Friday, January 28, 2011

Most Unusual Uses For Tree Tubes and Grow Tubes

In nearly 22 years of working with tree tubes and grow tubes, I have pretty much seen it all.

Years ago I had a customer in Iowa who used 2ft tree tubes on his sweet corn!  He said that with grow tubes his corn was ripe 2 weeks earlier than everyone else's - and every knows that first sweet corn of the year is worth twice as much.  He only used the tubes for a month or so each summer, then stored them in his barn the rest of the year.  Figured they'd last just about forever, and would pay for themselves many times over.

He's probably still doing it yet today... and hoping against hope that his neighbors don't catch on and start using grow tubes on their sweet corn!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

When To Remove Your Tree Tubes

One of the most frequently asked questions about tree tubes is:  “When should I remove them?”

All too often tree growers remove their tree tubes too soon.  Remember, a tree tube has two jobs:

1) Protect the tree until it grows up past the deer browse line, and

2) Support the tree until it is firmly established.  Removing treeshelters too soon allows them to do only half of their full function.

The second most common mistake? Not removing the tree tubes at all, thinking they will break down and disappear in time.  Tree tube suppliers themselves share some of the blame for this, since in the early days it was thought that tree tubes would indeed photodegrade completely on site.  Here are two important rules of thumb to follow:

RULE OF THUMB #1:  Your tree tubes will need to be removed.  Yes they are photo degradable and will eventually break down in sunlight, but that won’t happen for 10 to 15 years in most cases. (On the other hand, if tree tube manufacturers leave out the UV inhibitors that increase durability, then the tree tubes won’t last long enough to get the job done.)  Best practice for the health of your trees and for the aesthetics of your site is to remove and properly dispose of your tree tubes.

RULE OF THUMB #2:  Remove your tree tubes when the trees inside are approximately 3 inches in caliper (diameter) at the base, BEFORE they start to push out against the walls of the tree tubes.
Our Tubex Combitube Tree Tube is made with a laser-line perforation so that the tree tubes will split open and expand rather than constrict the growth of your trees.  This is especially helpful for large scale and back country plantings that don’t get visited very often.  Even with this great laser line feature it’s still better to remove and dispose of your tree tubes when the trees reach 3 inches in diameter at the base.

If you have any questions about our tree tubes – or any tree tubes on the market – please don’t hesitate to contact us.  We have a wealth of experience we can share to make your project as easy and successful as possible!  And be sure to visit us at to learn more.

Tree Tubes Don't Replace Sound Planting Practices

Tree tubes are simply a tool for increasing the odds of success and decreasing the long term cost, labor and frustration of tree planting and establishment.

Tree tubes are not meant to replace good planting practices.

You still need to analyze your site (soil, moisture, climate) and understand which trees will grow best there.  Tree tubes can't overcome a bad match between tree species and site - they can't magically make black walnut grow well on a low fertility sandy site.

You still need to do adequate site preparation.

You still need to take good care of the planting stock from the time you receive it until you plant it - i.e. you can't leave the boxes with seedlings in the back of the pick up in the hot sun; even tree tubes can't grow seedlings whose roots have dried and died.

You still need to plant the seedlings carefully and properly - proper depth of the root collar, no J-roots.

And most of all, you still need to do aggressive weed control.  Even tree tubes can't help oak seedlings grow faster than kudzu, Johnson grass or multiflora rose.

Whew.  Yes, it's a lot of work.  And you're probably asking: If I'm going to spend all that time and money already, why should I spend even more on tree tubes?

Two reasons:

1) Tree tubes make it faster and easier to apply good planting/establishment practices.  Ever try to find a 12" American chestnut seedling in a field of waist high grass and brush?  Tree tubes make it easy to locate your seedlings.  Ever accidentally spray one of your seedlings with RoundUp or run one over with a mower?  Tree tubes protect your seedlings from the very weed control practices that will help them thrive.

2) Without tree tubes you can do all of that work and still end up with nothing to show for it.  Deer can wipe out a planting in a matter of a few days.  Rabbits and voles can gnaw off seedlings.  Periodic drought can stress newly planted seedlings to the point of mortality before they have time to get their roots into a stable moisture supply.

