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Modiform responds to the increasing popularity of paper plugs

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Emiel te Walvaart, dinsdag 6 februari 2024
326 sec

The 144-hole tree tray has been further refined so that it can be filled efficiently with paper plugs

The popular 144-hole tree tray (2578 tree tray 144), often used for rooting conifer cuttings, is now also suitable for filling with paper plugs. The robust properties of the Modiform tree tray make it ideal for paper plugs, which are gaining ground in tree nurseries. Cuttings thrive in the shape of the cup, which ensures the root system develops well. Joyce Langeslag (Modiform), Wilbert van Luenen (Wilbert Stek) and Rico Scheffers (OptiPlug) share their positive experiences.

Joyce Langeslag shows a tree tray
Joyce Langeslag shows a tree tray

Modiform supplies various trays suitable for tree nurseries, a line of tree trays and a line of multi-trays. The tree tray line is undergoing some interesting developments. Joyce Langeslag (account manager propagation at Modiform) looks at this trend in more detail, focusing specifically on the 144-hole tree tray. 'Not only are numerous propagation nurseries using this tray, but various paper plug manufacturers are also filling it with paper plugs. I've noticed that the 144-hole tree tray is winning an increasingly central place in the market, also for paper plugs.'

The popular 144-hole tray

Modiform is already well known for its practice of using 100% recycled trays to produce new trays. Sustainability is also becoming a keyword in the tree nursery sector. Modiform wants to boost this, through the use of recycled material and its closed loop commitment. With this approach, the company uses as much material as possible that is already circulating in the market. 'We can recycle almost all this material in-house, into products such as tree trays. These trays are available in a wide range of sizes, with capacities from 8 to 160 cells per tray. The trays with the most cells are used by both tree growers and specialist propagation nurseries for rooting cuttings. The trays with fewer cells or cups are often used as an intermediate stage for planting material before being potted.'

Thuja orientalis ‘Aurea Nana’ in the 144-hole tray
Langeslag singles out the popular 144-hole tree tray, which the grower usually uses for conifer cuttings. 'It's very well adapted to this task,' says Langeslag. 'The cells in the tree tray range are designed to root cuttings. The base, height and ribs in the tray are designed to help cuttings develop excellent root systems. It's important for propagation nurseries that the cuttings they produce are very vigorous, well branched, and well rooted. If a grower is supplied with a well-rooted cutting, the young plant will grow faster after potting. The 144-hole tree tray has become a standard, alongside the Modiform 104-hole tree tray. The big difference is that the cells are larger, because the plants need more space.'

From conifer to bedding plant

The 144-hole tray was originally developed for propagating various crops in tree nurseries, but, as already mentioned, it's also ideal for conifers. 'The average conifer tends to root fairly slowly, and it takes a while to develop a nice, full, root ball,' Langeslag explains. 'In this respect, paper plugs are clearly becoming more popular. They are made by specialised paper plug manufacturers, as well as growers who decide to make their own paper plugs. This tree tray is ideal for a paper plug, which makes it unusually useful. Paper plugs do very well in combination with the tree tray, even though the tray was actually designed for loose filling with substrate for rooting young plants. Paper plugs can be used problem-free in our tree trays.'

'Paper plugs do very well in combination with the tree tray, even though the tray was actually designed for loose filling with substrate for rooting young plants.'

Paper plugs are produced in automated systems with machines set up to make to certain sizes. If different sizes are required, it's necessary to buy new parts for the machine. Modiform is using the 144-hole tree tray, which can also be used for paper plugs, as a starting point for a new paper plug tray that is actually suitable for bedding plants instead of tree cultivation. 'We'd like to brainstorm with paper plug manufacturers who make products for tree nurseries, so that the latter can use the same machine for a paper plug tray for bedding plants with a minimum of investment. Modiform makes sure that the sizes match as well as possible, so that paper plug manufacturers can produce multiple types of plugs for different plants in a range of trays,' says Langeslag.

