How to buy - Pots and containers

Working through an enormous range of options is key to finding the right products, Sally Drury explains.

Retail: coloured pots can help to improve presentation when heading for the market
Retail: coloured pots can help to improve presentation when heading for the market

The range of pots and containers for growers, retailers and landscapers is vast. How do I source what I need?

There are products for propagation, production, display and the retail sector. Tedium can set in as you begin to trawl through the formats, materials, shapes, sizes, colours and drainage options in each company's catalogue. But trawl you must if you want to find something to exactly meet your requirements.

For many growers the first considerations will be delivery times and cost. Production schedules, plant quality and ultimately profit margins can all suffer if suitable pots and containers are not available when needed. Whether you are a grower, retailer or garden designer, you will want the goods at a keen price.

Once you have found a reliable source, and worked out your budget, then it is essential to match product to your production and markets.

What options are there for propagation from seeds or for cuttings?

Only a few commercial growers sow into flats these days. Most propagation is done in cell trays, individual pots or blocks because these allow each plant to develop in its own space and make handling easier. You need to consider cell-tray size and format if seeding and/or transplanting is mechanised and how the units will fit onto your benches and handling systems. It is also important to consider drainage and whether the products will suit your irrigation system.

New from H Smith Plastics this year and produced as an additional version of the Vacapot 60, the Vacapot 60-35 is just 35mm deep, so it takes less compost, and can be used as a cheap alternative to plug trays. A seed tray is also available to hold these Vacapots.

There is so much choice of containers for growing-on. Where do I begin?

Young plants need moving into pots or containers as they grow and the best type will depend on the market. Some customers, notably the multiple retailers, want to specify a particular pot or pack for plant production and delivery. If the decision is yours, think about your production methods, mechanisation, handling and irrigation.

Pots and containers should have a lifespan appropriate to the length of production. Lightweight materials may be suitable for producing bedding plants and other lines with quick turnaround times. However, more heavy-duty materials are needed for long-term subjects such as trees and shrubs. Choose pots and packs that are sturdy enough to stand up to the number of times they may be moved around the glasshouse or nursery prior to delivery.

It is also essential to consider the root system. The most suitable depth of pot will depend on the nature of the roots - deep pots are required for plants with tap roots. Pots with vertical grooves inside are designed to promote downwards root growth in nursery stock and discourage roots from spiralling. Be sure to select pots and containers of sufficient size to accommodate the whole root system and allow for growing without causing disturbance. But they should not be so large that an expensive volume of compost is needed. This would also be likely to waste fertiliser, water and bed or bench space.

Finally, check the drainage system. The latest VCG and VCH series of TEKU pots from Poppelmann have a multi-hole profile - holes positioned on three levels contribute to quick watering and draining.

How important is the shape of the pot or container?

For growers, the shape can affect the volume of compost required and the efficiency of the use of space both at production and during transport. Square pots will fill a space neatly and provide stability in transit but will require more compost. For designers, a wide choice of shape means there are plenty of options to match or contrast planters into landscape and garden schemes.

My plants will soon be heading for market. Any tips on pots for presentation?

If you are producing finals, you need to think about the appearance of the plants going for sale. Never underestimate the importance of packaging and presentation when heading for the retail market. Think sales appeal.

You might also think advertising - perhaps by printing the name of the nursery or garden centre on the pot - or you could match flower colour to pot to present an attractive, harmonised product.

LBS and LS Systems have upped their offerings of coloured pots this year, while Desch Plantpak has introduced Thermo square pots (7x7x6cm) in various colours as well as black. Modiform supplies a wide range of coloured bedding-packs. If lockable labels are required, you will need to source pots or packs with appropriate slits.

Are biodegradable pots suitable in the nursery?

Yes, and they can have special sales appeal, but be sure to check the strength and handling characteristics. If you are using pot forks to move plants, you will want a rigid pot - not one that collapses inwards or slides out of the fork's prongs. Materials should also be assessed in terms of temperature build-up and porosity.

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