No, tree tubes don't replace sound planting practices.  Tree tubes make it easier (and in some cases make it possible) to apply sound practices.  But most of all tree tubes help ensure that if you follow these sound principles, all your hard word won't go to waste and you'll end up with flourishing, fast-growing trees well on their way to meeting your management objectives.

Thanks for reading, and please visit to learn more about our products and our company.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Right Stake For The Job

It's an old adage among long-time tree tube users:  Even the best tube (which is, in our humble opinion, the Tubex Combitube Treeshelter) is only as good as the stake that holds it up.

And after years of experimenting with different stakes we have finally found the perfect tree tube stake:  1/2" PVC.  Here's why:

1. Can be driven into any soil (although in tough soils you might need to use a 1" diameter rigid pvc "driving collar" to keep the 1/2" pvc stake from vibrating while driving it - you can cut the driving collar to the perfect length for driving the tree tube stake.

2. Won't rot - stake failure, even with generally decay resistant types of wood - is the number 1 reason for tree tube failure.  PVC stakes will last long enough to get the job done, and can be reused time and time again.

3. Light weight for transporting and shipping

4. Flexible but resilient - every fall you get some bucks rubbing their antlers against tree tubes.  Wooden or bamboo stakes can break off at the ground line with too much pressure and pushing.  PVC stakes flex to absorb the blow, and spring back to vertical.

5. Better tree growth - PVC stakes flex and sway in the wind, duplicating the motion trees would experience if grown in the open (but without the moisture stress and danger of getting eaten!).  That swaying motion "tells" the tree to thicken its stem, so trees grown in tubes with pvc stakes have thicker stems when they emerge from the tubes, and take less time to become self supporting.

Top 10 Trees People Protect With Tree Tubes

After 21 years of marketing tree tubes, I thought I’d try my hand at creating a list of the top ten tree species on which people choose to use tree tubes.

There are two different ways to determine this: total number of tree tubes used on a certain type of tree, or the percentage of trees of a certain type that planters choose to tree tube.

My list is a combination of the two, with some representatives from both categories.

1. Sawtooth oak (and ‘Gobbler’ Sawtooth oak)
If you’re planting sawtooth oak (Quercus accutissima) that means you’re planting for wildlife. And if you’re planting for wildlife, that means you have wildlife that likes to eat tree seedlings. You also want to get a fast growing, early-producing tree into production ASAP. No sawtooth oak should ever be planted without a tree tube.

2. Black walnut (Juglans nigra)
One of our highest value hardwoods is also a favorite of deer in many locations.  If you’re planting black walnut you’re most likely planting to leave a legacy of beauty and value to your children and grandchildren. 

Note: Black walnut was particularly susceptible to winter injury in the older, un-vented tree tubes, and so many walnut growers stopped using tree tubes for a while.  Now with the introduction of vented tree tubes this is no longer a problem, and black walnut growers and coming back to tree tubes in droves.

3. Any hybrid oak – any Quercus X with an x in the Latin name!
Hybrid oaks typically grow fast and bear acorns at an early age.  Planted for wildlife, and even for human food, every acorn for a hybrid oak is worth protecting.

4. Crab apple (Malus sp.)
A soft mast favorite of those folks planting to enhance wildlife habitat, you wouldn’t believe how fast it grows in tree tubes – 10″ bare root seedlings emerging from 5′ tree tubes the first year is not unusual!  Significant mast production in year 3 is also a very real possibility with tree tubes and aggressive weed control.

5. Persimmon (Diospyros sp.)
Persimmon in another soft mast wildlife favorite in Southern states.  Every one deserves a  tree tube for optimal growth.

6. Bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa)
Like most oaks, bur oak grows a lot faster than you think, and even more so in tree tubes.  Put a bur oak seedling (or direct seeded acorn) in a tree tube and you’ll be amazed.  With the arrival of Emerald Ash Borer in the Midwestern and Plains states bur oak will – and should – fill a bigger role in windbreak and shelterbelt plantings.

