Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Why do we need tree tubes?

Why do we need tree tubes in order to successfully establish seedling trees?  After all, trees managed to grow before tree tubes existed.  Why do we need tree tubes now?

There are two answers to that question.

The first is that a tree planting project is different than a naturally regenerated forest.  A naturally regenerated forest is the result of hundreds of years, billions of seeds, and a huge amount of random chance.  The odds that any one tree seed will someday become a mature tree are minute.  The accumulation of huge spans of time and huge numbers of seeds ultimately result in a forest... sometimes.  Nature has plenty of failed attempts at forest regeneration (we call these failures "prairies"). 

It takes an enormous amount of work - not to mention money - to plant trees in order to create a new forest.  And since the tree planting can't sow billions of tree seeds and doesn't have hundreds of years to wait, something has to be done to take the element of random chance out of the equation.  There are lots of ways to do this, to tip the scales of chance more in favor of success - planting species most likely to thrive in local growing conditions, properly planting high quality stock, and aggressively suppressing vegetative competition.

But the single most powerful tool to turn the odds in favor of the tree planter over random chance, if the tree tube (or treeshelter as it is known in the UK and among hardwood silviculturists in the USA).

The second reason we need tree tubes today is illustrated beautifully in this chronology given on this web page of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

1900 - market and subsistence hunting virtually eliminate deer in Oklahoma

1917 - statewide deer population estimated at 500 

1944 - 379 deer harvested by hunters

2005 - 101,111 deer harvested, 40% of them does (which means wildlife managers are trying very hard to reduce the size of the herd)

This numbers are nearly the same in every state east of the Rockies.  Deer nearly wiped out by 1900, followed by reduced or banned hunting for a period of time, combined with heroic conservation efforts to restore whitetail deer, combined with changes in the landscape (creation of a patchwork with exponentially more forest edge, the preferred habitat of deer) and reduced predator populations, leading to huge deer harvests that still can't keep pace with the rate of reproduction.

Many of the natural forests we have can very likely trace their origins to that 1900 time period when deer numbers were at an all time low.

We are now trying to plant trees when the deer population is at an all time high.

There are now places in the USA where natural hardwood regeneration is seriously threatened, where there are very few young hardwood trees.  The deer simply eat them faster than they can grow.

So random chance is not an option any more.

There are other ways to protect trees from deer browse, but none as cost effective as tree tubes.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Never a bad time to apply Tree Tubes

One common misconception about Tree Tubes is that they can only be applied to newly planted seedlings, right at the time of planting.

Fact is, there's never a bad time to apply tree tubes, as this excellent You Tube video from Tree Protection Supply demonstrates.

There are so many small trees out there - both planted in previous seasons and naturally regenerated "volunteers" - that could benefit greatly from tree tubes.

Rule of thumb:  As long as you have a living root system and a tree tube you can grow a great tree.

Those oak or black walnut or crab apple seedlings you planted three years ago that the deer have kept browsed to ankle height?  Prune them to a single stem and put a tree tube on them.

Those "volunteer" oaks you find when hunting, after bush hogging or just when out for a walk?  Carry some flagging tape with you to mark them, and then go back out with pruning shears and tree tubes in hand.

In both cases you have a big, strong root system that just needs the protection of a tree tube in order to express itself.  Landowners often can't believe how fast these trees grow in the year after tubing them.

Rejuvenating struggling seedlings is one of the most rewarding uses of tree tubes.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Using tree tubes to establish native California oaks from acorns

We have been talking about various applications and uses of tree tubes.  One broad area where tree tubes have proven their mettle is in ecological restoration, more specifically the re-establishment of critical native species into environments that are no longer "native."  A great example of this is the use of tree tubes for California native oaks.

Tree tubes are being used coast to coast to help re-establish native trees whose numbers have dwindled due to disease (particularly in the case of the might American chestnut in the east) or to a combination of grazing, fire suppression, competition from exotic grasses & weeds, deer browse, rodent damage, and disease (in the case of California's native oaks).

As you can tell from that laundry list of threats, successful establishment of California oaks is not easy in 2012.  The mature oaks that line the golden hills of California got their start in a completely different world, before livestock grazing, before the spread of European annual grasses that have largely replaced less competitive native perennial grasses and forbes, and when fire - both lightening caused and as part of the vegetation management strategies of California's indigenous people - helped suppress competition giving oaks time and space to grow large enough to shade out competition.

Tree tubes to the rescue!  It is a truism that a) the more important it is that a particular tree get successfully established*, and b) the greater the threats to that tree's survival, c) the more more it makes sense to use tree tubes.

* Then again, in the same way that police officers should never draw their gun unless they intend to use it, people should never plant trees unless they intend for them to survive and thrive. 

All of this makes tree tubes the perfect tool for helping restore and re-establish California's beautiful native oaks.  And one of the best ways to plant California oaks is be direct seeding acorns and protecting them with tree tubes.

Blue oak acorns ready for planting
(Click to enlarge)

Planting acorns, chestnuts, black walnuts, and hickory nuts directly in the soil and protecting them with tree tubes is a practice that is really catching on.

In this case this blue oak (Quercus douglasii) acorns are being planted on former ranch land that is being converted to an oak preserve in the Sierra foothills near Springville, CA.

