prepping veg plots, planting hanging baskets and nurturing lawns

    Be careful when shopping online and protect our gardens.

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