Growing Potted Herbs from Plug Trays
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Karin Eckardt
Posted on: May 24, 1998

I would like to order some of your plug trays on a regular basis to grow saleable potted plants.

(1) Could you please send me a list of those varieties not listed in your published catalogue (see note Page 23).

We don’t have a list of these. What was meant by the note on page 23 is: if there are any varieties for which plug trays are not listed, please inquire and we will advise whether or not we can do them. Sorry for the imprecise language.

(2) What is the latest regular shipping date for plug trays? "Weather permitting" is not a reliable condition to base any commercial activity on. In particular, I do want to grow potted plants mainly during off season; i.e., I do not wish to compete with the big bedding plant suppliers.

Our normal shipping season for potted herbs is April to October. For plugs we are now shipping year round subject to availability of plant material (some items are only available over a shorter season). During the coldest months we may have to use heated trucks or air freight to your nearest airport. From March to October, our usual unheated carriers such as UPS are okay for shipments under 10 or 20 trays.

(3) How do I know in advance which varieties require 8 weeks lead time and which require 12 weeks lead time?

There are too many factors involved to be able to give you a reliable list. Some varieties are slow to root at certain times, and fast at other times. Some produce more cuttings at certain times. And in some cases there is a high seasonality of demand that often causes a backlog of orders.

The best approach is to provide us a list of what you want and when you need them, and we will tell you what we can do.

(4) Do you provide/sell instructions that detail how to proceed once your plug trays have arrived?

We do not have a "how-to" guide to transplanting plugs and growing plants to saleable size. This is something that we may well do in the future, but it is not something that we can provide now, unfortunately. We do have staff here who can answer specific questions about specific herbs on the phone.

(a) what minimum facilities do you recommend?

You need a greenhouse with at least 12 square feet of bench space per plug tray. This is assuming that you will pot up into 3-1/2 inch or 4 inch pots, with 18 pots per flat. A flat is approximately 2 square feet.

(b) how long does it take on average to have saleable potted plants? (The 30 days quoted in the catalogue appear a bit optimistic.)

We can do it 30 days. Of course, there are slow growing herbs that take longer, but herbs such as oregano, mint, basil can be ready to sell in a 3" pot in 30 days when grown in the spring (when light levels are high and the days are longer). Generally, however, you should allow 45-60 days in spring and summer, and 60-90 days in winter (unless you have sufficient supplemental light).

(c) Do you provide a list of common mistakes with plug trays?

We honestly cannot think of any common pitfalls. Plugs are very easy to handle, and most growers have good success with them. That is why they are becoming the method of choice for so many growers. When you think of what is involved in maintaining your own stock plants and making your own cuttings, and trying to do that for dozens, if not hundreds, of varieties, each with different propagating protocols, then buying plugs makes a lot of sense. We have customers who do not heat their greenhouses until they receive their plugs from us in March. If they had to maintain their own stock plants, they would have to heat their greenhouses year round.

Perhaps the biggest mistake growers make is to assume that they can order plugs at the last minute in spring. Growers should get their orders in at least two months in advance of their needs, preferably earlier.

(5) Can you recommend relevant literature that details how to grow saleable plants from plug trays?

We are not aware of any literature specific to this topic. There is a literature on growing plugs, but not, as far as we know, on the growing on in pots.

(6) "Make up to 800% profit" sounds too good to be true. What would be a more realistic profit?

That figure is based on the cost of the plant material only. If you add in the cost of soil, pots, labels, labour, heat, etc., then, of course, the profit diminishes. You can easily sell for three times your costs if you are growing for the spring market.

(7) What would be the typical courier charges to Alberta or B.C. (Trail) - using 5 and 10 trays as shipment examples?

We ship orders this size to your area by UPS Expedited. To outlying areas (rate zone 312) a 10 tray order shipped in three boxes costs about $200 Canadian. To more urban areas (rate zone 307 or 308) this is less than $150. Larger orders shipped by air freight can get the per tray shipping cost down considerably.

We are experimenting with alternate shipping methods for plug trays. We are hopeful that we can get the plug tray shipping costs down considerably. We hope to have a new system in place by the beginning of 1999.

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