When it comes to pots and containers, "sustainability" means different things to different people and this was very much apparent at the Four Oaks Trade Show earlier this autumn.
A range such as Kreuwel's KC Containers has as strong a claim as any to being eco-friendly, says Nigel Swain of UK distributor Square Root Horticulture. "We reckon these are more environmentally friendly than bio-pots made in China, the source materials of which can't be traced," he explains. "Kreuwel's are manufactured on lower-energy machines and require less energy to make than a polyethylene pot and plastics can be made to break down quicker with additives."
However, Square Root also supplies "small orders" of bio-pots made from potato starch to more green-minded nurseries. "Their customers want to be more green and they are hitting those markets," Swain adds. He notes a trend for growers to order fewer pots but in larger sizes, particularly 7.5 and 10 litres and says this is one way for growers to add value to their product in difficult times.
Elsewhere in the sustainability debate, Jiffy has built its name on peat products. However, UK sales and marketing manager Stephen Godfrey says: "We are being asked more for pots made out of coir rather than peat. They are similar in cost to produce and have similar properties, but coir disintegrates a bit quicker, and they are plantable directly into the soil - not all recyclable pots are."
Containerwise Materials Handling director David Meek says that in the case of seedling trays: "It's one thing to be recyclable, but these are long-life products that can be continually reused - they could last years."
These include the "relatively new" SPID range of hard polypropylene cell trays in a range of cell sizes, which feature a UV stabiliser for added durability. "On the vegetable side, you might get two or three uses a year, depending on the crop," Meek explains. "Even then, they would still last a decade. We don't know the upper limit - we know of trays of ours that were sold in 1987 and are still in use today. They are more expensive initially, but are an investment in the long term and you don't have the landfill problem. Of course, growers have to know they will get them back, but for those who pot on themselves, the trays never leave the nursery, so they are onto a winner."
Modiform UK sales manager Shaun Herdsman also stresses the durability of the Dutch-based pot and tray manufacturer's range, to which it is adding products made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET). "It hasn't been much used in horticulture before," he says. "Councils love them because they are reusable, unlike polystyrene, which has to be thrown away, and they won't snap or go brittle in the sun, so can stand outside for a long time."
This gives the products relatively green credentials, Herdsman says. "They are already 70 per cent recycled and can be recycled again. Some compostable products you need heat to break down, so it's a false economy, and not really environmentally friendly. We think that this is the way to go and will be investing millions in machinery over the next two years. The tooling to make them has to be strong and hard."
Explaining Modiform's approach to new product development, Herdsman says: "We work with growers to design products - only rarely would we do it off our own bat. It's then 'their' product and we will offer them exclusivity for three years - although if others want to buy it in that time, they will get a commission."
Desch Plantpak marketing manager Chris Breed says with factories in Essex and Cheshire, his company can reprocess waste plastic from growers for making new trays. On the other hand, he adds: "Biodegradable pots are talked about, but they are still expensive - they are therefore a long way off being competitive."
Of the Dutch-based company's range, Breed says: "There is a tendency to make lighter-weight products to reduce the amount of material used and it has to work well in automated systems. Also, we are putting in more holes in our 2-litre pots for better drainage. On the Continent, they water and feed a lot, but like the pot to drain well."
German manufacturer Poppelmann already sells to 70 countries and is now aiming to expand its presence in the UK market, says representative Sven Hoping. "We are a big company, so customers know that when they order from us they can do so reliably. Mostly, growers will negotiate with our distributors, but we have two sales representatives in the UK now," he says.
Also made of recycled plastic is Poppelmann's new range of Teku EP black four-pot and six-pot trays, which have the same tight 188x158mm footprint. "They are designed to allow as many on a Container Centralen shelf as possible," says Hoping. Considerable thought has been put into the positioning of the irrigation holes, he adds, while the rigidity given by the moulded edge allows for smooth unstacking by machine.
Slots also allow for insertion - manual or automatic - of carry-handles and plant-information labels. "We are not the cheapest, but we think that the quality of our patented products sets them apart," Hoping says.
The German manufacturer is also looking to add value with two more upcoming products. One, a 144-cell propagation tray, incorporates root guiding ribs and free air circulation below each cell. The other, a pot designed specifically for orchid growing and distribution, offers increased stability and ease of stacking and unstacking, while the translucent pot material aids the healthy root growth of a typical Phalaenopsis. Plant supports can also be securely anchored to fittings inside the bottom of the pot.
Wiltshire-based Haxnicks is another supplier of more specialist plant products and the company has taken over distribution of the Rootrainer woody seedling cells from Ronaash. Long-rooted seedlings are "air-pruned" by the presence of holes, while roots are driven downwards by grooves and the range has been augmented with the new Torpedo Pot format. "They allow the same effective air-pruning as our other products, while also being in a modular tray system, allowing the handling of cells individually, or by the tray," says grower manager Tom Hughes. "They are good for Clematis growers and anyone looking for a strong, deep root."
The company has also developed translucent plastic MailPacks, which allow a four-pack of Rootrainer-grown plants to be shipped reliably while ensuring they remain aerated. The company recommends no further packaging as, with the contents visible, they are likely to be given more considerate handling.
Also new from Haxnicks is the Vigoroot range of hardy nursery containers, developed with an overseas partner and made from recycled polypropylene. The tough, felt-like material is porous enough to bring the air-pruning concept to larger trees and shrubs. "You can keep a plant in the same pot on the nursery for three or even five years and it won't outgrow it," says Hughes. "The roots are still in the right place, ready to grow away when it's planted without any root shock."
New products roundup
- Able to take both square and round pots from 9-15cm, the 15-slot Danish-size Marketing Tray from Desch Plantpak is made from recycled plastic. This is not the case for variations on the standard black.
- The KinderGarden plug tray from Modiform has a specially designed handle and label in one th at clips over the end cells, introduced to the market through independent garden centres this year.
- Modiform has introduced a 3x3-litre pot tray for larger specimens. "You get 21 on a Danish trolley shelf, giving a 40 per cent saving on Container Centralen space," says UK sales manager Shaun Herdsman.
- Plantopia of Lancashire has introduced an adjustable stand for its highly successful Easy Fill plastic hanging baskets, in response to customer demand, says co-owner Chris Haley.
- French manufacturer Soparco has extended its Sopafix range of plant support frames, with one to fit a 9cm six-pack of climbing or spreading plants. "People know the Sopafix range for pots, but not for packs," says area sales manager Murielle Jayer.
- Designed originally for pot-grown Christmas trees, the Easiroot pot from Lows of Dundee "air-prunes" the roots courtesy of its evenly spaced holes, with no loss of rigidity. "One Tayside grower found it gave healthier, more vigorous trees," says director Brain Calder.
- Soparco has also extended its Colorama range of coordinated coloured 14 and 15cm pots, with beige adding to the existing fuchsia, violet and red versions.Bowls are also now available in green, violet and fuchsia and 40cm troughs in fuchsia and violet. "They are good for the Christmas and Valentine's markets," says Murielle Jayer.
- GoGreen from Plastona is a range of interior and exterior planters in nine colours and two finishes that are designed to be smart, lightweight and tough. "They are manufactured in Greece to EU standards," says Nigel Swain of UK distributor Square Root Horticulture. "They are made using low-energy machines and are fully recyclable."