The acorns were gathered from local blue oak trees, to ensure that they are well suited to the climate and soil.  They were then soaked in a pail of water for 24 hours, and any "floaters" were discarded (floating after that period of time is a sure sign that weevils or other insects have burrowed into the acorn and have eaten all of the nutmeat that is needed to produce a new seedling).

Then two acorns are being planted in each planting hole, about 1 inch deep and loosely covered with soil.  Each set of 2 acorns is then being protected with 6 foot Tree Tubes for protection from deer, but more importantly from the cattle that will be grazing on this property for the next few years as part of a lease agreement.

The tree tubes will:

Protect the acorns and seedlings from rodents (except burrowing ground squirrels; other measures are being taken to protect from them)

Protect the seedlings from getting browsed or trampled by cattle (steel t-posts are being used for stakes, with a second, shorter stake being used on the opposite side to prevent cattle from rubbing against the tube and pivoting it around the stake.

Shield the seedlings from deer browse.

Greatly reduce moisture stress in an area that goes months without rain and where temp's often top 105 degrees.

Facilitate effective weed control, so annual grasses do not take the limited soil nutrients and moisture these oaks will need.
Tree tubes are proving to be an absolute must for the successful establishment of native California oaks.  Are tree tubes "natural?"  No, but then neither is the environment into which we are planting those native oaks - too many cattle, too much grass seed, and too little fire.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tips for peak growth with Tree Tubes: Prune seedlings to a single stem

One of the most frequently asked questions from first-time tree tube users is:  "Should I prune my seedlings to single stems before applying the tree tubes, or should I gather the lateral branches and lower the tree tubes down over them?"

Unlike most things in forestry where foresters like be give lengthy "there's no wrong way to do it" replies, in this case the answer is absolute and unequivocal:  YOU PRUNE TO A SINGLE STEM BEFORE APPLYING THE TREE TUBE.

This seems counter-intuitive.  Then again, many things pertaining to tree tubes are.  But there are two very good reasons for pruning seedlings to a single stem before placing a tree tube on them:

1) Better tree form = better long term health.  In general, if you bend lateral branches upward to fit into a tree tube, those lateral branches will continue to grow up and out of the tube.  The result is a very acute angle between the lateral branch and the main stem.  The narrower that branch angle a) the weaker that branch connection is and the more prone it will be in the future to breaking under heavy wind and/or snow loads, and b) the more difficult it will be down the road to prune that branch properly.

Generally speaking if you put a tree tube over a single stem you get a single stem growing up through the tube and out the top.  You might get a few very small lateral branches in the tubes, but these tend to remain very small and are easily pruned when the tube is removed.

So simply from the standpoint of long term tree health Best Practice is to always prune seedlings to a single stem before "tree tubing" them.

2) Faster growth!  Fast growth is one of the primary reasons (besides protection from deer browse) that people use tree tubes in the first place, and pruning to a single stem before applying tree tubes flat out results in faster growth.

This is the part that seems counter-intuitive.  You get a nice big seedling from the nursery, complete with 2 or 3 good-sized lateral branches.  You plant the seedling and are just about to apply the tree tube.  You look at those lateral branches and think, "Cripes if I prune these branches I'm leaving 50% of the seedling I paid good money for laying on the ground.  Plus, doesn't it need the leaves on those branches to fuel more growth?"  Both perfectly natural thoughts and valid concerns.  I had the same thoughts and concerns myself, so I did a trial.  In my mind I thought I was trying to balance the better tree form I would get from pruning to a single stem with the faster growth I assumed I'd get by leaving the lateral branches in tact.  To my great surprise - and after 23 years tree tubes still never fail to surprise me - the seedlings I pruned to a single stem before tubing them not only exhibited better form, they also grew faster... A LOT faster!

I believe that there are two reasons for this faster growth, one obvious and one not-so-obvious:  a) All of the seedling's growth energy is channeled into a single stem, and b) removing the lateral branches and their leaves allows for better air flow/exchange in the tree tubes, and allows each leave to absorb more sunlight.

The importance of pruning to a single stem is illustrated perfectly in this video from Tree Protection Supply, a long-time distributor of high quality tree tubes (in fact there are several highly informative videos about Tree Tubes at Tree Protection Supply's You Tube Channel

As with so many things with tree tubes over the years, customers have pointed me in the right direction.  One grower I know in Mississippi not only prunes his seedlings to a single stem before applying tree tubes, he picks off all of the lateral buds leaving only the terminal buds.  Who am I to argue with his results?  Take a look:

(Click to enlarge)
This is a hybrid shumard x willow oak.  The acorns were gathered in autumn 2010.  They were not sown in nursery pots until July 2011.  This seedling was planted in autumn, 2011.  It was about 18 inches tall at the time.
This photograph was taken in September 2012 - after one growing season in the ground.  The green tree tube is 4ft tall, and the beige "tubextender" is 2ft tall and was added to keep deer from browsing the tree after emerging from the 4ft tree tube.  From there you can do the math and see how tall this tree is - after getting planted in late autumn 2011 as an 18" seedling - after just one growing season.  Amazing.

A lot more went into achieving that kind of growth (aggressive weed control, supplemental fertilization, etc.) and we'll cover those things in future posts. 

But a major factor in achieving this kind of growth is simply PRUNING SEEDLINGS TO A SINGLE STEM BEFORE APPLYING YOUR TREE TUBES.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Absolutely astounding growth of oaks in tree tubes

This is unbelievable even to me - and I've worked with tree tubes for 23 years. 

