Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tree Tube Talk: Call Me Before You Plant Trees!

This past Saturday I was invited to give a talk about Tree Tubes at a Minnesota Forestry Association Field Day (which turned into more of an inside day, thanks to torrential downpours).  I have no idea how many talks I have given about tree tubes over the course of 22 years; it's a lot, but I never, ever get tired of it.  Yes, hopefully a result of my talks is that I sell a few tree tubes.  But that's not why I enjoy giving these talks so much.

First of all, when speaking to groups of landowners interested in forestry and tree planting I invariably meet fascinating people - the people who become my heroes for the amazing work they are doing and the dedication with which they tend their little patches of heaven.

Second of all, I always learn something from the folks I'm supposed to be teaching.  (It's interesting how these first two items have a lot more to do with listening than with speaking - it's true what they say; you can't learn anything new when your mouth is moving!)  Non-industrial private landowners own most of our forest land and they are the ones on the front line of the battle to regenerate and improve our forests.  They have been through the wars and have the battle scars - and knowledge - to show for it.

Finally - and here's where the teaching comes in - my talks almost always turn out to be about a lot more than tree tubes.  They are about successful forest regeneration in general.  One thing I have noticed over the years is that landowners often are not told the truth about tree planting by forestry and conservation professionals.  It's not that these professional lie, it's that they just don't want to tell landowners how difficult it is - and how much work it takes - to successfully grow trees.  I think there is an element of denial at work here, a hearkening to the old days before 70 deer per square mile when you could plant seedlings, walk away and expect adequate survival.  In part I think there's a fear that if landowners realize how much work it takes, they will choose not to do it.

So instead what happens is that landowners plant a bunch of trees with visions of passing a new forest down to their grandchildren, but become disillusioned when their trees get eaten by deer, cooked by drought and swarmed under with weeds and grass they can't possibly spray or mow fast enough.

Sadly, at this point many landowners give up.  Some - the dedicated few - the ones I meet at forestry field days - keep trying, and keep seeking new solutions.  Eventually this search leads them to me, and to tree tubes.  Luckily tree tubes are easier to find these days thanks to the internet.

Once they start using tree tubes,

1) They can't believe - and are in many cases angry - that no one ever told them about tree tubes before.

2) They fully understand that tree tubes reduce the cost of tree planting as compared to everything else they would need to do in order to be successful (and in many cases are in fact the only way they can be successful).

3) They tell me, "I wish I had known about this the first time I planted - it would have saved me years of wasted effort."

That's my challenge.  To spread to word more effectively, to teach people about tree tubes before they waste years of hard work and money, and before they give up altogether.

That's why I enjoy giving these talks so much.

Thank you to the Minnesota Forestry Association for inviting me, and thanks to so many dedicated members who braved inclement weather to come to the field day.  It's not always a bad thing when rain forces a field day inside and gets landowners together over coffee and donuts to meet, share information, and learn new tricks.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tree Tubes: The Importance of Pruning to a Single Stem

You have planted your seedling, pounded in your tree tube stakes and you're about to lower your tree tube over the seedling.  You notice the seedling has some beautiful little lateral branches and you realize that you are faced with a decision:  Gather and bunch up those laterals, or prune the seedling to a single stem.

I call this the tree tube moment of truth.  What do you do?  You grit your teeth.  You wince.  You suck in your breath.  And you prune the seedling to a single stem.

I know it's hard to do.  I know it is counter intuitive.  Not only did you pay good money for the seedling (so you don't want to leave its branches laying on the ground), you also know those branches will produce leaves that will fuel faster growth... right?

Wrong.  I know that answer to this because I have done it both ways.  When you prune to a single stem not only will you get a tree with better form (no narrow branch angles cause by cramming lateral branches into the confined space), you will get faster growth!  That is because when you prune to single stems before applying your tree tubes each leaf will be exposed to more sunlight, and more air - especially carbon dioxide - will circulate in the tree tube to fuel more growth.

Several times I - or one of my customers - have done side by side tests: Same species, same site, some pruned to a single stem and some left unpruned.  The pruned trees always perform better.

So when confronted with "the moment of truth" and facing the decision "to prune or not to prune," hopefully it will make it easier to do the right thing - pruning to a single stem - now that you know that your trees will not only have better form, they will also grow faster.

Think of it this way:  When you buy and plant a seedling what you are really buying is a root system.  Tree tubes are the fastest, surest way to turn that root system into a healthy, established tree.  Pruning to a single stem accelerates the process of turning that root system into a tree.