A Greener Pot

A Greener Pot

When Western Pulp Products introduced the nursery industry to biodegradable, molded fiber containers in the mid-1950s, headlines in the company’s trade ads heralded the news: “Now you can plant pot ‘n’ all!”

While this feature is still a strong selling point today, especially with the steam-rolling green movement in America, Western Pulp has since come out with a broad line of paraffin wax-permeated, extra-strength molded fiber pots that perform very well above ground, as well.

There are several advantages to using Western Pulp containers. For starters, because they stand up much better to the sun’s UV rays, they often outlast plastic pots, says Jim Lee, Western Pulp Products’ sales and marketing manager. The result is that waxed, molded fiber containers do not become brittle or break after a single year’s use.

Another reason Western containers are especially popular today is that they are made from 100 percent recycled newsprint and, to a lesser extent, heavier kraft paper trimmings, such as cardboard. The comparison to plastic pots is obvious: Western containers won’t lie around in landfills — or someone’s backyard — for eons after they’ve outlived their usefulness. Because they’re made almost entirely of cellulose, they decompose rapidly in the soil, and can even be used to make compost and mulches, or simply thrown out with landscape clippings. Compared to plastic, they also let plants breathe when used above ground.

One drawback to Western containers, especially during these times when almost everything is price driven, is that the smaller ones usually cost more than plastic pots.

“Western containers are not always more expensive than plastic containers,” Lee says. “Normally, as our containers get larger, their pricing becomes comparable to plastic pots, and in some cases, they are actually lower in price.” Where prices do contribute to higher plant prices, retail garden centers are finding, however, that there are lots of consumers who are willing to pay the added cost for a container that’s not only eco-friendly but will last longer and is easily disposed of.

Another disadvantage, one which has since been solved and even turned into a positive, is that because of their irregular surfaces, Western containers will not take a traditional sticky-back bar code. The company overcame that problem by coming up with a T-fastener and barcode tag that attaches quickly to their retail line of containers and can simply be snipped off after purchase.

The silver lining to this is that because Western containers do not accept ink, you won’t find any blaring, unremovable logos plastered all over them. “Like the Un-Cola years ago, we’re the Un-Branded container,” Lee says. “If you’re a garden center, do you really want every one of your container vendors with their merchandising and branding programs in there? It would look like a zoo.” 

Wide Variety

Western Pulp makes a broad range of molded fiber pots, starting with the small, 1.6-gallon patio planter all the way up to the monstrous 70.67-gallon container, which drew a lot of attention at the most recent OFA Short Course. Included in the company’s portfolio is the hanging basket line, which starts at a capacity of 1.84 gallons and goes up to the 5.99-gallon garden basket. All in all, there are close to 60 different configurations.

Lee says that for a time, Western Pulp struggled with a way to lower the cost of its containers to be more competitive with plastic. But that was soon abandoned.

“We came to the realization that we didn’t have to go there,” Lee says. “Molded fiber grew better quality plants,” and were worth every penny. 

The Standard Of Quality

Five years ago, Oregon’s largest greenhouse grower was potting its hanging baskets and patio planters in plastic mainly, with molded fiber pots making up only around 5 percent of the total. Today, more than 50 percent of the plants Hart’s Nursery propagates go out the door in fiber pots — Western Pulp fiber pots.

“It’s really leaning very hard that way as a major portion of our pots and baskets from this point forward,” says Doug Hart, third generation owner/general manager.

“I think that from a grower standpoint, the Western Pulp product is very grower friendly, kinder to the plant, it breathes, is insulated. There are a lot of advantages if it doesn’t dry out so fast. They are the pot to beat.”

Hart says the main reason he’s stepped up his use of fiber pots is that orders are pretty much retailer driven these days. “One of the reasons that I see a lot more in the future is because of my newer customers coming on board. This is their container of choice.” Hart says one of his major customers, which has always been a pulp fiber user, is planning on stepping up its original program to a green level. “What they thought was aesthetic and different before still is, but more importantly, it’s (going) green.” Even though other manufacturers are now offering fiber pots of one sort or another, Hart prefers Western Pulp.