Thuja 'Smaragd' in paper plug

Tray dimensions

Modiform recently introduced a 144-hole tray for paper plugs (1974 Paper plug tray 144). It's ideal for bedding plants, among others, which means paper plug manufacturers can produce multiple paper plugs with the same machine settings. 'Compared to a tree tray, the cells in the bedding plant tray are a lot less deep. This is because the cultivation period is much shorter, and necessitates other requirements. Even so, different trays easily fit on the machine, so production can continue running without delay. The 144-hole tree tray has been so successful that we've used its dimensions as a basis for a paper plug tray for a completely different market. For this reason, OptiPlug invested in a machine that can serve multiple markets for those dimensions.'
The 144-hole tree tray can be transported on Danish carts. This product is kept in stock, so it can be delivered within a few working days. Moreover, the minimum order size is very small, such as a single pallet or even less; Modiform is flexible in this regard.

Ilex crenata 'Luxus' with roots protruding from a 144-hole tray

Propagation of conifers

Wilbert van Luenen, owner of Wilbert Stek, has been using the 144-hole tree tray to from Modiform to his great satisfaction for a long time. 'I mainly use the trays for conifers cuttings, such as Thuja and Taxus. As far as I'm concerned, it's set the standard for conifer trays.' Modiform has been supplying the propagation nursery from Gendt in the eastern Netherlands for many years. In addition to 144-hole trays, Wilbert Stek also purchases 104-hole and 160-hole trays. 'All three trays are of the same type. The proportions of the 144 tray are simply good for conifers. A major advantage of that tray, like all of Modiform's trays, is that it has a foot underneath the cells, which helps the cuttings to root back nicely. In addition, the roots don't grow through the cloth, which is useful. Otherwise, when the plant is removed, a few percent of the roots are immediately lost and the plant suffers a shock.'

'The roots in the 144-hole tree trays are all directed outwards, ready to continue growing'

'There are slits in the cup, which prevent the roots from rotating, as they would do in a smooth tray. When young plants arrive at the customer, it takes longer for them to grow again if the roots have rotated. The roots in our trays are all directed outwards, ready to continue growing. In fact, that's the secret of these trays.'

Wilbert van Luenen
According to Van Luenen, people often think that the firmer the root ball, the better. 'However, that's not true at all. Rapid growth is what's actually needed; the roots have to develop without delay. That's the advantage of these trays.' Another positive aspect is that the cups are square at the top, which makes it easy for potting robots to do their work. Importantly, the trays are strong enough to be processed in the machine without any problems.
The propagation specialist also values production capacity. 'We really want to have enough cuttings per square metre, but there are limits. The cutting must have room to grow. The 144 conifer tray has exactly the right proportions for this. The cuttings can't be too close together, but too far apart should also be avoided, as it will make the cutting slightly more expensive.'

Fillling trays with paper plugs

OptiPlug had been producing various models of the tree tray series for a number of years, but they didn't have the correct diameter in the range for the 144-hole tree tray. Rico Scheffers, co-owner of OptiPlug: 'There was clearly interest in the market in the possibilities of using a slightly smaller diameter. That would save paper, substrate, trays, and space, and therefore reduce costs. We were already producing 19-mm and 25-mm plugs, but there was a bit of a gap in the range between these sizes. This was one of the reasons that we decided investing in a line producing 22-mm plugs would be an important step in offering more options to our customers.'
Scheffers gives an example. 'For example, a customer of ours planted 25-mm roots in Modiform 126-hole trays. However, after extensive testing on various 144-hole trays, they decided that switching to a smaller diameter was possible.'

The 144-hole paper plug tray is easily stackable
This new, shallower tray was developed by Modiform in cooperation with Green Products. Scheffers says that ensuring both 144-hole trays had the same centre-to-centre distance was given lots of attention. 'This was very important to us, as it allows us to process both trays properly with the same machines and parts. That saves unnecessary expenditure that we would otherwise have to pass on to our customers.'
Scheffers: 'It was still an anxious moment when the new machine and the new 144-hole plug tray were ready at the same time, but now we're running at full speed.' All in all, he's delighted with the 144-hole plug tray. 'I think that Modiform really looked deeply at what was needed from the customer's perspective during development. For example, the "stacking lugs" of the trays were designed carefully, allowing us to unstack them without any problems. The trays also have to be resilient, so that they can take a bash in automated systems. These are simply very solid, strong trays that we can fill efficiently with our paper plugs.'

Rico Scheffers
Langeslag notes that paper plugs are becoming more popular in tree nurseries, as a consequence of the good results offered in rooting cuttings. The following paper plug manufacturers use Modiform trays for tree nurseries: Green Products, OptiPlug and Van der Knaap Groep.

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