To prune or not to prune, that is the question… when applying a Wilson Tree Tube over a newly planted seedling, naturally regenerated seedling, or tree that has been browsed to “bonsai” size and is finally getting some much-needed protection.
The answer is ALWAYS: Before tubing, prune the plant to a single stem – even shrub or low-growing tree species you want to eventually have low-growing branches. Why? 2 reasons:
1. Faster growth. Un-pruned seedlings in tree shelter tubes tend to grow more slowly, in part because the plethora of leaves creates an “air clog” that impedes the flow of carbon dioxide, and in part because all of those leaves shade each other. Trees pruned to a single stem before tubing grow much faster.
2. Branch angle. Having multiple stems and/or lateral branches bunched up in the tubes creates narrow branch angles. The narrower the branch angle, the more bark that gets included (ingrown) as the branch and main trunk grow, and the weaker that branch joint is. Narrow branch crotches are much more susceptible to breakage in the future due to wind or snow loads.
If you get a big, branched 20 inch or 30 inch seedling from the nursery it can be very difficult to bring yourself to prune off all of the lateral branching before applying your tree tubes. But you’re really doing the best thing for the tree in the long term.
Think of it this way: when you plant buy and plant a seedling what you’re really buying is a root system. The job of the tree tube is to turn that root system into healthy tree that will become a valuable component of your land for tens or hundreds of years to come. The best way to do that is to prune the tree to single stem before tubing it.