“They’re still the standard of quality, still the number one player. In my opinion, it’s the original green program,” Hart says. “My slogan for them would be, ‘The only natural choice.'”

Hart believes over the next decade there will be a big change in the industry to alternative ways to market plants to consumers, especially newer generations with little time on their hands, “in a more green manner.”

This came home to him dramatically in 2006 when he displayed numerous plants at the Oregon State Fair, all “plastic-less. Everybody thought it was a great idea.”

He added, however, that large, price-driven chains will be slower to adopt the movement. “In the competitive market of mass merchants, that takes a real strong lead. You are going to pay probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 percent more for a 10-inch pulp than a 10-inch plastic pot.” 

Bauman’s Big On Molded Fiber

Grower/farm direct retailer Bauman Farms near Woodburn, Ore., has had great success with hanging baskets ever since it added them to its popular farm-grown produce line several years ago. The operation uses both plastic and Western Pulp containers, the latter for around 10 years, says Brian Bauman, retail sales manager at Bauman Farms.

“The (Western Pulp) 18-inch pulp basket is by far the number one big basket we sell to customers,” he says. “We sell around 1,500 of the 18-inch baskets (a year). The bigger (plastic) baskets are mostly for cities and businesses.” The 18-inch Garden Basket enables customers to have a really big, beautiful basket that doesn’t weigh over 100 pounds, Bauman says.

“The soil volume versus weight is a good ratio. They (hold) a good amount of soil volume but are not super heavy. They just work really well for us,” he says. Plants grown in Western hanging baskets are lighter, Bauman says, because the baskets are tapered at the bottom, and thus don’t require as much soil or water as a comparable-size plastic pot. “They hold just enough to keep the plant going.”

While Western Pulp’s biodegradable nature “is part of it” when it comes to their popularity, Bauman adds that customer awareness of what kind of basket they’re getting is not high because “you can’t see the basket when we sell it.” But feedback has been good.

“We’ve had very good response from our customers on how well the plants grow in the pulp, that they hold water fairly well and give them a nice big basket.” Bauman Farms buys only unwaxed Western Garden Baskets, which are designed to last a year.

The farm has very few if any hanging baskets unsold at the close of the season. Any stragglers are disposed of, whether they’re pulp or plastic. “Every pot would have to be disinfected if we were to use it again,” Bauman says. When such is the case, the Western pots are simply burned. 

Treat Roots Better

Ellen Egan, owner of grower/retailer Egan Gardens in Salem, Ore., has used the pulp products for many years. “We mostly use their hanging baskets and we also do our roses in the 10-inch pots,” she says. Two features of the Western hanging containers that Egan likes are the insulation from heat and the way plant roots cling to the rough, slightly porous sides.

“Plant roots can hook into the sides, so if the basket does dry down you don’t get that gap. When you go to water, it’ll soak up better.” Egan says she still must educate some shoppers that paraffin-treated molded fiber pots do not leak. “They hold up just fine for a whole season and longer if people want to re-use them.” Visit the Western Pulp Products Web site at www.westernpulp.com.

Leave a Reply

One comment on “A Greener Pot

  1. I have a question, we just bought some flowers with a hanging pulp pot, and we are worried that if we put water in it, it will just come apart like paper because of weight.

Latest Stories
AFE Scholarship Video

August 16, 2017

Looking to Host an Intern This Year? Consider AFE’s Sch…

The American Floral Endowment is accepting applications for its Vic and Margaret Ball Intern Scholarship Program and Mosmiller Intern Scholarship Program until Oct 1. Interested companies can apply anytime to become a host employer.

Read More
Delta T Devices WET Sensor in Space

August 15, 2017

Greenhouse Environmental Sensor is Truly “Out of This W…

Delta-T’s multi-parameter WET Sensor has been used by Chinese astronauts aboard the Tiangong-2 Space Lab to cultivate lettuce plants within the weightless atmosphere.