This is a hybrid oak - overcup oak x white oak.  It was planted in March, 2011 as an 18 inch seedling.

(Click to enlarge)
This photo was taken yesterday, against a darkening Mississippi sky.  That tree is now 11 feet 8 inches tall.  (The tree tube is 4ft tall and the photograph is taken from ground level looking up.)
Let me be a little more clear, because it really is hard to wrap your brain around this:  In just two growing seasons this tree has grown 10 feet 3 inches since being planted as a seedling.

When I take a step back I shouldn't be surprised.  In fact these are the kind of results that I believe will become commonplace in the next decade.  It is the result of several factors:

1) Tree seedling planting stock is much, much better than ever.  Nurseries are selecting seed from superior trees, and are producing healthy, vigorous planting stock (especially stock growing in root-pruning pots) that is ready to "hit the ground running" with little or no transplant shock.

2) Trees - even oak trees - actually, especially oak trees - are inherently capable of remarkable growth.  Reaching that growth potential is simply a matter of removing the obstacles - the stresses - that prevent it from growing as fast as it might.  Those stresses include weed competition, drought, lack of nutrients, and of course animal browse.

3) Tree Tubes make it easy for growers to eliminate most if not all of those stresses:

> They shield tree seedlings from deer browse

> They make it easy to locate tree seedlings amidst the grass and brush, and protect them from weed control treatments that eliminate vegetative competition (thus making more moisture, nutrients and light available to the seedling)

> The shelter tree seedlings from drying winds, and capture and condense transpired moisture, returning it to the soil to be re-absorbed by the seedling.

In subsequent posts we'll be looking at how to achieve peak growth performance like this!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Driving unnecessary cost out of tree tubes

This blog is about the history, development and applications of tree tubes.  But it is also chronicles the evolution of the companies that are trying - as has happened with so many technologies - to drive down the cost of using tree tubes and make them accessible to the largest number of users.

In the previous post I discussed one company's obsession with keeping the final, delivered cost of tree tubes as low as possible to make them affordable for more tree planters.

Here is a great post from another company, Tree Protection Supply, which shares this philosophy, using creative, custom packaging and aggressive shopping of freight services to keep their prices on tree tubes  low.

So much of the price of the things we buy has nothing to do with the cost of raw materials and manufacturing, and everything to do with secondary costs such as transport, overhead, packaging, marketing - not to mention profit margin.

In the case of tree tubes many suppliers have extremely high secondary costs and profit margins.  It is therefore possible for companies that focus on keeping secondary costs to an absolute minimum to sell a BETTER PRODUCT at a LOWER PRICE than tree tube companies selling a product of lesser quality.

Hmmm ... Better product at a lower price.  That sounds to me like the way a technology goes from a niche product to widespread acceptance.  And tree tubes are definitely following that trajectory!

Inside Baseball on Tree Tubes

Here's an illuminating post on the history and behind-the-scenes business of tree tubes, and one company's efforts to get this amazing technology to market at the lowest possible price so as to be of the greatest benefit.

Click here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Two great video channels to learn about tree tubes

Tree tubes are a "seeing is believing" kind of product... which made it a little difficult back in the olden days to fully explain them to prospective customers via a printed catalog or over the phone.  I always used to catch myself gesturing to someone I was talking to on the phone in a pathetic attempt to explain how fast their trees would grow in tree tubes, only to realize that of course gestures are about as helpful in a phone conversation a they are over the radio... or when using smoke signals.

I used to love landowner field days, because they gave me an opportunity to demonstrate how tree tubes work in person to a small group of interested tree growers.  It was a whole lot better than talking on the phone, and the potluck lunches were always a highlight, but it still wasn't the most efficient way to get the tree tube message out there - driving hundreds of miles to talk to a group of 12 to 24 folks.

These days it's so easy to get that same message out to thousands of people, just for the cost of a few pixels, thanks to You Tube.

Here are two great You Tube Channels that focus on tree planting and the use of tree tubes:

Mossy Oak Nativ Nurseries Seedling and Tree Tubes Channel

Tree Protection Supply Tree Tubes Channel

At both places you'll find a wealth of information from the most knowledgeable guys in the business!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tree Tube Myths: Does this look like a spindly stem to you?

One of the "knocks" against tree tubes over the years is that, while they unarguably accelerate height growth, they produce trees with thin spindly stems.  To this criticism I have two responses:

1) A six foot tree with a thin stem and a sturdy treeshelter in place to support it until the stem thickens up enough to support itself is a whole lot better than the alternative:  A seedling without a tube that is continually browse by deer to the point where it dies or is stunted at knee height for years.

2) Today's vented tree tubes and flexible PVC stakes have combine to make a myth out of the "spindly stem" critique of tree tubes.  Thin stems are a thing of the distant past.  Take a look:

(Click to enlarge)

This is the trunk of a hybrid oak from Mossy Oak Nativ Nurseries planted in a 4ft Tubex Combitube Plus Tree Tube.  Here's the chronology:
* Planted as 18 inch seedling in March, 2011

* Photo taken on August 2, 2012 - less than two complete growing seasons later!

