OK, so you plant your tree seedlings, protect them with Wilson Tree Tubes, and then watch (and we mean literally watch – you can see it happen) those trees grow out the top of the tubes faster than you ever thought possible.
The question then becomes: Now what? When should you remove the tree tubes? Keep in mind that tree tubes have three primary functions: 1) Protect seedlings until they grow up past the browse line, 2) Support the young tree until its stem thickens enough to support itself, and 3) Guard the trunk of the young tree from bark damage by deer, mowers, brush hogs, etc.
So when the tree emerges the tree tube’s job is really only 1/3 done. The best approach is to leave the treeshelter in place until the tree reaches about 3 inches in caliper at the base. (Keep in mind that this will happen a whole lot fast when you use a flexible PVC tree tube stake – the swaying motion “tells” the tree to grow a thicker, more buttressed trunk as compared to a tree grown in a tree tube with a rigid stake.)
However, I know that most tree planters are operating on a shoestring budget and are trying to get the biggest bang for their tree planting dollar. I see more and more tree tube users posting on discussion boards and web forums, saying that they remove the tree tubes after the tree grows up and out of the tube and past the browse line, and then use that tube on another newly planted seedling.
This can be a very effective technique IF you remember the two other jobs of the tree tube: Support and bark protection through the sapling stage. So if you choose to remove your tree tubes shortly after your trees emerge,
1) They will need to be staked for support. Here again the flexible PVC stake is perfect. First, you know it won’t rot before your tree becomes self supporting. Second, its flexibility will allow the tree to sway naturally and quickly gain stem diameter.
2) Keep in mind that the tree’s trunk is now exposed to other dangers, like antler damage from rutting bucks, mowers, rodents, etc. You might need to provide additional bark protection, such as a tree bark protector (make sure it’s opaque and allows air movement around the trunk). It would be a shame to grow the tree to 8 or 9 feet tall only to lose it to buck rub.