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.