4 foot and 5 foot Tree tubes clearly make sense if you are planting trees that you want to grow with a single main trunk – like oaks, American chestnut, black walnut, black cherry, etc.
But what if you are planting small trees or shrubs that you want to branch out and spread from the base? This is often the case with wildlife habitat plantings of species like buffalo berry, golden current, ninebark, Nanking cherry, Aronia berry (black chokeberry), chokecherry, etc.
The old recommendation was to use shorter tree tubes – 2ft or 3ft – on these species. I say “old recommendation” for a simple reason: It doesn’t work.
Deer like to browse these shrubby and thicket-forming species just as much as, if not more than, the larger tree species. A deer won’t walk up to a Nanking cherry growing out of a 2ft tree tube and think to itself, “Well the landowner clearly wants this plant to start branching at this height, so I better leave it alone.” No, that deer will munch that tree off at 2ft, and keep on munching it off at 2ft every time it emerges from the tube. It’s sort of the deer version of an ice cream cone!
The new recommendation – and I say “new recommendation” for the simple reason that it has been tested and it works – is to use tall 4ft or 5ft tree tubes on these shrub species, and think of their establishment in stages. Stage 1: Grow the terminal leader past the browse line. Stage 2: Keep the tree tube in place to support and protect the trunk until the plant is firmly established. Stage 3: Remove the tree tubes and allow the plant to branch and spread.
This is typically about a 4 year process, depending on the species or the site. The good news is that most of these fruit-bearing shrubs or small trees grow extremely fast in tree tubes, and will be out the top in two – or even one – growing seasons. Another 2-3 years of support and protection and you can remove the tubes and let them spread. Pruning terminal leaders at that time will encourage more lateral branching.
Yes, you will have some funny looking shrubs while you channel their growth upward past the browse line. But funny looking shrubs that are successfully established and quickly branch and spread are a whole lot better than dead shrubs or 2ft tall ice cream cones for deer!
If you have questions about this or any other aspect of tree tube use, please contact us!