Hero Image

Gardening Helpline

Unsolicited Seed Packages – Have You Received One?

mysterious seeds from China

Unsolicited Seed Packages – Have You Received One?

By Cynthia Zimmerman

Unsolicited suspicious packages of seeds that appear to be predominantly coming from China are being shipped to people across the country. So far residents in 28 states, including California, have received them.  The seeds are not uniform or of any particular type, ranging from ornamental, fruit and vegetable to herbs and weeds.  The package labeling indicates they contain a variety of products, such as beads and jewelry. Those receiving them seem to be individuals who have recently made an on-line purchase.

The main concern is determining whether the seeds pose significant risk to agriculture and natural resources in the U.S. Imported vegetable and agricultural seeds must meet specific phytosanitary and labeling standards and be inspected at the port of entry. Some seeds, including citrus, corn, cotton, okra, tomato, and pepper seeds, may require import permits. Other seed species are prohibited.  USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the U.S. Postal Service, and State departments of agriculture are all working together to determine the potential for the seeds to introduce diseases and pests. Some of the mystery seeds appear to have been coated with something, possibly insecticide or fungicide. There is also concern that some of the seeds might be invasive species that could cause the destruction of native crops and introduce diseases to native plants or be dangerous to livestock

If you or someone you know receives such a package please do the following:

If you already planted the seeds:

  • Remove the seeds or plants with at least 3 inches of the surrounding soil putting it inside a plastic bag.
  • Squeeze the air out of the bag and tightly seal it.
  • Put the bag inside a second plastic bag, also squeezing the air out and sealing tightly.
  • Put the bag in the municipal garbage trash; not in the yard waste.
  • Do not compost these plants.
  • If you planted the seeds in containers, wash out the containers with soap and water to remove any remaining dirt. Do this over a sink or container that can catch the run-off. Put the run-off down the drain or flush down a toilet.
  • Soak the clean container in a 10% bleach and water solution (1 part bleach to 9 parts water) for 30 minutes.

As gardeners it is important that we recognize that it can be risky buying plants, seeds, and other plant products online. Some purchases require proper inspections and paperwork, such as permits or plant health certificates, and can be illegal without them.  Contact APHIS State Health Plant Director at 


before buying seeds or plants on-line from international vendors to determine if the items you are ordering need to be inspected or meet other conditions to bring them into the United States and California.


United States Department of Agriculture, animal and Plant Health Inspection Service





USA Today


International Business Times


Fresno Master Gardeners Helpline

Audrey Hepburn quote: 

"To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow."


Master gardeners are here to help

Have a gardening question? 

Our gardening Helpline is open and we are here to help!

Please email your questions to mgfresno@ucdavis.edu

Including photos is helpful.  We are looking forward to hearing from you!

Garden Checklist

 Adapted from “A Gardener’s Companion for the Central San Joaquin Valley,” 3rd edition, currently available From Fresno County Master Gardeners for $30. 

Gardening Questions  are currently answered by email only. mgfresno@ucdavis.edu

Click here to learn about what you need to do in your garden this week.  See our page of weekly information!



Welcome Elinor Teague

Elinor Teague
A note from Elinor Teague to the readers:

  After writing gardening columns for the Fresno Bee for 18 years, it is a pleasure to be able to continue to offer readers gardening advice and tips here on the Fresno County Master Gardeners’ website. Readers’ questions and comments are always welcome.  Contact the Fresno County Master Gardeners Helpline.

Click here to read Elinor's gardening column



Sign up here to activate your e-list subscription to Master Gardener newsletters and event schedules.  Don't miss an issue!