Well, those days will soon be gone, at least for Ixopo-based Sutherland Seedlings, where the biodegradable Ellepot system is being introduced. This system uses FSC certified paper pots to grow seedlings and cuttings in, which simplifies the logistics of getting plants from nursery to field, simplifies and speeds up the planting process, and biodegrades naturally, leaving no mess behind.
Shaun Biggs of Sutherland Seedlings is convinced that the use of biodegradable Ellepots will revolutionise the nursery industry in South Africa over the next few years, not just for forestry but also for the vegetable, fruit and nut and landscaping industries. So much so that Sutherland Seedlings is now the partner for Ellepot SA, and will be selling and supporting the Ellepot system throughout southern Africa.
Plant growth and transplant performance
Seedlings or cuttings grown in conventional plastic tubes or polystyrene trays can easily become root bound, but with the Ellepot system the roots grow through the paper and are air pruned. The roots continue their lateral growth as soon as they are planted in the soil. After planting it takes time for a plant to recover from the transplant shock of being removed from the tube/tray environment, and for the seedling roots to untangle and start growing out into the soil. This delays the establishment of the plant, and can lead to mortalities if harsh weather is experienced after planting.
When grown in the Ellepot system, the plants natural root architecture is maintained, and studies show there are significantly more secondary roots in the root plug. This more balanced root system means faster root growth after transplanting, better uniformity and less problems with wind throw once the trees are established.
The plants are delivered in bundles - not in trays, so there is nothing (except the pallet wrap holding the bundles together) to get left behind, damaged and discarded. Damaged plastic/polystyrene trays are sent to landfill, and do constitute an environmental hazard.
The paper used to make Ellepots is imported in rolls, and is certified with FSC for use in FSC certified plantations.
"After 10 or 11 months the paper will start breaking down. The grade of paper you use is key, they have different drying out tendencies. We have chosen the paper best suited to local conditions for forestry," said Shaun.
Shaun believes that the use of biodegradable paper pots will become the norm in nurseries in South Africa and around the world in the next few years.
"It's a matter of 'when' - not 'if'," he believes. "It's an environmentally friendly solution that more than ticks all the boxes when it comes to transplant performance and logistics."
Sutherland Seedlings, which currently produces between 10 and 12 million plants per year for the forestry industry (of which 4 million are clonal cuttings), has invested in two Ellepot production lines and has purchased sufficient trays and paper stocks to start rolling out the system to customers far and wide.
Ellepots are also being used in the nursery to grow vegetable seedlings and fruit trees such as avocado's.
*First published in SA Forestry magazine, Oct 2017 Source