Gardentalk – Should you plant mystery seeds? Should you squish woolly bear caterpillars?

Woolly bear caterpillar tries to escape its glass prison located in a North Douglas kitchen in August 2019. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)
A woolly bear caterpillar tries to escape its glass prison in a North Douglas kitchen in August 2019. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

Alaskans say they’ve been getting unsolicited packets of seeds in the mail. Or seeds that Alaskans think they ordered from U.S. seed retailers, but they ended up coming from China or other places overseas instead.

Don’t plant them, says Master Gardener Ed Buyarski. They have not been inspected for disease and may be an invasive species. They also may have not been approved for importation into the U.S.

“There’s rules for that too,” Buyarski says. “Some things are not allowed because of crop seed protection.”

Tomato seeds from Uzbekistan
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service botanists examine tomato seeds sent to U. S. residents from Uzbekistan to determine if they harbor any plant pests or disease. (USDA photo)

Dave Schade, head of the Alaska Division of Agriculture, encourages Alaskans to call his office at 745-7200 if they get any mystery seeds from overseas. He says his staff will ask questions about the packages and how the seeds arrived in the mail. They’ll also ask you to send the packages to their office in Palmer. From there, the mystery seeds will go to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for further examination and investigation.

“Tell us what you have. We’ll tell you how to get it to us,” says Schade. “We’ll collect the information of what you think happened”

Schade also said the agriculture division would love to get the original packaging — and don’t open the little plastic bags with the seeds.

Buyarski advises gardeners to stick with known varieties from reputable U.S. seed companies.

If you do know where your seeds came from, now is the perfect time for a second planting of fast-growing greens like lettuce, mustard greens and kale.

Buyarski also warns that the root maggot may be infesting root vegetables in Juneau. Do not put root maggot-infested vegetable remains into your compost. Buyarski says gardeners may be able to keep the main portion of the vegetable, but they should get rid of the roots and surrounding soil by burning them or putting them in a bag for the dump.

Also, the woolly bear caterpillar is back in Juneau, chewing on trees, bushes, vegetables and herbs. They’ve been seen feasting on apple trees, alders, parsley and berry plants.

Buyarski encourages gardeners to squish the caterpillars and throw them in the trash.

He advises against letting children play with the caterpillars because their white hairs can irritate the skin.

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