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Palm import ban: how will it affect gardeners?

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Defra’s restrictions to protect palms from pests starts January 1, 2018

Nurseries specialising in hardy tropicals are likely to be hit hard by Defra’s palm import ban – but why has it happened?

A red palm weevil (Rhynchophorus ferrugineus), a large unpleasant red/brown weevil devastating palms on the continent, was discovered on an imported plant in Essex in spring 2016.

From January 1, it is prohibited to import most palms into the UK to try and protect our existing stocks.

The country has been granted Protected Status against both the red palm weevil and the palm borer (more of that later).

If exporters from the continent want to sell plants in the UK and Ireland, palms must be grown in a protected area (such as an enclosed greenhouse) or quarantined for a minimum of two years in a protected area.

Windmill palms at Helmsley Walled Gardens.
Windmill palms at Helmsley Walled Gardens.

Not cost effective to quarantine

Most exporters grow their palms outside in warmer areas of Europe and say it isn’t cost effective to quarantine areas for export to the UK, as the market is so small.

With the import of large specimens becoming severely restricted, stocks of palms already in the UK are going to diminish quickly – and prices are rocketing, not helped by the weak pound.

Virtually the only palms being imported after January 1 will be small ones grown in Dutch greenhouses.

To add insult to injury, the South American native palm borer moth (Paysandinia archon) was discovered in a West Sussex garden in August 2002, and in May 2007, nine live adults were found in the atrium of an office building in Kent. They had emerged from four 5m tall Phoenix canariensis palms imported from Spain.

Young windmill palm and Yucca planted in my new tropical bed
Young windmill palm and Yucca planted in my new tropical bed

Plea from expert UK suppliers

Of our UK nurseries, here are a couple of messages on their sites:

  • www.hardypalms.co.uk: I apologise for the price rises. Shipping palms up the week before Christmas has been very expensive, Spanish prices were up across the board and the pound is weak. To survive as a company, this stock has to sustain the company for two years, by which time two-year quarantined palms should become available to meet Defra’s new requirement. We will still try to do good deals for multi buys as we always do, but it all starts from a higher starting point.
  • www.hardytropicals.co.uk: Realistically, this means the end of palm importation for most people involved in the business unless the big nurseries change their policy. 2018 is likely to see a rapid decline in UK stock when they are sold out there is no more.
Canary Island palm bought this spring - no more bargains
Canary Island palm bought this spring – no more bargains

What can gardeners do to help?

We need to support our small specialist nurseries through the next two years. If palms aren’t available, buy other plants from them – keep them in business. If you don’t use them, we’ll lose them.

If you see any non-native plant pest, report to the relevant authority: England and Wales, contact your local APHA Plant Health and Seeds Inspector or the PHSI Headquarters, Sand Hutton, York. Tel: 01904 405138, email: planthealth.info@apha.gsi.gov.uk.

For Scotland, contact the Scottish Government’s Horticulture and Marketing Unit, email: hort.marketing@gov.scot.

For Northern Ireland, contact the DAERA Plant Health Inspection Branch: Tel: 0300 200 7847 Email: planthealth@daera-ni.gov.uk.

For information on UK plant health see: https://secure.fera.defra.gov.uk/phiw/riskRegister/ https://www.gov.uk/plant-health-controls http://www.gov.scot/Topics/farmingrural/Agriculture/plant/PlantHealth/PlantDiseases https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk

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Mandy Watson is a freelance journalist and an incurable plantaholic. MandyCanUDigIt grew from the tiny seed of a Twitter account into the rainforest of information you see before you. Gardening columnist for the Sunderland Echo, Shields Gazette and Hartlepool Mail and editor of the Teesdale Mercury Magazine. Attracted by anything rebellious, exotic and nerdy, even after all these years. Passionate about northern England and gardens everywhere. Falls over a lot.

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