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Potted plant management and transport in fire ant biosecurity zones

The long distance movement of fire ants often occurs because of human activity, particularly through the transport of infested potted plants.

The Biosecurity Regulation 2016 outlines the management methods you must follow when storing and moving mulch from a property within a fire ant biosecurity zone.

Moving potted plants in, across, or outside fire ant biosecurity zones

You may move potted plants in, across, or outside the fire ant biosecurity zone if you:

  • move material from zone 1 directly to a nearby waste facility in zone 1 or 2
  • or
  • move material from zone 2 to a nearby waste facility in zone 2 only
  • or
  • move the material within 24 hours of it arriving at the original place
  • or
  • bare-root the plant and re-pot it at the final destination. Without the soil, plants are NOT considered a high risk material and can be moved without further treatment
  • or
  • follow the management methods outlined below.

You can also use our fire ant advice tool to find out what requirements apply to you.

If you are unable to comply with these conditions then you must request a biosecurity instrument permit from a program inspector.

Management methods

Commercial operators or private operators who sell plants for profit (e.g. market stall operators) must adhere to the Biosecurity Regulation and follow the management and storage methods below.

By using appropriate methods, you can help prevent infestation and spread of fire ants. Insecticide treatments and correct storage of potted plants are the 2 key management techniques to reduce the risk of fire ant infestation in potted plants.

The table below lists Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) approved pesticides, including in which situations to use them and their treatment methods.

Treatment of potted plants

Applying an appropriate treatment to potted plants minimises the risk of fire ant infestation.

Preventative treatment methods include:

  • incorporating granular insecticides in potting media
  • drenching of pot plants
  • dipping pot plants.

The table below lists Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) approved pesticides and included in which situations to use them and their treatment methods.

Pesticide name and permit number Permit expiry dateSituation(s) Treatment methods

Bifenthrin*

PER13959

31 March 2023

Container grown nursery stock (non-food and non-bearing fruit trees)

Incorporated in potting mix

Chlorpyrifos*

PER14256

30 September 2025

Container grown ornamental nursery plants

Incorporated in potting mix

Bifenthrin

PER14317

31 December 2021

Container grown ornamentals (non-bearing fruit trees)

Pot drench/dip

Cyfluthrin

PER12073

31 March 2020

Potted/containerised/bagged plants

Pot drench

Chlorpyifos

PER13504

30 September 2027

Potted/containerised/bagged plants (non-bearing fruit trees)

Pot drench/dip

*If incorporating bifenthrin or chlorpyrifos granular insecticides into potting mix, the product's dosage rate determines the protection period. Bifenthrin can protect potted plants for more than 24 months, and chlorpyrifos for up to 12 months.

Drenching or dipping of potted plants

The protection period varies depending on the insecticide used.

  • Bifenthrin provides 28 days protection
  • Cyfluthrin provides 72 hours protection
  • Chlorpyrifos provides 28 days protection.

All insecticides must be used in accordance with the conditions of the APVMA permit and in conjunction with the product's label.

Storage of potted plants

Correct storage is vital to ensure that potted plants remain free from fire ants.

If a potted plant does not have any treatment protection and will remain on the property for over 24 hours, you must use the following storage options:.

  • off-ground and covered
  • or
  • on-ground and covered, either on:
    • concrete or bitumen (no cracks)
    • a barrier that cannot be penetrated by fire ants (e.g. 200 micron unperforated plastic sheeting)
    • compacted ground (other than sand) that has been treated with an appropriate chemical product before storage.

If stored on the ground, chemical treatment must be applied around the perimeter of the on-ground storage area. This should be done by applying a 30cm-wide strip of insecticide containing 80g/L bifenthrin. Keep the treated area free of material that could form an untreated 'bridge' to the potted plants.

For an insecticide registered as a horizontal or perimeter barrier for fire ants, refer to APVMA permit PER14317 (expires 31 December 2021). You can search for permits on the APVMA website. The National Red Imported Fire Ant (RIFA) Eradication Program offers free fire ant pest management training, including how to treat with chemicals.

Keeping a record

Keep a written record of the steps you've taken to ensure potted plants are stored correctly, including which chemical product and the method of treatment you used. These records should be kept for a minimum of 2 years.

For further information, contact a RIFA Eradication Program inspector on 13 25 23.

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