January 7, 2019
Talking healthy roots with Ontario horticulture students
Niagara College students are helping to determine optimal propagation method for oak seedlings.
Tree propagation experts from A.M.A. Horticulture and Vineland Research and Innovation Centre visited Niagara College and Guelph University in November 2018 to meet the next generation of top horticulture talent and discuss the science of healthy roots.

More than 100 horticulture students from Niagara College’s School of Environment and Horticulture Programs and the University of Guelph’s Department of Plant Agriculture had the opportunity to learn about RootSmart, an innovative propagation tray developed by Vineland and commercialized by A.M.A.

Students and researchers at both institutions have been conducting trials comparing trees grown in the RootSmart tray with trees grown in other propagation trays. At Niagara College, second-year Horticulture students are using RootSmart to determine the optimal propagation method for oak seedlings.

“We are testing three watering methods and two application rates of a controlled-release fertilizer product,” says Mary Jane Clark, Professor of Horticulture at Niagara College. “The goal is to grow the oak trees until they are ready to be transplanted back into the Chautauqua community in Niagara-on-the-Lake as an urban reforestation project.”

The results of the students’ RootSmart trials continue to be overwhelmingly positive.

“It is a pleasure using the RootSmart propagation tray. It promotes quality root systems that will ensure the oak seedlings become healthy, long-lived trees when they are transplanted out into the community,” says Clark.

Unique in the market, RootSmart’s wall-less, bottomless design promotes a healthy root distribution and helps to prevent the common and costly problem of root defects like circling, diving, ascending or kinked roots. Defects often occur when roots come into contact with the walls of a growing container or tray, rerouting growth in an unnatural direction.

“Root defects often start at the early stages of tree propagation and can be challenging to correct down the line,” says Jason Henry, Senior Research Technician at Vineland, who spoke with the students about root management in nursery production. “We realized that propagators are looking for a tray that promotes quality root systems from the start. RootSmart does that.”

A.M.A.’s Craig Willett and Rick Bradt also spoke with the students about their experience working with Vineland to commercialize RootSmart.

“Tree propagators are hungry for proven innovations that will improve quality and reduce cost, but most of the science never makes it to market,” says Craig Willett, A.M.A.’s resident tree expert and sales representative for RootSmart and Ellepots by A.M.A. “The horticulture students we met with really understood this challenge, and it was exciting to hear them talk about RootSmart as an industry success story.”

After their presentation, the students took the A.M.A. and Vineland guests on a tour, showcasing their RootSmart trials and some of the other innovation underway, including tissue culture research.

“At A.M.A., we are proud to deliver innovative solutions to our customers. But if we want to continue driving innovation in our industry, we have to make sure we’re connecting with the next generation of growers,” says Rick Bradt, Managing Director of A.M.A. “Their enthusiasm and vision for our industry is inspiring, and we are excited to see what horticulture will look like in the next five to ten years.”