Thursday, May 8, 2014

Three signs Tree Tubes have gone mainstream

After being a definite "niche" product for nearly three decades, known mostly to professional foresters and large-scale tree planters, tree tubes have definitely taken huge strides in the last few years in becoming much more of a mass market product (as those of us who recognized, 25 years ago, their potential to revolutionize the way trees are planted in the USA always thought/hoped they would be).

Here are three signs that tree tubes have become accepted standard practice among the rank & file of tree planters in the USA:

1) Tree tubes are now available on Amazon

2) Tree tubes are a common topic of discussion among sportsmen planting trees for wildlife habitat (and it is truly sportsmen who do the heavy lifting in terms of creating habitat for both game and non-game species) on web discussion boards such as QDMA, Michigan Sportsman, etc.  Twenty-five years ago if people were talking about tree tubes at all the discussions centered on questions like, 
"What are these things?"
"You mean I can put a 6 inch seedling in a 5 foot tree tube?" (Answer: Yes! But the tree won't be 6 inches tall for long.)
"Won't it burn up in there?" (Answer: No - it will be happy and growing while un-tubed trees are stressed.)
"Why would I spend $3-4 on a tree tube to protect a 50 cent seedling?"  (Answer: because if you don't you'll be planting that 50 cents seedling year after year, watching deer eat it, and still have nothing to show for your hard work.)

Now the topics on the discussion boards are more along the lines of,
"Which tree tubes are best?"
"Where can I get the best pricing on tree tubes?"
"When do I take my tree tubes off?" (Answer - not until the tree reaches 3" diameter at the base)

I can't say that the information exchanged on these discussion boards is always accurate or the best advice, but it's awesome that tree planters have moved from if/why use a tree tube to, which tree tube is best and how best to use them.

3) Tree tubes are commonly advertised for sale on Craig's List - with the full expectation on the part of the seller that buyers will a) know what they are, and b) need them.

Oh, and another small indication that tree tubes have gone mainstream:  Sales of tree tubes in 2014 have broken all records for total volume, number of orders, and geographic diversity of orders.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

It's best not to re-use tree tubes... but if you're determined to re-use them here are two ways to do it

This post is long overdue.  The single biggest mistake tree planters make when using tree tubes is that they remove them too soon.  As we have discussed, tree tubes are meant to fill three roles throughout the course of their life:  Establishment, support and bark protection.

In the establishment phase (1 to 3 years) the tree tubes protect seedlings from animals, reduce moisture stress (to enhance survival and growth) and shield seedlings from herbicide & mowers, to get seedlings off to a successful start.

At the point in time that the trees emerge from the tree tubes they will have a thinner stem relative to their height than trees planted without tree tubes (the difference being, of course, that trees planted without tree tubes often NEVER reach that height).  Tree tubes are DESIGNED to stay in place to support the trunk of the tree after it emerges from the tube, until the trunk thickens up.

Even when the trees are self-supporting they are still at risk for bark damage from deer (buck rub) and rodents.  Tree tubes are meant to be left in place for continued bark protection until the trees reach 3 inches in diameter at the base, at which time the tubes should be removed and disposed of.

HOWEVER.  Tree tubes are a significant investment for the hobbyist tree planter, and the idea of re-using tree tubes is very tempting... or even in some cases necessary.  Keep in mind that every time you remove a tree tube before it has completed its full job of getting the tree to 3 inch basal diameter you are taking the risk that something will happen - wind storm that breaks the stem, buck rub, gnawing rodents, mower damage - that will either set the tree back or even kill it.

The sooner after emergence you remove the tree tube the greatest the risk to the tree.  Tree planters have been successful using two different methods of re-using tree tubes. 

Good (highest risk but also highest number of uses for each tree tube):  Remove the tree tube shortly after the tree emerges, but tie the tree to the stake you were using to support the tree tube.  Preferably this would be a flexible stake like pvc.  I´m not a huge fan of this practice – I don´t like staking trees and of course it exposes the tree to rodent and deer damage.  But I have many customers doing this successfully and it does mean you can use the tubes two or three times.

 Better (less risk and affords opportunity to re-use the tree tube once):  After the tree emerges wait at least one full growing season and then remove the tube.  Especially when using pvc stakes the tree will gain a lot of caliper in that first growing season after emerging from the tube, and should be self supporting at that point.  The advantage is the ability to reuse the tube (and probably the stake if the tree can stand alone); the disadvantage again is exposing the bark to rodents and deer damage.

Best of all, of course is to keep the tree tubes on until the trees reach 3 inches in basal diameter.  At that stage you can remove the tree tube knowing it has completed the three functions for which it was designed, and safe in the knowledge that the tree is successfully established.

But if budgetary restrictions mean you have to re-use tree tubes in order to meet your planting goals, these guidelines will help you weight the risks of the various methods and will give you the best chance for success.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Incredible Tree Tube Video: THIS is what is possible with tree tubes

Want to see the kind of growth rate on oaks that is possible with Tree Tubes

Click here to find out.

