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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Home and garden

Gardening: Rules about shipping plants meant to protect state’s crops, environment

Planters full of chives await buyers in a greenhouse. The shipment of chives into Washington is restricted to protect the state’s onion farms.  (JESSE TINSLEY/The Spokesman-Review)
Planters full of chives await buyers in a greenhouse. The shipment of chives into Washington is restricted to protect the state’s onion farms. (JESSE TINSLEY/The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo
By Pat Munts For The Spokesman-Review

Have you ever wondered why some plant catalogs that say they can’t ship a particular plant to a particular state? On the surface, it doesn’t make sense and can be frustrating. However, there are very good reasons for these rules.

According to Benita Matheson of the Washington Department of Agriculture’s Plant Services Program, it means that those plants or the soil they are planted in may carry diseases or insect pests that would damage our state’s agricultural crops or that the plant is on our state noxious weed list.

As an example, let’s look at onions or alliums. I’ve seen several catalogs that won’t ship ornamental chives into Washington and the reason is simple, they might carry a fungus called white rot. White rot can affect any member of the allium/onion family including ordinary onions, shallots, leeks, garlic, chives, scallions and ornamental chives. The soil-borne fungus is carried on the roots or soil and rots the plants in the field. There is no known pesticide control. Once a field is infected, the fungus can lie dormant for many years making that ground unsuitable for onion crops. That could have a big impact on the state’s $101 million onion industry.

To ensure that contaminated plants don’t find their way into Washington, the Washington Department of Agriculture Plant Services Program develops shipping requirements that out-of-state nurseries must follow to reduce the chance that a disease or insect could be carried into the state. These requirements often mean that the sourcing nursery must do extra testing and certification to be able to ship into Washington. All this adds to the costs of the nursery, and they may decide that their sales here aren’t enough to undertake the extra cost of certification. A second reason is that a plant may be on our noxious weed list and could impact the state’s land and water resources.

This situation is also the case for other crops we commonly order online. Blueberries and cranberries are affected by the disease blueberry scorch. Filberts or hazelnuts are affected by the eastern filbert blight disease. Grapes are susceptible to several insect and disease problems. Apples are being watched for the apple maggot insect.

These limitations sometimes aren’t just for out of state nurseries though, they can apply to plants and fruits being moved within the state. Right now, Spokane County is under an apple maggot restriction which means we shouldn’t be moving fruit to other parts of the state because apple maggots can get into our commercial apple orchards. Another example is that Japanese beetles have recently been found in Yakima. These pests will devour many types of plants and to slow the spread, the Department of Agriculture is asking that plant material not be moved from Yakima to other areas.

So, if you really want a particular plant that can’t be shipped to Washington, look for it locally. All our nurseries are inspected by the Department Agriculture and their plant buyers know how to work with the restrictions.

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