The tree is now well over 10ft tall.  But most exciting to me is the large caliper of the trunk immediately above the tree tube.  You can see that with today's vented tree tubes and flexible PVC stakes it's not just a matter of producing the same amount of biomass growth and just "stretching" it in height, as might have been the case with early tree tubes.  No, this tree is putting on a HUGE amount of total biomass (especially when you consider that stem diameter is the best "window" into what's going on with root growth below ground).
As with so many discussions of tree tubes it comes down to B.V. (Before Venting) and A.V. (After Venting). Before venting trees were definitely better off with tree tubes than without, but exhibited some "side effects" like thin stems.  After venting tree planters are realizing the full potential of tree tubes and seeing astounding growth, both in terms of height but - more importantly - in terms of stem diameter.

Think of it this way, using a computer analogy:  Unvented, small diameter tubes of the past = MS-DOS.  Today's vented, large diameter tubes combined with flexible PVC stakes = Windows XP.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Tree Tube Poll - What is your tree planting objective?

This tree tube web site is polling visitors to learn what their primary tree planting objective is.

As of this writing the results are:
Wildlife Habitat - 40%
Food Crops - 19%
Ecological Restoration - 13%
Landscaping - 13%
Timber Production - 10%

I find these results fascinating, especially since I now have 23 years of tree tube experience to draw on and use as a basis of comparison.

In a very real sense the use of tree tubes is a measure of how much each group of growers cares about and is willing to invest in the success of their tree planting project.  I find it interesting - and a bit amusing - that folks using tree tubes to produce food for wildlife are more likely to seek out and purchase tree tubes than any other group!

I find it extremely encouraging that the number of folks using tree tubes to establish landscape trees is up to 13%.  Twenty three years ago that number would have been very close to zero.  I honestly think that the dramatic increase is due in part to a phenomenon that I have observed recently:  When people use tree tubes to establish seedling trees for wildlife or timber see how fast the trees grow, they no longer see the point of spending hundreds of dollars to plant trees in their yards.  Instead they plant seedlings - or even tree seeds - in their yard, protect them with tree tubes, and grow their landscape trees the inexpensive, fast, healthy and long-lived way.

Twenty-three years ago the percentage of tree tube customers whose primary interest was timber production - planting high value hardwoods such as black walnut and red oak - would have been closer to 90%.  The drastic reduction doesn't mean that the number of tree tubes used for hardwood regeneration has decreased; it hasn't.  It means two things:  1) The sales of tree tubes in the USA in many times what it was back then, and has expanded into many other areas of tree planting, and 2) It is much more common these days for trees to be planted with multiple goals in mind, and landowners are naturally more inclined to think of the goal(s) that have a chance of coming to fruition within their own lifetime (wildlife habitat, ecological restoration, etc.) as compared to the generation-spanning objective of timber production.

Tree Tubes for Planting Landscape Trees

Dr. Doug McCreary is the guru of oak regeneration in California.  Some years ago he spent his sabbatical in England, learning about English practices for growing, planting and protecting oaks.

One of his reports is here.

Bottom line:  We in the USA can learn an awful lot about successful and cost effective establishment of landscape and roadside trees.

Corollary:  Seedling trees in tree tubes 1) cost many times less, 2) survive at a higher rate, 3) grow faster and 4) live longer than what we currently do (planting large potted or B&B trees that cost hundreds of dollars, have deformed root systems, suffer years of transplant shock, grow slowly, and succumb to disease, insects and root strangulation).

Some key points from Dr. McCreary's report from the UK:

"When driving around the English countryside, one notices that treeshelters (tree tubes) are everywhere... Some estimates are that between three and five million treeshelters are sold annually in this country that is half the size of California."

"Even though the sight of treeshelter forests is not the most aesthetically pleasing - and I suspect some environmental groups might prefer to see them banned from the planet forever - they seem incredibly effective for reforestation in England (emphasis mine)."

We'll be looking at this issue of the aesthetics of tree tubes in a post later this week.  Not surprisingly I find a field with tree tubes in it for a few years to successfully establish trees that will live another 100 years much more aesthetically pleasing than a failed planting.

"While stuck in traffic, I tried to determine how many (tree) shelters in a roadside planting had surviving plants inside... a 'windshield assessment' indicated that over 90% of the trees were growing out of the tops of the tubes.  This is consistent with a large-scale survey here several years ago of over 4,000 (tree) shelters on 192 sites where 89% contained a living tree."

"Clearly the success rate seems far higher than for roadside plantings along California highways.  The fact that England has much more summer rainfall probably contributes greatly to excellent seedling growth and survival, but I suspect that (tree) shelters here are more carefully and properly installed and maintained... Whatever the English do, it works, and we have much to learn from their many years of experience with these devices (tree tubes) that, so far, seem particularly useful for regenerating oaks in California as well (emphasis mine)."

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Extending 4ft Tree Tubes

Expanding on our recent theme of choosing the best tree tube height, here's a great post from Tree Protection Supply on their new Tree Tube Extender product.

4ft tubes provide enough deer browse protection 75% of the time.
5ft tubes provide enough deer browse protection 90% of the time.

A perfectly legitimate strategy is to start with 4ft tree tubes and then, if deer start browsing trees as they emerge from the tubes, use a 2ft tree tube extender to get another 2ft of protection - not to mention another year of very accelerated growth.

Chances are the deer will only browse certain species as they emerge from the tubes, or will only browse in certain places (such as next to the field where they bed down, along a creek, etc.) so you might only need tube extenders for a small percentage of your 4ft tree tubes.

PVC tree tube stakes make this easy, because you can just snap a 2ft extension to the the top of the 4ft stake, and you're good to go.

It's so cool to see so many tree tube companies getting on board with the vented tree tube plus PVC stake combination - and more importantly to see so many landowners reaping the benefits!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Tree Tubes for Deer Protection: Choosing the right height

One of the most frequently asked question by new users of tree tubes is:  Should I use 4ft or 5ft tall tree tubes for deer browse protection?
Tree tube suppliers have traditionally explained how to choose the correct tree tube height is by suggesting that tree planters use 4ft tree tubes to protect from "moderate" deer browse, and 5ft tree tubes to protect from "heavy" or "severe" deer browse.  (Presumably that means that newly-introduced 6ft tree tubes should be used for "super mega wicked bad" deer browse!)

This "moderate, heavy, extra heavy" deer browse approach to choosing the right tree tube height is based on the ridiculous assumption that the landowner can actually know - in advance - how bad the deer browse level is going to be a year or two down the road when the trees emerge from their tree tubes.  That is asking the impossible.  

So I gave myself the task of coming up with a more rational way to explain to new - and old - tree tube users how to decide which height of tree tube will work best for them.  Here is what I came up with:

​Basis:  All tree tubes provide some level of deer browse protection.

4ft tree tubes provide enough deer protection for successful establishment 75% of the time.

5ft tree tubes provide enough
deer protection for successful establishment 90% of the time.

6ft tree tubes provide enough
deer protection for successful establishment 100% of the time.

​Decision Tree:  ​There are three equally legitimate strategies for using tree tubes to grow trees past the deer browse line:

1) You can save money (or protect more trees within you budget) by using 4ft tubes.  There is a 25% chance that the deer will browse emerging trees heavily enough that you will have to either treat them with a deer repellent or add a 2ft "tube extender" to get your trees past the browse line.

Note:  Some tree tube suppliers state that 4ft tree tubes do not protect against deer.  That is patently absurd, since 75% of the time 4ft tubes provide enough deer protection, and the rest of the time a treatment of deer repellent or the use of  a tree tube extender get the tree past the browse line.  To say that 4ft tree tubes do not protect from deer is like saying LeBron James never makes a free throw since he misses once in a while.

2) Spend a little more up front on 5ft tubes.  That added 1ft of browse protection is an insurance policy,  leaving only a 10% chance that you will need to provide additional protection for your trees after they emerge from the tubes.

3) Go with 6ft tubes and remove all doubt.  

I believe that this decision tree provides a more logical framework for decision making.  As a tree planter you can protect more trees with 4ft tree tubes within your current budget, but you might need to go back and provide more protection in the future, or you can protect fewer trees with 5ft or even 6ft tree tubes and reduce the possibility that the trees will need supplemental protection down the road.

 Both are perfectly legitimate strategies for successful tree establishment in the face of increasing deer pressure - and both make a lot more sense than expecting land owners to predict if their trees will face "moderate" or "heavy" deer browse in the future.  All deer browse seems "heavy" to the tree that gets munched!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Tree Tubes for healthy, low-cost & long lived landscape trees

 imageThe whole reason I started promoting tree tubes back in 1989 as a newly-minted Urban Forester (University of Minnesota) was because I saw them as a way to successfully plant in urban landscapes tree species that are not sold as large potted or B&B trees by the commercial nursery industry, but instead are available only as seedlings.  I was concerned primarily with oaks, which are not widely sold in the nursery trade due to the ridiculous misconception that they are slow growing, but also with other native species that are drastically under planted.

My thinking was:

1) Many tree species are only available as seedlings (especially deeply tap-rooted species that don't lend themselves to current nursery production practices)

2) Plant a seedling unprotected in the landscape and it will get eaten or run over with a lawn mower

3) Tree tubes + seedling trees = a low-cost, highly effective way to plant seedling trees in the landscape

Twenty-three years later my conviction that this is the best way to plant landscape trees is even stronger.  That's because I have learned,

1) Most potted or B&B trees sold in the commercial landscape industry have deformed, mangled and/or maimed root systems that impede growth, cause long term health problems, and dramatically shorten the lifespan of landscape trees.

2) The smaller the tree you plant, the less root disruption/deformation there is, the faster it will growth, the healthier it will be, and the longer it will live.

Landscape tree tube naysayers have often made the argument that tree tubes in the landscape, and especially when used for street trees, would likely become targets of vandalism.  To which I say:

1) In the increasing number of cases where tree tubes have been used to establish street, park and landscape trees the amount of vandalism has been nil.

2) Trees do get vandalized.  Would you rather have a vandal wreck a $300 B&B tree or a $10 tree tube and seedling combo?

I am getting more and more emails and phone calls from folks thinking along the exact same lines.  According to one online poll of tree tube buyers 13% of them are using the tree tubes to plant landscape trees.  Back when I started that number was a lot closer to zero. 

I received this email from a customer last week:

Within the last few weeks, the Emerald Ash Borer made its way into Massachusetts.  In central Massachusetts, the USDA has been trying to eliminate a threat from the Asian Long Horned Beetle.  I think because of pests like these there will be increasing emphasis on ways we can increase biodiversity in the forest.  The tree shelters seem like they should greatly improve results...  In these difficult economic times, the town does not have the funds to remove all the dead trees, never mind plant new ones.  I wondered if planting seedlings and using tree shelters might be an economical way to get something new planted in the springtime.

To which I say:  Amen!
 And here is an awesome post with a first hand case study of using tree tubes to plant landscape trees - and it involves planting my favorite tree, bur oak - a FAST GROWING, rugged, gorgeous trees that is laughably under planted in the landscape.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Tree Tube Innovations, Part 2: PVC Stakes

I find it interesting that the 2 major innovations in Tree Tube design and performance in the last 20 years have both originated with customers, and not the companies that make and sell tree tubes.

I also find it embarrassing, since I am one of the few guys who has been selling tree tubes from the very beginning.

The first major innovation was ventilated the tubes.  I covered venting in detail in a recent post.  I consider the advent of vented tree tubes to be so important that in my mind I divide tree tube history into two distinct eras:  Before Venting (BV) and After Venting (AV).

The second and more recent innovation is the use of PVC Tree Tube Stakes.  Trust me, as someone who has sold tree tubes for 23 years, the stakes needed to support the tubes have been the biggest headache and source of frustration.

Tree tube suppliers didn't come up with the idea of venting the tubes because they were working under a false assumption: That the reason tree tubes accelerated growth was because they functioned as an almost hermetically sealed growth chamber.  It took customers drilling holes in their tubes and reporting their great results to make us realize that tree tubes accelerated tree growth despite being hermetically sealed environments, and that they accelerated growth even more - and without the negative "side effects" common to unvented grow tubes - when holes were punched in them allowing a freer exchange of carbon dioxide.

Similarly, tree tube makers didn't develop the idea of using PVC tree tube stakes because of another false assumption, namely the assumption that tree tubes and stakes are two separate product lines rather than two components of the same product system.

I guess another false assumption is that when we think of "stake" we naturally think of wood.

A third false assumption (gosh we tree tube peddlers sure have made a lot of them!) was the idea of tree tubes as a "plant and walk away" system for tree establishment (which in terms of feasibility is right up there with cold fusion and perpetual motion machines) - the idea being that the tree tube would photodegrade and the stake would biodegrade over time.

This "hat trick" of false assumptions meant that white oak and other decay resistant hardwood lumber became the workhorse tree tube stakes for two decades.  More recently white oak has largely been replaced by bamboo as a cost-saving alternative.

It's safe to say once again that tree tubes succeeded despite the use of wood, bamboo or any of the other materials used as tree tube stakes.  The basic problem with wood and bamboo stakes - especially bamboo - is that they break, split and degrade too soon.  There's any old joke about ranchers being full time fence repairmen who keep livestock as a hobby.  Well, with wood and bamboo stakes tree tube users were essentially stake replacers with a tree planting hobby.  That's how much time was spent in replacing broken and rotten stakes.  (A customer told me just this morning that he has never made a trip to check on his trees without having to replace old wood or bamboo tree tube stakes.)

But the problem with wood and bamboo stakes goes far beyond breakage and biodegradation.  The deeper problem is that they don't complement the tree tubes.  They don't contribute to the performance of the tree tubes.

One side effect of growing trees in tree tubes - even vented tree tubes - is that the trees tend to have thin stems relative to their heights.  Tree tubes channel growth upward, and the trees are isolated from the environmental feedback - especially the swaying and shaking effects of the wind - that trigger growth responses that allocate more growth resources into thickening and tapering the trunks and developing bigger root systems. 

About 5 years ago I started hearing about customers using 1/2" pvc conduit as tree tube stakes.  I am embarrassed to say that - as I was with grower reports of the benefits of venting the tree tubes - I was skeptical.

The solution was in the hardware store the whole time!
1/2" pvc conduit makes the best tree tube stake, swaying
in the wind but never breaking.

And once again, I was wrong.  Way wrong.

We already know that we have to go back at some point - 3, 5 or 7 years down the road - and remove the tree tubes from the successfully established trees.  Therefore we know that we can retrieve (and then reuse) a non-biodegradable stake at that point... so biodegradability is not a critical factor for a tree tube stake.  

It's also easy to understand - as my customer did this morning - that PVC tree tube stakes won't break, and will save dozens of extra trips to the field to replace broken or rotten stakes.

However, the most important thing about PVC tree tubes stakes is:  They make tree tubes perform even better (rather than being a necessary evil tree tubes - and their users - must put up with and overcome).

They make tree tubes better by providing the environmental feedback - swaying and shaking in the wind - the seedlings in tree tubes don't get with rigid stakes.  Again it is that swaying motion that triggers hormonal responses which in turn "tell" the tree to channel more growth energy into stem thickness and taper as well as root develop (so-called secondary growth responses).

Take a look at the photo above.  This photo was taken late in the second growing season of a hybrid oak grown in a vented tree tube supported by a PVC stake.  This kind of caliper growth was unheard of with rigid wood or bamboo stakes.

This kind of caliper growth means that now when trees emerge from tree tubes they don't - as they had to in the past with rigid stakes - slow their height growth while reallocating growth energy to stem caliper and taper.  Now they get to the top of the tube... and keep right on going!

So once again, to my customers:  You were right, I was wrong.  Tree tubes & stakes are not two separate products.  They are component parts of the same product, and need to work together symbiotically to achieve the best results. 

PVC tree tube stakes solve all of the problems of wood stakes, completely negate one side effect of tree tube use.  Best of all, they do so for less than the delivered cost of bamboo stakes, and WAY less than the delivered cost of white oak stakes (and, by the way, much MUCH less than fiberglass stakes).

Friday, September 28, 2012

Tree Tubes - Dozens of Uses

In 23 years of working with tree tubes I have never really sat down and listed all of the ways in which they are used.  I'm going to try to remedy that here in this post.

1) Hardwood reforestation

2) Windbreak & shelterbelt plantings

3) Riparian zone restoration plantings

4) Wildlife habitat (food plot) plantings

5) Mitigation banking

6) Orchard establishment

7) Mine reclamation

8) Ecological restoration

9) Urban & landscape plantings

10) Timber stand improvement

12) Nursery production

 I know, I said "dozens" of applications for tree tubes, but only listed an even dozen.  Here's the thing:  within each of these dozen applications are dozens more specific uses.  For example, orchard establishment encompasses everything from planting pistachios in the sun-baked San Joaquin Valley of California, to planting a field of anti-oxidant rich Aronia berry in Missouri (speaking of which, switching the common name away from "chokeberry" was probably a good marketing move on someone's part!), to a back yard orchard of heirloom apples in New York... and everything in between.

So in upcoming posts I'll take one of these categories and look at the history of tree tube use for that application, cover some case studies, and offer some tips for success.

Come back soon!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tree Tube Chronology: B.V. and A.V.

Outstanding stem caliper growth in 2nd year oak planted as 
an 18 inch seedling in a 4ft Tubex Combitube Plus Tree Tube.
 I divide the history of Tree Tubes in the USA into two distinct eras:  Before Venting (B.V.) and After Venting (A.V.).  Venting - the seemingly simple act of punching holes in the solid walls of the tree tubes - is the single most important advancement in the development of tree tubes.
By 1989 treeshelters were widely used and accepted in the UK.  The largest and best maker of treeshelters was Tubex, Ltd.  Tubex Treeshelters were introduced to the USA in 1989 by a small company based in St. Paul, Minnesota.

At that time all tree tubes were unvented - solid translucent corrugated tubes.  It was thought at the time that the rapid growth of tree seedlings inside the tree tubes was due to the creation of a "greenhouse effect," and the goal was to create an air-tight growth chamber.

I was there at the beginning.  I was the first employee - fresh out of forestry school - of that first company that introduced Tubex Treeshelters to the USA.  By and large the results in the field with those unvented tubes were good - excellent survival rates, rapid height growth, and of course "not getting eaten by deer" generally beats the heck out of "getting eaten by deer."

But we also started to get some troubling reports of problems from the field - and not coincidentally those problems were more serious the farther you got away from areas with climates most similar to the UK.  Those unvented tubes performed well in the Chesapeake Watershed region, and in coastal California and the Pacific Northwest.

However, get the farther north or south you went, the more frequent and serious the complaints.  These complaints fell into three categories:

1) Winter injury.  In northern climates seedlings in tree tubes simply didn't harden off properly for winter, and often suffered die back due to cold weather.

2) Spindly stems.  Seedlings in tree tubes exhibited rapid height growth, but the trees had very thin stems relative to the height of the trees.

3) Fungal problems, notably in the south, and probably due to excess moisture in the tree tubes.
So by this point - and we're talking about the mid 1990s - the potential of tree tubes to increase survival, shield valuable seedlings from deer browse and accelerate height growth was clear to all.  However, it was equally clear that in many cases, and especially the more extreme the climate, the upside of using tree tubes was largely counteracted by the side effects: winter injury, thin stemmed growth, and fungal diseases.
Enter some good ol' Yankee ingenuity!  Every software package ever introduced has had 'bugs' that needed to be ironed out with subsequent updates.  The first effort at 'de-bugging' tree tubes was a partial recognition that air flow in the tubes can be good; growers in northern climates were advised to elevate their tree tubes in early autumn to allow the trees inside the harden off for winter, and then lower the tubes back to the ground after the first hard frost.
This advice worked as far as it went; elevating the tubes did greatly reduce the incidence of winter injury.  It also exposed the base of each seedling to rodent damage at a time of year when rodents are hungrily feeding in preparation for winter.
Then some enterprising landowners applied something that we tree tube peddlers sorely lacked:  Common sense.
Landowners started drilling holes in the tubes, and then calling to tell us how well their trees were growing.  And we tree tube peddlers did what most 'experts' do:  We ignored them.  In was only when research done in far away France confirmed - and scientifically explained (more about this below) - the benefits of venting that we finally took notice... and slapped ourselves on the forehead with a loud "d'oh!"

The performance of vented versus unvented tree tubes is night and day.  Venting didn't just solve the side effects of those early tubes.  It unleashed the full potential of tree tubes to massively increase total biomass growth.

The French researchers figured out that in solid tubes carbon dioxide often becomes a limiting factor - the seedling uses all of the CO2 in the tube then grows very little until the CO2 level recharges. In vented tubes the CO2 level is constantly recharged, and never is a limiting factor.

In addition properly vented tubes (such as the Tubex Combitube Plus) allow dappled sunlight to strike the leaves, and allow a puff of air to gently shake the leaves.  In both cases this triggers growth responses in the tree similar to if the tree was growing in full sun in an open field (namely thicker stem caliper growth and better root development) - except that the seedling still enjoys complete deer browse protection and a massive reduction in moisture stress a compared to its un-tubed comrades.
Even though unvented tubes performed well in areas with mild or maritime climates, it is important to understand that there is no climate in which an unvented tube outperforms a vented tube.

