Potted plant management

Learn about your legal obligations, and how to minimise the risk of spreading fire ants when working with potted plants.

nursery, women repotting plant

Potted plants contain high-risk materials so careful management is needed to help prevent the spread of fire ants.

The Biosecurity Regulation 2016 details a series of steps you must follow when working with potted plants originating from within South East Queensland’s fire ant biosecurity zones.

This is in addition to any other entry requirements imposed by the destination state or territory.

To reduce the risk of spreading fire ants across South East Queensland and beyond, potted plants must be managed appropriately:

Keep a written record of the steps you take to ensure the potted plants are stored and treated correctly. Include details about chemical treatments and/or disturbance activities. Keep these records for a minimum of 2 years.

You should also be checking your property monthly for fire ants, paying special attention to organic material storage areas. This can be done in conjunction with existing property maintenance.

For further information, complete our online fire ant training or contact our compliance team on 13 25 23.

Fire ant-safe practices for nurseries

Treating potted plants

Treating potted plants helps to minimise the risk of fire ant infestation. All products listed below are approved by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA).

Preventative treatment methods include:

Granular insecticides in potting mix

Bifenthrin can protect potted plants for longer than 24 months and chlorpyrifos for up to 12 months.

If you use bifenthrin or chlorpyrifos in potting mix, the product's dosage rate determines the protection period.

Pesticide name and permit number

Permit expiry date


Bifenthrin (granular) PER13959


Nursery stock (non-food and non-bearing fruit trees)

Chlorpyrifos (granular) PER14256


Container grown, ornamental nursery plants

Drenching and dipping of potted plants

The protection period varies depending on the insecticide used:

  • Bifenthrin — 28 days protection
  • Cyfluthrin — 72 hours protection.

Pesticide name and permit number

Permit expiry date


Bifenthrin PER14317


Potted/containerised root-balled plants

Cyfluthrin PER12073


Potted plants

Spraying of potted plants

Potted plants stored at least 30cm off the ground on a mesh grid may be treated in this way.

Spray the surface of the potted plant and ensure at least 2cm of potting media gets thoroughly soaked. Structural supports for any off-ground storage must also be sprayed.

The protection period for bifenthrin when using this method is 28 days.

Pesticide name and permit number

Permit expiry date


Bifenthrin PER14317


Potted plants stored off-ground, as an alternative to drench/dip methods

Storing potted plants

Storing potted plants appropriately is a simple measure to further reduce the risk of fire ant infestation.

If potted plants are to remain on the property for more than 24 hours, you must use the following storage options:

  • off-ground and covered with an effective barrier that prevents alates (flying fire ant queens) from settling in the potted plants
  • on-ground:
    • covered with an effective barrier that prevents alates from settling in the potted plants
    • stored on a fire ant resistant surface surrounded by a 30cm wide perimeter treatment using an approved chemical product.

Storing off-ground

Potted plants can be stored off-ground on a trailer and either covered with a tarp or placed inside a shed.

Chemical treatment is not required if storing potted plants off-ground.

Storing materials on pallets is not considered off-ground storage. Material can easily fall through gaps and form a 'bridge', potentially allowing fire ants to infest the potted plants. If you want to use pallets, you may do so, but you must follow the recommendations for on-ground storage.

Storing on-ground

Potted plants can be stored on a fire ant resistant surface. Some examples of fire ant resistant surfaces include:

  • concrete or bitumen (with no cracks)
  • a barrier that fire ants cannot penetrate (e.g. 200 micron unperforated continuous plastic sheeting)
  • compacted ground (other than sand) that has been treated with an appropriate chemical product before potted plants are stored.

You must apply a chemical treatment correctly if using on-ground storage. If the soil will be stored:

  • on a fire ant-resistant surface (as above), apply a 30cm wide perimeter around the storage area
  • on compacted ground, the entire ground surface must be treated.

It is also important to keep the treated area free of material that could form an untreated bridge to the potted plants.

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) has approved the use of bifenthrin for the protection of storage areas (PER14317). This permit expires on 29 February 2024.

Insecticides must be used under the conditions of the APVMA permit, the safety data sheet (SDS) and in conjunction with the product label.

Moving potted plants

It is an offence to move a live fire ant from a property. You can only move potted plants within, across, or outside the fire ant biosecurity zones if you do the following:

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

Planning on moving potted plants?

Different rules apply depending on what you are moving and where. Before you turn the key, make sure it’s safe to move your load.

You can also use our material movement advice tool to find out what rules apply to you and your situation.

If cannot comply with these conditions then you must not move the material unless you are granted a biosecurity instrument permit.