Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Shrub Prescription: First grow past the deer,then branch out

Many landowners interested in enhancing wildlife habitat for deer, wild turkey, pheasants and other species are planting small, fruit-bearing trees and shrubs like American plum, Nanking cherry, chokecherry, chokeberry (Aronia berry), golden current, buffalo berry and others.

This is another example of how our understand of how best to use tree tube technology has advanced in the past 22 years.

The old - and generally ineffective - recommendation in the early days was to use 2ft or 3ft tree tubes on these shrubby species.  The thinking was that the shorter tree tubes would provide initial browse protection, but then would allow the plants to begin branching out at 2 or 3ft. 

The problem with this approach was immediately apparent.  Deer like to eat these species as much as - and probably even more than - tree species like oak and black walnut.  So every time a shrub would emerge from one of these short tree tubes the deer would nip it off.  Rather than a protective device the tree tube functioned more like an ice cream cone for deer!

Trial and error has shown us a more effective approach:

1) Use 4ft or 5ft Tree Tubes to grow the terminal leaders past the browse line.  Yes, you get a "funny looking" shrub for a while, tall and thin, but a funny looking shrub is a lot better than a "dead shrub" or a 2ft tall "ice cream cone."

The good news is that most of these fruit-bearing shrubs or small thicket-forming trees grow like crazy in tree tubes.  Even if you're planting little seedlings don't be surprised if some emerge from the tubes in the first summer!

2) Keep the tree tube in place for another 2-3 seasons, both to support the stem while it thickens up, and to protect from antler rubbing by deer and bark gnawing by rodents.

3) Remove the tubes after 4 seasons or so, to allow the plants to spread, branch and sucker.  Pruning terminal leaders at that time will encourage more lateral branching. After 5 years or so you will have fully established and well branched shrubs.

It's a different way to grow a shrub, but today's record deer numbers force us to do things a little differently; namely first get past the browse line and then branch out!

Thanks for reading, and if you have questions about this or any other aspect of tree tube use, please contact us!

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