Journal of Environmental Horticulture
This experiment investigated the effect of different plug-tray cell designs on root development of red maple (Acer rubrum), red oak (Quercus rubra), and quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) seedlings. In April of 2015, seeds of each species were sown into three plug trays with different substrate volumes and grown for 17 weeks. Two trays had permeable walls for air-pruning, one with vertical ribs and one without. The third tray had impermeable plastic cell walls. Harvested seedlings were analyzed for root dry weight, length, volume, surface area and number of deflected roots. Root length per volume was highest in the impermeable-walled tray for red maple and quaking aspen. The total numbers of deflected root systems were higher for all species in the impermeable-walled tray. Seedlings grown in the air-pruning trays had smaller proportions of deflected root masses. Greater substrate volume did not influence root deflection development. The air-pruning tray without vertical ribs had the lowest total number of root masses with misdirected roots and lower proportions of root masses with misdirected roots for all species. These results indicate that improved root architecture in root-air pruning tray designs is achievable in tree propagation; however, vertical plastic structures in air-pruning trays can still cause root deflections.