The biggest key to a successful tree planting project is keeping your seedlings from being munched by deer, rabbits and rodents.
After that the second, third and fourth biggest keys to success are aggressive weed control. And now is the time of year to get out there and do it.
When I say weed control I’m not talking about mowing. Yes, mowing has some benefits: Keeping grass and weeds cut low allows your seedlings to get more sunlight, and it reduces rodent habitat. However, mowing does nothing to reduce the below ground competition for water and nutrients; in fact, since mowing invigorates grass growth it actually make grass a fiercer competitor for limited soil resources.
There was a famous study done in Ontario with black walnut trees. Walnut seedlings were planted in two plots. One plot was mowed regularly – the grass was kept cut as short as a lawn. In the other plot the weeds were treated with herbicide in a large ring around each tree. At the end of the study – a period of about 10 years if I remember correctly – the difference was night and day. The black walnuts in the herbicide plot were about three times as tall as those in the mowed plot.
So when I talk about weed control I’m really talking about killing the weeds and grass, with herbicides, mechanical cultivation, or manually.
Not only do tree tubes make weed control easier, in many cases they simply make it possible. Here’s what I mean. It is now late June and while your seedlings have been getting their roots established the weeds and grass have been off to the races. You are most likely a hobby grower with limited time to devote to the maintenance of your trees. There’s nothing more frustrating than heading out to your tree planting to do some badly needed weed control, and instead spending all your time combing through 3ft tall weeds just to find your 1ft tall seedlings! And once you find them, you still need a way to shield them from either herbicides or a cultivator.
If tree tubes did nothing more than mark the location of each seedling many growers believe they’d be worth the cost! Of course they do a whole lot more than that – browse protection, moisture stress reduction, growth acceleration, and of course shielding your seedlings from weed control operations.
So the old way was to spend most of your weekend just trying to locate your seedlings, then covering them with a stove or duct pipe while you spray around them. The new way it to simply walk to each tree tube and quickly spray around it (even if your plan and budget call only for a tree tube on every third or fourth seedling the tubes still effectively mark the location of rows – a huge time saver).
After providing browse protection the single most important thing you can do for your trees is to aggressively control the weeds and grass around them. It doesn’t just make a small difference. I makes a HUGE difference in the growth rate of your trees.
Luckily, the same tool that provides complete browse protection also makes doing that weed control easier than ever!