(And if you’re planting a windbreak or shelterbelt, by definition you’re in a place where it’s hard to grow trees – you’re in the prairie. Just like your crops and farmstead need the trees you plant to shield them from wind, the trees you plant need treeshelters to shield them from that same wind!)

7. Northern red oak (Quercus rubra)
Northern red oak might be the "most tubed" tree in history, due to its importance as a source of high value hardwood timber and its appeal to deer as a midnight snack.  Foresters don't usually tube every northern red oak - just 30 to 50 per acre to insure a certain minimum stocking level  - so they won't have to go back and start over if (when) deer eat every last red oak.

An underused method is to use tree tubes on northern red oak stump sprouts, and on natural regeneration (especially after they turn scarlet in the and stand out like beacons on the forest floor).

8. Apples, plums and pears planted for wildlife (Malus, Prunus and Pyrus sp.) – especially any fruit tree with a varietal name like Arkansas Black, Chickasaw, Yates, Deer Golden, Methley, Ozark Premier, Dixie Delight, Galloway, etc.)
The varietal name means you paid more for a tree with specific characteristics – fruit flavor, ripening time, etc.  And it means you have high expectations for its performance.  Not using a tree tube is like buying a new Corvette and not doing oil changes!

9. Nuttall oak (Quercus nuttallii)
Our fastest growing native oak can grow even faster – and start feeding wildlife sooner – with tree tubes!

10. American chestnut (Castanea dentata)
Chestnut Blight.  One Asian fungus, fifty years, and 4.5 billion trees dead.  The majestic American chestnut once towered over the Eastern hardwood forest, until the first half of the 20th Century.  Thanks to the heroic work of groups like the American Chestnut Foundation new, blight-resistant American chestnuts are being planted to restore the “Sequoia of the East” to its rightful place in our forests.  Every single nut and seedling planted is precious, and we can’t lose any of them to deer, drought or competing vegetation.

11. (I know I’m cheating by adding an 11th item) Any California oak
The beautiful native oaks of California are in decline due multiple factors:  Cattle grazing, lack of fire to control competition, drought, and deer.

Tree tubes are playing a critical role in the reestablishment of California’s amazing oaks.

Others receiving votes:  Chinese chestnut, paw paw, baldcypress and black cherry. And anything planted for ecological restoration or wetland mitigation. Or in a windbreak. Or for wildlife habitat. Or for riparian buffers. Or in parks or our landscapes (instead of planting large B&B trees with deformed roots, more and more urban foresters are choosing to plant seedlings with tree tubes to allow the root system to develop naturally without disturbance).

Oh, never mind… it would be easier to do a list of the top 10 trees that shouldn’t have tree tubes.  Because there aren’t any!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Why Trees Grow Better and Faster in Tree Tubes

Ok, a lot of words have been written marveling at the fast growth and high survival rate of seedling trees in tree tubes

Not nearly as many - or nearly enough - words have been written about WHY trees grow better and survive at a much higher rate inside of tree tubes.  Maybe that's because much of what we thought we knew about tree tubes 20 years ago turned out to be wrong.  Maybe because there are several mechanisms at play, and it's always difficult to explain such a multi-faceted phenomenon. 

So let's keep it simple.  What kills tree seedlings, or reduces their growth rate?  Moisture stress, animal damage, and weed competition.

1. First and foremost tubes tubes accelerate growth and increase survival by reducing moisture stress.  Every minute of every day during the growing season wind sweeps moisture away from leaf surfaces.  Leaves lose moisture, and then close their stomata - their pores - in order to conserve the moisture that remains.  Of course when they do that they also stop growing.

Tree tubes shield leaves from wind, conserving moisture (which increases survival rate even under dry conditions), keeping stomata open, so the trees grow more actively more of the time.

Yes there are other, more complicated mechanisms at work to enhance growth, but in the end it all comes down to water conservation and keeping the stomata open so the tree's growth engine keeps chugging along.

2. It's tough to grow if you're being eaten by a deer or rabbit, or gnawed by a mouse or vole.  The simple act of guarding seedlings from animal damage of course increases survival rates, but what's often overlooked is that it also accelerates growth.