If you didn't know that the tree you see is just 3 growing seasons old (since being planted as an 18 inch tall seedling) you'd probably guess it's what... 8 years old?  10? 12?

Tree tubes have the power to make people completely rethink what's possible in terms of tree performance and growth.  Incredible.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

4ft Tree Tubes - Still the "workhorse" tree tube height

Recent years has seen a skewing of tree tube sales from 3ft and 4ft heights to 5ft and even 6ft heights.  This is indicative of two factors:

1) The deer population continues to grow virtually unchecked, putting more and higher browse pressure on tree seedlings.

2) Tree tubes are increasingly being used by sportsmen to improve wildlife habitat which means
  • They really care about the success of each individual tree, and the speed with which it will begin producing mast
  • They are planting tree species that are especially attractive to deer like fruit and nut trees
  • They are planting in places with high concentrations of (hopefully!) very large deer
In light of these trends it's not surprising to see an up-tick in the market share of 5ft tree tubes.  However, it's important to note that 4ft tree tubes still represent by far the lion's share of the tree tube market.  The 4ft tree tube is still the workhorse product that's getting it done, especially on large scale projects.

The reason is simple:  In the majority of cases 4ft tubes provide all of the deer browse protection needed for success.  Wilson Forestry Supply's web site puts it in perspective well:
  • 4ft Tubex Combitube Plus Tree Tubes provide enough protection to grow trees past the deer browse line about 75% of the time.  Deer can browse trees emerging from 4ft tree tubes.  In most cases the tree will have enough stored energy to send a rapid growth shoot past the deer browse line.  However, in some areas deer will repeatedly browse trees as they emerge from 4ft tree tubes, not allowing them to grow taller.  In these cases the protection of the 4ft tube can be supplemented either with deer repellent or a 2ft Tubextender kit (sold separately).
  • 5ft Tubex Combitube Plus Tree Tubes provide enough protection from deer approximately 90% of the time.  In areas with extremely high deer densities, the deer can browse trees as they emerge from 5ft tree tubes.  Cases of deer browsing trees emerging from 5ft tree tubes are most common with fruit trees such as apples, crabapples, pear, etc.
  • 6ft Tubex Combitube Plus Tree Tubes provide enough protection from deer 99.87% of the time (OK, we made that up, but 6ft tubes are as close to complete deer protection as you can get).
 All tree planters have a limited, finite budget.  All tree planters want to accomplish as much as possible within that budget.  Given that, and in the face of deer browse pressure, there are two entirely reasonable approaches, both of which end with success:

1) Use 4ft Tree Tubes to optimize the number of seedlings you can plant and protect within your budget.  Then, if the trees get browsed heavily upon emergence from the tubes, supplement the browse protection with either a deer repellent or a 2ft Tree Tube Extender.  This is a way to spread out the cost over a span of a few years.

2) Use 5ft Tree Tubes and protect a smaller number of seedlings within your budget, but know with (almost) certainty that you will not have to supplement that level of deer browse protection.

Actually, there's a third way - one which probably makes the most sense of all:  Strategic deployment of 5ft or 6ft tubes.  If you are planting a field of trees, the deer do not browse them equally.  They hit certain species (fruit trees in particular, such as crab apples) harder than others.  They browse more heavily along creeks and alongside woods and cover.  A very effective strategy is to use 5ft or 6ft tree tubes on trees that are the most "at risk" based on species or location, and 4ft tubes on the rest.

This argues heavily in favor of choosing a tree tube supplier that offers a range of sizes and lets you order any quantity of mixed sizes, so that you can customize your planting to your exact needs, budget and goals.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Tree Tubes on American Chestnut Trees #3

To quickly review:  When tree tubes arrived in the USA from the UK in the late 1980s, people dedicated to the restoration of the American chestnut were quick to recognize the potential benefits.  Unfortunately, the performance of tree tubes on American chestnut seedlings didn't fulfill the promise.  Chestnut seedlings grown in the old, unvented tree tubes suffered from frost damage due to improper hardening off for winter, and grow spindly trunks with a corkscrew growth habit.

That was then, this is now.  Over the last decade advancements in tree tube design and Best Practice recommendations - most notably the introduction of vented tree tubes and the widespread adoption of flexible PVC tree tube stakes - have dramatically improved the performance of tree tubes on American chestnut seedlings.

A grower in Mississippi recently texted these photos and messages:

Text message:  Here's a friend of my standing beside the tallest tree. It's above 7-1/2 feet. Completely straight and stiff, it is not spindly. This is a ten month old 100% American chestnut. Growing in a 5 foot Tubex (Combitube Tree Tube), it was planted in July.

Here's the other photo he sent:

Text message:  Here's another. A little over 5 feet and straight. 

