Why can’t garden centres in NI buy plants & seeds from GB?

Why can’t Northern Ireland garden centres get deliveries of many plants and seeds from the rest of the United Kingdom?

The situation following Brexit means that part of the UK is better trading with the EU than the UK.

As it stands

  • No plant may be sent from the UK to Northern Ireland and the EU if it contains soil or has been grown in contact with soil.
  • Plants and seeds require a phytosanitary certificate, which is lengthy and bureaucratic process, before being allowed into Northern Ireland and the EU.
  • The EU has a high risk list of plants that may not be brought into the EU or Northern Ireland. These include acers, prunus, quercus, fagus, betula, jasmine and more.

This explains why Northern Ireland garden centres such as Inver, Hillmount and Saintfield Nursery are making the newspaper headlines because their suppliers are saying they cannot deliver their usual supplies of plants and seeds.  NI landscapers face a similar situation.

Getting a phytosanitary certificate

EU plant health rules stipulate that plants grown outside the EU must not have had contact with the soil or have soil in the compost.  They must have been grown in pure peat, coir or the equivalent.  This now includes plants shipped from the UK.

In order to prove this, even the smallest delivery to a garden centre in Northern Ireland needs a phytosanitary certificate issued by a GB-based plant health inspector.  To get the paperwork the seller (I refuse to say exporter) must give the UK Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) 7 days notice so that the consignment may be inspected.  It is then valid for 14 days.

When the delivery arrives at the point of entry to Northern Ireland the plants must be inspected again by the Northern Irish plant health inspectors, often at the cost of the company receiving the goods before they can be delivered.

The cost and time taken to complete these bureaucratic procedures means many UK growers are unable to continue supplying their NI customers.


The same is true for seeds. 

With the exception of cereal and grass seed which cannot be exported to the EU, there is no blanket prohibition. However, for the first time seeds require a phytosanitary certificate before being allowed into NI.  This is additional cost and time for suppliers, which is why some are telling garden centres in the province their orders cannot be delivered.

How long will the situation continue?

There is little sign that anything will be sorted before this season.

It requires the EU to accept that UK hygiene standards are equivalent to the EU and to agree equivalence. 

Government focus is on seed potatoes which might be granted equivalence by the EU in the coming days.  If this largely political decision is taken, it could provide the template for agreeing that the growing media and conditions for UK plants are also equivalent.

EU ban on high risk plants

The EU also has a list of high risk plants that may not be brought into the EU and now Northern Ireland from the UK or any other third country.  The list includes acer, prunus, quercus, fagus, betula, jasmine, lonicera, taxus and ilex.

NI garden centres are having to look within the EU for their plants.  This is also true of growers in Ireland, who normally buy many of their young plants and liners from the UK.

The case for horticulture businesses is being led by Sally Cullimore, Policy Manager of the HTA, which is urging government to press the issue with the EU.

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Here's what others have said...
Anon,  15 Feb 2024:
...Perhaps if people had been told the truth about Brexit they might have voted differently. Problem wouldn't have arisen with a No vote
Thomas,  10 Feb 2024:
...It is absolutely ridiculous that we gardeners cannot get the items we require delivered to NI. Is there anyone in Authority trying to solve this problem or do we just allow the EU to continue to walk all over us. To those who have anything to do with this problem,get off your backside and sort it ouy.
John,  9 Feb 2024:
...This is a crazy situation because millions of plants from the UK mainland are growing in gardens all over Northern Ireland. As a bonsai grower I can buy individual trees from some sellers and then there are others who have stopped all together. The politicians in Northern Ireland need to do there jobs by letting the EU know that the whole of Ireland is a special case in view of the amount of plant and seeds at present being used from the UK mainland for decades.
Georgie,  2 Jun 2023:
...i used to buy from jparker its now 2023 and i still cant buy plants. are there any other plant suppliers
pothead,  2 Oct 2022:
...Several seed companies in the UK are now sending flower and vegetable seed to Northern Ireland. I have been told "There has been some movement in the rules" though I have been unable to obtain any new info re this and the big companies like Thompson and Morgan or Mr Fothergills are still refusing to send items to Northern ireland . I wonder are talks still ongoing as I dearly miss the many varieties of flower seed that are no longer available to me.
Andy Whelan,  7 Mar 2022:
...It is a real problem for businesses in Northern Ireland. If only we'd held a referendum to canvas peoples views....
Janet,  27 Feb 2022:
...I think that this is ridiculous situation for years I bought plants from the UK with no trouble except for higher p and p which was annoying. It feels like discrimination by EEC on Northern Ireland they are being spiteful about Brexit. I would have expected them to act in a more adult manner and allow trade that was well established to continue as it had for years.
Peter Vanhoutte,  10 Sep 2021:
...I still would like to add a late comment. For many years, I used to buy my seeds and bulbs and many plants in the UK, just because the quality is often much better than what we can find in most EU countries. I am really disappointed that it is not possible anymore to oder any of it in the UK. As a big fan of Gardeners' World and Monty and following an online garden designers course in Chelsea, it feels like my roots are suddenly cut off. I can only hope that both the EU and the UK will work to fix this issue as soon as possible.
Annoyed Gardener,  5 Feb 2021:
...Any suggestions as to where plants may be purchased from GB would be welcome.
seedseller,  1 Feb 2021:
...Boris once said we could tear up any paper work needed to send goods across the Irish sea.
Ordinary Bloke,  1 Feb 2021:
...The answer is simple. Ignore the rules. EU members have always ignored the rules they don't like. We are not in the EU any more.

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