3. Trees and grass are mortal enemies.  The prairie and forest constantly battle each other for supremacy.  Grass's biggest asset is that it can absorb and use the site's resources more quickly.  In other words, it steals moisture and nutrients from the trees.  Trees' ally in the battle against grass used to be fire.  Fire would kill the grass, at least temporarily, giving the trees a chance to gain a foothold and get established.

In most cases these days the use of fire is not an option.  That means that we, the tree planters, need to simulate the fire by providing complete weed control.  Not mowing; mowing helps reduce rodent lairs but does nothing to prevent the below-ground battle for resources - and in fact invigorates grass to make it a fiercer competitor.  It means chemical or mechanical weed control, or the use of weed barrier fabric.

How do tree tubes help with weed control?  First - and this is a benefit that is under appreciated until you try tree tubes for the first time - you can actually find your trees amidst the sea of weeds and grass.  Trust me, this is no small thing.  Second, the tree tubes shield your seedlings from chemical weed control or mechanical cultivators.

You can see the problem - I set out to keep in simple and end up writing for a long time.  But that's the "down side" of a product with so many benefits!

Think of it this way.  If you grew a seedling in a greenhouse environment, safe from animals and with complete weed control it would grow as fast as if it was in a tree tube.  But if you did that, it would be in a tree tube - just a very big, very expensive tree tube!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

What I DON'T want for Christmas!

In their early days tree tubes were known as Tuley Tubes, in honor of their inventory Graham Tuley of the British Forestry Commission.

For the complete tree geek on your shopping list you can now order a jigsaw puzzle of a photograph of a field of Tuley Tubes, presumably somewhere in Great Britain

Not surprisingly shoppers on that web site give the item 1 star out of 5.

Now if it was a photo of a field of Tubex CombiTubes, now that would be a completely different story!


Certain nouns or names become so well known and popular they get turned into verbs in common usage.

One of those words is Tubex, as in Tubex Tree Tubes. A great product for protecting seedling trees from deer browse and other damage has become, in the minds of many professional foresters, a verb for protecting their seedlings.  As in, "I need to Tubex those oak seedlings."  As in, "I just got done Tubexing five acres of American chestnut seedlings."  Or, "Those direct seeded acorns still need to be Tubexed."

That's what happens when you make the best tree tube on the market for nearly 30 years.

The story of Kleenex is used as a cautionary tale in this regard, a brand name which became so synonymous with the product category - facial tissues - that the manufacturer lost its trademark.

Tubex has a long way to go before that happens, since (unfortunately) more people blow their nose than plant trees.  Not that I want people to blow their nose any less.  And I have a feeling that if Tubex ever does have a "Kleenex problem," it will be considered one of those good problems to have!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Great Research Study, Great Results!

It's always tempting to focus on the extremely fast growth of many tree species in tree tubes.  It's hard not to focus on it when you see crabapple trees start the year as six inch seedlings and emerge from 4 and 5 foot treeshelters before the end of summer!

But it's important to remember that fast growth in tree tubes is really just a means to an end - and that end is simply the long term survival of the tree.

All too many tree planting projects end in failure due to low seedling survival.  Deer browse, competing vegetation, drought, wind and moisture stress and other factors all play a part.  For most tree planters the bottom line is survival, which simply means: not having to plant that same piece of ground again.  Fast growth is nice, and it's something to brag about to your neighbors and friends, but the main thing is simply success.

That's why this article is so great (follow the link and then click View Document).  This studied tracked survival rates of four species, baldcypress (yes! baldcypress grows great in tree tubes!), water tupelo, swamp blackgum and green ash over five years, in 4 different types of sites and in the face of severe herbivory from beavers.  Some interesting results:

Baldcypress, planted in a willow area,
With tree shelters: 97% survival
Without tree shelters: 45% survival

Green ash, planted in a grassy area,
With tree shelters: 90% survival
Without tree shelters: 8% survival

Green ash, planted in a a willow area,

With tree shelters: 88% survival
Without tree shelters: 2% survival

No, not all of the results were this dramatic, and I'm "cherry picking" the most compelling results the way that all salesmen tend to do. 

But almost across the board the results tell one story:  Success (with tree tubes) versus Replant (without tree tubes).