Another WOW (why oh why) – “biodegradable” mesh for plugs

David Hobson, a garden columnist, sent me this great photo of his petunia planted earlier this year. Take a look at the root growth (or lack thereof):

I’m not sure where this particular product came from, but it looks a lot like a FERTISS propagation plug.  Here’s a description from their website of this product.”FERTISS is a ready-to-use, pre-filled propagation tray system. Cuttings are placed in a mixture of peat and perlite wrapped in a non-woven fabric. Roots of young plants will easily penetrate this fabric and enter the airspace between the fabric and the plastic cell wall. Roots are naturally air-pruned, resulting in a faster and better take, increased lateral branching, and improved transplanting performance.”

It sure doesn’t look like roots “easily penetrate” this fabric, at least when gardeners get them potted up at home.  And though I can’t see the top of the plant, I’m guessing it didn’t show “improved transplanting performance,” especially compared to a plug from a traditional liner pot.

Nowhere did I find what this “non-woven fabric” was made of (though there are allusions online to it being biodegradable), but it’s just one more impediment for plants – and gardeners – to deal with.

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Linda Chalker-Scott

Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott has a Ph.D. in Horticulture from Oregon State University and is an ISA certified arborist and an ASCA consulting arborist. She is WSU’s Extension Urban Horticulturist and a Professor in the Department of Horticulture, and holds two affiliate associate professor positions at University of Washington. She conducts research in applied plant and soil sciences, publishing the results in scientific articles and university Extension fact sheets. Linda also is the award-winning author of five books: the horticultural myth-busting The Informed Gardener (2008) and The Informed Gardener Blooms Again (2010) from the University of Washington Press and Sustainable Landscapes and Gardens: Good Science – Practical Application (2009) from GFG Publishing, Inc., and How Plants Work: The Science Behind the Amazing Things Plants Do from Timber Press (2015). Her latest effort is an update of Art Kruckeberg’s Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest from UW Press (2019). In 2018 Linda was featured in a video series – The Science of Gardening – produced by The Great Courses. She also is one of the Garden Professors – a group of academic colleagues who educate and entertain through their blog and Facebook pages. Linda’s contribution to gardeners was recognized in 2017 by the Association for Garden Communicators as the first recipient of their Cynthia Westcott Scientific Writing Award. "The Garden Professors" Facebook page - "The Garden Professors" Facebook group - Books:

11 thoughts on “Another WOW (why oh why) – “biodegradable” mesh for plugs”

  1. I tried looking up the site and any photos. I was disappointed as I actually thought it would be some sort of biodegradable fabric and not some moulded ruff looking cardboard type of material. I’m looking for a biodegradable type of fabric like Jute or even the newer non fruiting banana tree fiber which has promise for a type of jute. I’m not exactly sure how long it takes Jute to break down, but a loosely woven version is what I am presently using in my Mesquite & Palo Verde seed container experiment. I figured by next year when I actually plant them in the desert of San Diego or Imperial County, I’d make a couple of slits here and there before I planted. We’ll see. I should have photos and my post up in another couple of weeks. Interesting info though.

  2. BTW, the Banana type plant is called Abaca (Musa textilis Née) which is a Philippines native plant grown for fibers. Beautiful tree also. Looks very much like Jute.

    I found info on it at a website blog of Dr. Victor B. Asio who is professor of soil science & geo-ecology at Visayas State University, Leyte, Philippines.

  3. Plug material, pot choice, planting mix aside, that’s a petunia root ball. No different from those I just pulled from my pots – plants still growing well in spite of heavy frost which killed its coleus companions. Started both from seed in organic seed mix, timely transplant into organic potting mix, etc. I don’t think petunia root balls are
    good illustrations of your point.

  4. Beth, roots don’t normally grow in balls. Roots explore soil and exploit resources vertically and horizontally. They only grow in circles when they’re restricted from growing elsewhere.

  5. Of course. I suggest the pictured petunia root cluster may not differ from other petunias grown in confined space, started in the Fertiss system or otherwise (mine). Consider coleus as a test instead.

  6. Sometimes manufactures have brilliant ideas, but after reading through the material, I’m not sure I’d trust my precious seeds to this method. While the root ball in photo has some outward roots, the ball itself looks so constricted. I wonder if it should have transplanted. Awfully top-heavy for what’s there.

  7. Is it safe to assume you know what this product is and that your claims of it not appearing good are founded and not just assumptions based on what you think to be true? I know, it’s a SUPER argumentative question, but I rely on you and the other GPs for science based information that I can use and this post appears to fall short of the mark. Without being able to enlarge the picture, I can’t tell much, but it looks a little like an Elle plug which is a fine system in my experience. The roots don’t look like normal Petunia roots at all to me, but is it safe to assume they look that way because of the plug wrap? I don’t know, but I need you to know it if you’re going to spend your considerable credibility pointing in that direction.

  8. Paul, I can understand your discomfort with this. I’ve collected more information from David and will do another post with photos. Short answer: there is no excuse for producing a plant with a root system that is so poorly developed at the end of the growing season. It’ll be up later today.

  9. I try to remove this mesh before planting. I have found it inhibits the growth of the plant. I have dug plants up a season later wondering why it is not doing as well as expected. Sure enough, there is this fiber, still intact, with roots trying to grow up and over the fiber. Almost every plant I lost was due to this fiber not being removed.

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