Read More
griffin-expo

August 15, 2017

Griffin Becomes Newest Distributor for Master Nursery G…

The agreement allows Griffin to join Master Nursery’s network of more than 150 supplier partners, while giving Master Nursery access to new product and service options for member businesses in the Midwest, Rocky Mountain, and Pacific Northwest regions.

Read More
Tal Coley, AmericanHort Director of Government Affairs

August 15, 2017

AmericanHort Has a New Director of Government Affairs

Tal Coley, a U.S. Air Force veteran who has an extensive background in issues advocacy, will play an active role in AmericanHort’s upcoming Impact Washington event in September.

Read More
Recyclable Horticulture Plastic Containers

August 15, 2017

How to Know Which Plastic Containers You Can Recycle

Michigan State University’s Garrett Owen offers tips to help you properly dispose of plastic containers, flats, and trays.

Read More
Francis Kwong, PanAmerican Seed

August 15, 2017

Ornamental Seed Scientist Francis Kwong Dies at Age 65

Kwong was most recently the Director of Seed Technology for PanAmerican Seed, and his research was instrumental in the development of calibrachoa, angelonia, and other plants.

Read More
Laura Drotleff

August 15, 2017

Why Consumers May Be More Interested in Plants Than You…

A visit to a local lavender event is a reminder that when you tap into something consumers are excited about and want to experience, the reward can be long-lasting,

Read More
Three Sections of Vineland Research Centre

August 14, 2017

Canadian Greenhouse Conference Features Focus on Techno…

This year’s Canadian Greenhouse Conference kicks off on October 4, and there is no shortage of presentations devoted to how growers can implement new technology in their greenhouses.

Read More
Youngs Greenhouse Space Growing Feature

August 14, 2017

How Young’s Plant Farm Invests in New Structures and Eq…

The Auburn, AL-based Top 100 Grower operation is improving its production infrastructure so it can continue to efficiently produce quality plants and keep up with demand.

Read More
HOVE International Rolling benches on concrete

August 11, 2017

Greenhouse Bench Systems Designed to Handle Any Space

HOVE bench systems from HOVE International can accommodate multiple levels while allowing for run-off water collection.

Read More
DTH 800 (Link4 Corporation)-feature

August 10, 2017

New Sensors Can Help You Manage Your Greenhouse Crop 24…

The wrong environmental conditions in your greenhouse can potentially lead to significant crop loss. Here’s how sensor technology manufacturers are helping you safeguard your greenhouse.

Read More
LED toplighting, Runkle - feature

August 9, 2017

Lighting Technology Under the Microscope at Production …

Here’s a sneak preview of three lighting trends that will be discussed by Erik Runkle at the Production Technology Conference.

Read More

August 9, 2017

Vestaron

Vestaron’s Spear insecticides carry labels for control of thrips, white flies and spider mites on both greenhouse ornamentals and greenhouse vegetables.

Read More

August 9, 2017

Bayer

Bayer’s Altus insecticide can be used before, during and after bloom to control whiteflies, aphids and other sucking pests on a wide range of ornamental pests.

Read More

August 9, 2017

Jiffy

Jiffy’s orchid plug propagation system has been shown to deliver production time savings from 25% to 40% as the uniform substrate stimulates fibrous root growth throughout the plug.

Read More

August 9, 2017

Stockosorb

Stockosorb’s 660 is the company’s most advanced hydrogel product. It is easy to apply and it provides consistent soil moisture to minimize growers’ watering requirements and reduce shrink.

Read More

August 9, 2017

Scotts

Scotts’ Root Factory brand features a range of professional growing media products that offer high-performance mixes with perfectly balanced ingredients to offer cost savings and reduced production cycles.

Read More

August 9, 2017

Kemin

Kemin Industries’ TetraCURB is now labeled for all food crops (indoor and outdoor use) and comes in a wide range of packaging options to meet growers’ needs when battling mites.

Read More