Questions and Answers - Import requirements for soil on plants intended for planting

This page is part of the Guidance Document Repository (GDR).

Looking for related documents?
Search for related documents in the Guidance Document Repository

1. What can I import, and from where?

Can I import plants with soil to be planted in Canada?

You can import…

plants with soil from most areas of the continental U.S., as long as they are accompanied by a Phytosanitary Certificate stating that the material is free of regulated soil-borne pests.

You cannot import…

plants with soil from anywhere other than the continental U.S., or from certain regulated areas in the U.S.

Is there any way I can import plants with soil from areas other than the continental U.S. and from regulated areas within the U.S.?

No. Plants for planting imported from areas other than the continental U.S. and from specific regulated areas within the continental U.S. must be free from soil, as stated in the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's (CFIA's) Automated Import Reference System (AIRS) and on Permits to Import issued by the CFIA. Plants can have, at most, a fine film of dust such as what might be left by dirty wash water. Any peds (clumps/aggregates), patches or thicker films of soil are a non-compliance – the plants do not meet Canada's import requirements.

The CFIA will take regulatory actions in response to non-compliance, as described in An Importer's Guide to Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) Inspections.

What is the CFIA's definition of "soil"?

The CFIA uses the word "soil" to include:

  • soil;
  • unapproved growing media; and
  • soil-related matter, such as:
    • humus;
    • compost;
    • earthworm castings;
    • muck;
    • plant litter; and
    • plant debris.

The same requirements apply to everything considered to be soil by the CFIA. For full definitions of "soil" and "soil-related matter", please refer to the Plant Health Glossary of Terms.

Can plants be imported with growing media?

From the CFIA's perspective, growing media poses the same risk as soil and soil-related matter unless it is from a facility approved under the Canadian Growing Media Program (CGMP). Therefore, any growing media found on plants from areas other than the continental U.S. is considered a non-compliance – meaning that the plants do not meet Canada's import requirements – unless the plants were imported under the CGMP.

For more information on the CGMP, please refer to the CFIA's directive D-96-20: Canadian Growing Media Program, Prior Approval Process and Import Requirements for Plants Rooted in Approved Media or contact your local CFIA office.

What are the import requirements for potato material intended for planting, with or without soil?

Potato (Solanum tuberosum) material intended for planting must meet separate, specific requirements. These requirements are described in the CFIA's directive D-98-01: Import Requirements for Seed Potatoes and Other Potato Propagative Material.

What are the requirements for packing materials imported with plants?

Only approved packing materials may be used when importing plants to Canada. Packing materials must be:

  • free from soil, soil-related matter and pests; and
  • new, and never previously used for growing, rooting or packing plants or plant materials.

Plants must not be rooted in packing material, and must not become rooted in packing material during shipping. If the plants are rooted and cannot easily be removed from the packing material without damaging the roots, the packing material is considered to be growing media, and the import requirements for growing media apply.

For more information, see the section on approved packing materials in the CFIA's directive D-08-04: Plant protection import requirements for plants and plant parts for planting.

Can I import "bare-root" plants from the continental U.S.?

The CFIA uses the term "bare-root" to mean free from soil (entirely free from soil, with at most a fine film of dust). However, the term "bare-root" is sometimes used by industry to describe plants that have been treated (for example, shaken) to remove most, but not all, soil. Since the CFIA regulates even a small amount of soil on plants, this type of plant must:

  • be declared as "with soil";
  • be imported under a Permit to Import plants with soil; and
  • meet all applicable import requirements for plants with soil.

As a precaution, importers bringing in plants from the continental U.S. may wish to include both plants with and without soil on their application for a Permit to Import. There is no additional fee to request both types of material on a single permit.

2. What can I do to make sure that my shipments comply with the requirements for soil on imported plants?

How can I make sure that I meet Canada's import requirements for soil?

You can help make sure that your imported plants comply with Canadian requirements by clearly explaining Canada's import requirements for soil to your foreign suppliers. When preparing a lot for shipment to Canada, suppliers should thoroughly clean plants of all soil before they are shipped if the plants are required to be free from soil.

Your suppliers should pay particular attention to:

  • cleaning roots that can more easily trap soil, such as mats of fine rootlets, closely packed roots, crevices, and branching points; and
  • types of soil that are more difficult to remove, such as clays.

Certifying officials in exporting countries, industry, and all other stakeholders are encouraged to contact the CFIA before shipping to update themselves on all applicable import requirements, including those related to soil on plants.

What do I need to do to import plants with soil from the continental U.S.?

  1. Consult the CFIA's Automated Import Reference System (AIRS) to get the import requirements for the specific commodity you wish to import with soil.
  2. If a Permit to Import is required, specify on the Application for Permit to Import Plants and Other Things under the Plant Protection Act (CFIA/ACIA 5256) whether the plants will be imported with or without soil, or if you wish to import both types of material.

If you are not sure whether your imported plants will be shipped with or without soil, it may be simplest to include both plants with and without soil on the permit application form (there is no additional fee to request both types of material on a single permit).

Please note that you cannot import soil associated with any commodity, including plants, from certain regulated areas of the continental U.S.

Which additional declarations do I need on the Phytosanitary Certificate that accompanies the plants I am importing?

Please consult the CFIA's Automated Import Reference System (AIRS), and take the following steps to find out which additional declarations you need to:

  1. Click the link to launch the system
  2. Enter the name or type of commodity in the search field, or find it using the drop-down menus
  3. Select the origin, destination, end use and any required options from the drop-down menus to see the corresponding import documentation requirements, including additional declarations.

3. Why does the CFIA have such strict requirements for soil?

Soil is internationally recognized as a high-risk pathway for introducing Pests Regulated by Canada and animal pathogens. These pests can seriously harm Canada's agriculture, environment and economy, including export trade. Examples of the effects that introduced pests can have in Canada include the following:

  • If an area becomes infested with a regulated pest, local producers can experience reduced crop yields and lost export trade to countries that also regulate the pest.
  • Areas outside of the infested zone may also be affected by lost export trade (in some cases, all of Canada).
  • Measures used to eradicate the pest or prevent its spread outside of the quarantine zone can have long-term impacts (sometimes for decades) and high costs. These measures include:
    • destruction of infested crops;
    • restrictions on planting host crops; and
    • restrictions on movement of plant material and equipment that could carry pests and/or soil outside of the quarantine zone.
  • In addition to the impacts on producers, there are the costs of carrying out surveys to delimit the infested zone and enforce the quarantine measures. Total costs related to quarantine and eradication of a single pest can reach tens of millions of dollars.

4. Where can I find more information?

What can I expect when my shipment is inspected, or if my shipment is found to be non-compliant?

Please see An Importer's Guide to Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) Inspections.

Who can I contact for more information about import requirements for plants with soil?

The CFIA's Horticulture Division, in the Plant Health and Biosecurity Directorate, administers import requirements for plants for planting. If you have any questions or concerns, please write to us at horticulture@inspection.gc.ca or contact your local or regional CFIA office.

Date modified: