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.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

When to remove tree tubes

Probably the biggest area of confusion about using tree tubes is when to remove them.  The most frequent mistake tree planters make when using tree tubes is removing them too soon, before they have completed their task of successfully establishing a tree.

There has been a lot of discussion about this issue recently on sportsman's online forums.  A common complaint seems to be that the tree planter, eager to remove (and perhaps reuse) the tree tubes, removes them as soon as the trees emerge from the tubes - only to find that the trees are not fully self-supporting.  They "flop over."

Tree tubes designed to fulfill three functions at different stages of a seedling's development.

1) Establishment - tree tubes protect newly planted seedlings from deer, rabbit and rodent damage, reduce moisture stress to dramatically increase survival rates and accelerate growth, and shield them from herbicide spray and/or mowers to make weed control fast and easy (or even, in many cases, possible).

2) Support - the introduction of vented tree tubes and the adoption of flexible tree tube stakes such as pvc conduit has resulted in a dramatic increase in the stem diameter of trees when the emerge from tree tubes.  However, since we're still talking about growing a tree up through an enclosed space to rapidly pierce the browse line, trees that have recently emerged from tree tubes are quite thin-stemmed relative to their height.

That's why tree tubes - at least good tree tubes - are designed to last several years.  When the tree emerges the tree tubes assumes a new role, that of trunk support.  Tree tubes are meant to be left in place to support the tree while the newly emerged canopy sways in the wind and the trunk rapidly gains caliper.

3) Trunk/Bark Protection - A year or two after emerging from the tree tube the tree will be completely self supporting.  Even then the tree tube still has a role to play in the successful long term establishment of the tree.  Bucks love to scrape and rub their antlers against springy saplings.  Rodent still gnaw on the tender bark of young trees.  Treeshelters protect the trunk of the newly established tree from these dangers.

To gain the full spectrum of benefits tree tubes can provide, they should be left on young trees until they reach about 3 inches in diameter at the base, at which point the tree tubes should be removed and properly disposed of or recycled.

Does that mean you can't reuse tree tubes?  Not at all.  Given the cost of tree tubes - and tree planting in general - and the fact that most folks are trying to achieve as much as they can within very limited planting budgets, it is natural to want to establish more than one tree with each tree tube.

In the next post we will cover three methods for reusing tree tubes, and weigh the risk and benefits of each.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Tree Tubes on American Chestnut Trees

Tree tubes are finally fulfilling their promise as an establishment aid for American chestnut seedlings.

If ever there was a perfect candidate tree for tree tubes it would seem to be the American chestnut tree.  Billions of majestic chestnut trees were wiped out by the fungal blight that swept through its range in the early- and mid-1900s.  It has been the focus of heroic re-establishment efforts on the part of organizations such as the American Chestnut Foundation and thousands of dedicated scientists and volunteers.  Every chestnut seed or seedling planted is rare & precious, and critical to the long-term success of re-establishment efforts.  But chestnuts are also extremely vulnerable to all of threats to successful regeneration that other species face, including deer browse, competing vegetation and periodic drought stress.

So given the value and importance of each and every chestnut seedling planted and the number of threats they face, one would think that using plastic tree tubes on American chestnuts would be a no-brainer... and indeed American chestnut enthusiasts were some of the first tree planters to recognize the potential benefits of tree tubes and give them a try.  Unfortunately, the performance of those early, unvented tree tubes on American chestnut seedlings left a great deal to be desired.

It turned out that chestnut seedlings grown in tree tubes were particularly vulnerable to winter injury and die back.  They also grew with elongated, spindly stems that often formed a spiraling or helix growth habit as they worked their way up the tree tube.  Word of these issues quickly spread in chestnut growing circles, and chestnut planters either switched to using 2ft or 3ft tree tubes (shorter tree tubes provided rodent protection but did not cause die back or spiraling growth) or stopped using tree tubes altogether.

Growers of Chinese chestnut trees, incidentally, experienced and reported these same problems, and many became disillusioned with tree tubes.

Recently, however, chestnut planters - both of American and Chinese chestnuts - have recognized the major advancements in tree tube design - most notably the addition of ventilation, better light transmission properties and larger tube diameter - and have given them another try.  This time around the results have been outstanding.

In this blog I have often discussed the evolution of tree tubes as the story of two eras:  Before Venting (BV) and After Venting (AV).  The entire history of tree tube use and effectiveness in North America can be divided into these two categories; the un-vented tree tubes that first came over from the UK and worked well in their moderate and very forgiving climate, and the vented tree tubes that work in the extreme climates - both cold and hot - found in the United States.  Nowhere is this dichotomy of BV versus AV illustrated more starkly and dramatically than with American and Chinese chestnut trees.

In coming weeks we will be posting accounts and photographs of tree tubes on American chestnut and Chinese chestnut trees.  Healthy, rapid growth and straight trunks have been the rule, as you see in dramatic fashion here:

(Click to enlarge)

This is a Chinese chestnut tree growing in Mississippi.  It was planted in July, 2012 as a 12 inch seedling.  It was protected with a 4ft tall tree tube, and was watered to help it survive the late season planting.  It didn't put on any additional growth for the remainder of the 2012 season.... in other words in entered the 2013 growing season 1 foot tall.  This photograph was taken in August, 2013.  The tree grew more than 8 feet in one growing season.

More important than the rapid rate of growth:

1) The tree - and many others like it in the same planting - is perfectly straight, with no sign of the spiraling growth seen in the early days of chestnut seedlings in un-vented tree tubes.

2)  The trunk diameter - while thin relative to it (amazing) height, as you'd expect with any tree tube grown seedling - is very robust.  This also due in large part to the adoption of flexible tree tube stakes such as 1/2" schedule 40 PVC, as was used here.

Note: That "tray" at the base of the tree is a revolutionary weed mat developed in Israel called the IrriPan Weed Mat.  It blocks weeds, captures rain water and funnels it to the tree, reflects light up to the tree, and recycles soil moisture.

Follow this blog for more upcoming posts chronicling the use of tree tubes on American and Chinese chestnut trees.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Tree Tubes - defying predictions

People who have never tried tree tubes nearly always predict dire results, the most common of which is that the seedlings will "burn up" or "cook" inside the tree tubes.

Here's an interesting tree tube post about how this near-universal prediction has been proved wrong time and again.

Friday, January 18, 2013

More Tree Tube How-to Videos

For the very best "how to" videos about tree tubes on the web, visit Mossy Oak Nativ Nurseries' web site.  They very typically get 5, 6 or even 7 feet of growth in the first growing season after planting their hybrid oak seedlings.  There's no magic to it.  That's the kind of growth most trees are capable of if we as tree planters eliminate all of things - the stresses - the prevent them from growing to their full potential.

Tree Tubes: Which end is up?

Some tree tubes don't have a "top" or a "bottom," which is good in that they can't be installed incorrectly.  It's probably also bad in that it means they lacked a specially flared rim designed to prevent abrasion of the tender bark of emerging trees.

Higher quality tree tubes do have an "up" and a "down."  They have a specially made rim designed to protect the bark of emerging trees from abrasion.  However it also means they can be installed wrong side up.  In fact, I have seen tree tube brochures and web sites sporting photographs of tree tubes installed upside down!

Thankfully one of the top tree tube sellers in the US has posted a helpful blog post and video to clear up the up/down confusion!