So you can see why I divide the history of tree tubes in American into B.V. and A.V:

Before Venting:
Complete deer browse protection
Increased survival
Rapid height growth
* Winter injury in cold climates
* Thin-stemmed growth in all climates
* Fungal diseases in hot/humid climates

After Venting:
Complete deer browse protection
Increased survival
Increased total biomass growth - height, stem caliper and roots
No more winter injury
No more fungal disease issue
In summary, tree tubes as they were developed in the UK were a great idea, but it took some French research and bunch of landowners with cordless drills and common sense, to unleash their full potential!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

This is what tree tubes can do!

Click to enlarge

The facts on this tree are astounding.  This is a hybrid oak from Mossy Oak Nativ Nurseries.
It was planted as a 18 inch seedling in late fall 2011.  In other words, this is it's first growing season in the ground, and it's been less than two years since the acorn that produced it dropped from the mama tree.

It emerged from the green tree tube early this summer.  That green tree tube is 4 feet tall - so if the tree had stopped growing and decided to call it quits for the season at that point, the rate of growth would still have been impressive bordering on amazing.

But as you can see, it didn't stop - it was just getting started!  Deer started browsing the tip after it emerged from the 4 foot Tree Tube, so the grower added a 2 foot tall "tree tube extender" to provide another 2ft of deer browse protection.

Within a month the tree had emerged from the top of the tree tube extender, meaning it was by then 6 feet tall and had grown 4.5 feet this season.  And it still wasn't done.

Since then this tree - this supposedly slow growing oak tree - has grown another 2.5 feet, putting its height at about 8.5 feet. For those of you keeping score at home, that's 7 feet of growth in a single growing season, starting as an 18 inch seedling.

Top-notch growing stock and state-of-the-art growing practices are the basis of results like this.  But after seeing this you can't tell me that tree tubes aren't one of the most important developments in tree planting to come along, well, ever.

Let's start at the very beginning...

... a very good place to start!

And let this be the official beginning of a campaign for Mr. Graham Tuley to be awarded a Nobel Prize.  I'm serious.  Tree tubes are the single most important invention in tree establishment, and given the monumental importance of successful tree establishment and reforestation it's not a stretch to say that tree protectors are one of the most important inventions of the last century.  The iPod plays music.  Tree tubes heal the planet.

Treeshelters - as they were known in their early days - were developed by Mr. Tuley in 1979.  Tuley was a forester with the UK Forestry Commission.

Frustrated by continued failures in hardwood establishment - primarily English oak (or, as the British call it, common oak) and sessile oak - due to increasing levels of deer and rabbit browse, Tuley struck upon the idea of forming translucent plastic tubes around each seedling.  The idea was essentially to provide "safe passage" past the worst of the deer browse, while still giving the seedlings plenty of sunlight for growth.

The potential benefits in terms of animal browse were immediately obvious.  The wire or plastic mesh guards in use at the time had many failings; they were cumbersome to apply, and shoots often grew through the mesh to either get browsed by deer or later become girdled by the mesh itself.

Known in those early years as Tuley Tubes these solid translucent plastic tubes would clearly provide complete protection from animal browse until the seedling grew out the top.  The question was, how well would the trees grow inside the tubes?  The answer turned out to be:  Really, really well.  In Tuley's own words:

"(Tree) Shelters are 1.2 m tall plastic tubes which protect trees from animal damage and improve growth by creating a ‘greenhouse effect’ round each tree. After 3 years the mean height growth of sessile oak transplants in shelters was 142 cm compared with 45 cm in a mesh guard and 27 cm for unprotected trees and the average stem volume was 118, 37 and 19 cm3 respectively."

I think it's safe to say that Mr. Tuley was on to something big.

And after three decades of refinement - in design, protection methods, and guidelines for proper use - tree tubes have become and indispensable tool for successful reforestation worldwide.

There are so many heroes behind the treeshelter story.  And I'll keep telling them. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Your New Clearing House For All Things Tree Tube Related!

Welcome to Tree Tubes Forum!

This site is intended to be a clearing house of information on Tree Tubes - in our humble opinion the most revolutionary development in tree planting since... well, since the acorn/nut/seed.

In this blog we'll be looking at:

The history of tree tubes (a.k.a. treeshelters or tree protectors, depending on who you talk to!) - How a "hare brained" idea by a British forester took the tree planting world by storm, and how key innovations and design changes adapted tree tubes for use in the extreme climates of North America.

Tree tube design - We'll go in depth into what makes a superior tree tube.  Does color matter?  The importance of proper ventilation.  Durability.  UV resistance.  Degradability. 

Tree tube tips - How to get the best performance from your newly planted trees and tree tubes.

Grower stories - Make this your place to brag up your tree planting project!  Got an oak that grew 6 feet in one summer in a tree tube?  Tell us about it!  We'll cover grower stories, from commercial forestry operations using tree tubes to successfully establish high quality hardwood trees in the face of unprecedented levels of deer browse, to private landowners planting trees to turn their land into a wildlife paradise, to homeowners who have figured out that's it's a whole lot smarter to plant a small seedling with a tree tube as compared to a big tree grown in a nursery.

In short this blog will be your info source for how to get from seedling to tree faster than you ever dreamed possible... Consider this blog the "Hot Rod Magazine" of tree planting.

To receive updates of new posts, please become a follower or sign up for email updates... and visit often!