Trays with a function

Calkins, Bill


Tray selection has become a critical decision for young plant growers. Attention must be given to choices including consistent dimensions, structural integrity, and shipping efficiency.

DIFFERENT crops require different trays and methods, especially for growers of young plants. Propagation trays do not just hold plants – they are developed to enhance proper growth, maintain structural integrity, work well with automation equipment, simplify shipping considerations, and above all to help growers acheive consistent and efficient results.

Here are some of the latest developments in propagation trays and growing systems. This segment of the industry is on the move, so be sure to consider your needs and explore all options before choosing the tray system that best fits your production.

Container Considerations

Allen Pyle of C. Raker & Sons, Litchfield, MI (see Top 10 Plug Growers, page 14) offers some good advice for young plant growers. “When choosing a tray, growers need to consider not just the cost of the tray, but also the sturdiness, how well it will work with existing automation, and shipping the finished trays,” he says.

Many factors determine the structural viability of a tray and ease of transplanting. The cell design must prevent ball rooting and in-growth of roots into the cell wall. Cells are typically shaped to promote healthy root growth and manufacturers are meeting the needs of specific crops with carefully designed trays that have consistent dimensions.

New plastic technologies have also helped tray manufacturers meet the needs of growers and their customers.

Injection Molding

One of these advances benefiting automated growers is the use of injection molding in tray production. In responding to our plug grower survey, Karen Sargent of Green Circle Growers, Oberlin, OH, (see Top 10 Plug Growers) listed injection-molded trays as a value-added service to Green Circle’s customers.

By definition, injection molding is a process that takes raw plastic in the form of small pellets, heats it gently to the point that it will flow under moderate pressure, and injects it into a mold. The mold is made up of two separate halves. After allowing enough time for the plastic to cool off, the mold separates and the molded part is removed. Benefits of injection molding include greater structural integrity when using automated transplanters, taggers, and more, as well as creating longer lasting trays.

Why Change?

No propagation tray is perfect for all growers but changes in the industry are causing many growers to reevaluate their selections.

Betrand d’Arrentieres of the French media and equipment company, Fertil International, explains examples of what drives the design of new propagation trays.

“The size and style of propagation benches greatly influence the design of new trays, especially of the cells in each tray,” he says. “As well, increased use of automatic transplanters calls for adaptations of propagation trays.”

Growers are seeking the highest density of plug per square foot, he says, provided that the cells get enough space for air pruning and development of the young plant. d’Arrentieres adds that Fertil started 20 years ago with two types of propagation trays and now offers more than 20 styles.

Sharing Resources

What are other growers using for propagation? Our survey yielded some interesting results including increased use of spacer flats, 200 cell, Common Element (CE), and prefilled trays. Respondents also seemed excited to report on the success of new, patented tray systems including Fischer’s Q-Plug and Ener-G systems, the QUIX system from Dumm.en (see “Innovative Systems”), and the Fertiss system from Fertil International, as well as many non-patented systems.

Shipping ‘Em Out

Whether shipping on the ground with a national carrier like FedEx, using your own truck, or shipping via airplane, efficiency must be of major importance when choosing a propagation system.

Careful action must be taken to ensure that the young plants will arrive to your customers in near-perfect to perfect condition. Many propagators have even designed their own boxes that meet shipping standards and provide safe shipping for trays and young plants of multiple sizes.


All of the considerations for tray selection listed, and more, play a large role in the success of your young plant business. Evaluate your current system and wherever possible, consider implementing changes that will increase your efficiency There are plenty of choices out there.


Editorial Assistant

Copyright Meister Publishing Company Mid-Sep 2002

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved

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