There is no project in all of forestry and ecological restoration more important than the restoration of the American chestnut to its rightful throne as king of the Eastern hardwood forest.  It is a test of our collective resolve, of our willingness and ability to undo some of the damage we have wrought (chestnut blight was unleashed in the USA after entering the country in infected - but co-evolutionarily immune - Chinese chestnut planting stock).

Tree tubes have always held the promise of being a powerful arrow in the quiver of restoration ecologists.  Design improvements made over the past decade mean that tree tubes are now fully able to fulfill that promise.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

New 'Micro-vented' tree tube hits the US market

A new tree tube with an intriguing combination of time-tested and innovative design features was recently introduced to the US market.

The Photosynth Tree Tube is in many ways a conventional tree tube, featuring a flared rim to prevent abrasion to the bark of emergent trees, twin-walled cylindrical construction for rigidity and durability, and releasable zip ties.

Venting has become standard for any high-performance tree tube.  Photosynth Tree Tubes have a 'micor-vented' design that has long been popular in Europe:

Rather than a relatively small number of larger vent holes punch sporadically in the walls of the tube, Photosynth Tree Tubes have thousands of small vent holes punched continuously from near the rim of the tube to approximately 16 inches from the ground.  This design result in more even gas exchange along the entire length of the tube.

The lower 16 inches of each Photosynth Tree Tube is solid for both herbicide spray and rodent protection.

Pricing of Photosynth Tree Tubes is highly competitive with other twin-walled tree tubes.  Tree tubes appear to be following - albeit at a slower pace - the pattern established with other new technologies, with the price decreasing as use of the technology becomes more widespread, competition among producers increases and production volumes increase.

It's a very exciting time in the tree tube industry.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Tree Tubes on American Chestnut Trees #2

This is the second in what will be an ongoing series of posts on the effectiveness of tree tubes on American chestnut trees.  To find the others, type chestnuts into the search bar.

A private landowner and American chestnut enthusiast in Mississippi purchased some 100% American chestnut seed last winter, and sowed the seeds in root pruning pots, grew them into 12 to 18 inch seedlings, and the planted them on his property.

While the seeds were getting started he researched tree tubes, knowing that upon planting his seedlings would immediately be subject to heavy deer pressure.  He contacted experts with the various chestnut restoration organizations for advice.  He was universally told that 4ft and 5ft tree tubes don't work well with American chestnuts.  The recommended method of establishment was either to use a 2ft tree tube (for rodent protection and initial moisture stress reduction) coupled with a wire cage for deer browse protection.

As we have discussed the basis of this recommendation was the poor results experienced by chestnut growers 15 to 20 years ago with the old, unvented, small diameter tree tubes sold at that time.  A 'corkscrew' or spiral growth habit of American chestnuts growing in tree tubes was a complaint back then, as was winter injury or die-back.

This gentlemen also discussed the issue with reputable sellers of today's vented tree tubes, and of course got a completely different story; he was told how the problems cited by chestnut experts harken back to earlier tree tube designs, and that results on chestnut with the vented tubes sold for the last 10 years have been excellent.

It was the typical conundrum for a private landowner and hobbyist:  Ask 10 foresters for advice and get 24 different - and often completely conflicting - answers.  Who to believe?  Luckily, this landowner did what so many other dedicated tree planters have done:  He didn't believe anyone, and put both methods to the test.

The upshot after nearly one full growing season:  "Tree tubes for American chestnuts should be 5 foot and trees should be above the tubes by August.  I really like the way the seem to help manage moisture."

Click the photo to enlarge.  The photo above is of his 'prize' American chestnut tree: Planted as an 18 inch seedling in spring 2013, photo taken Labor Day, 2013 with the tree now 2 feet beyond the top of a 5ft tree tube.

Asked about spiraling growth of American chestnuts in tree tubes he wrote, "The spiraling wasn't significant and now the trees have emerged straight as an arrow."

Here's another American chestnut tree emerging from a 5ft tree tube in the first season - note the very straight growth habit.  Click to enlarge to see the venting pattern on the tree tube.

The trees grown in 3ft tree tubes within wire cages also did well, but...

1) Aren't nearly as tall as those grown in 5ft tree tubes.

2) The wire cages for deer browse protection are an unnecessary added hassle and expense as compared to using the 5ft tree tubes which provide increased survival, faster height growth and deer browse protection.

Results like these show why a sea change among American chestnut enthusiasts. 

The "old" recommendation of using a 2 or 3ft tree tube along with a wire mesh enclosure for deer browse protection was based on a recognition of the effectiveness of tree tubes for rodent protection and increased seedling survival rates, but were also based on the negative results experienced when using the old unvented 4ft and 5ft tree tubes.

American chestnut planters using the newer vented tree tubes are seeing excellent results - and tree tubes are now fulfilling their promise as an indispensable tool in the monumental effort to restore the American chestnut to its rightful place in our Eastern hardwood forests.