Saga of a tree planter – a sad but very common story

As part of an email exchange with a customer about using tree tubes on conifers (about which more in a minute) he shared an oft-repeated (but no less sad) story:

Along with white & red pines, about 7 years ago, I planted white cedar,
balsam fir, white spruce in the hundreds.
All but the white spruce(about 50 remaining) and a few cedar and a few
fir are gone. All of the trees I planted
Are present in large numbers in the area. So when I planted them I
figured they had a fighting chance. Wrong.
So around 5 years ago I plant 5-Austrian and 8-Scotch pine. They were
container grown and around 3 years old.
I bud capped all of them and the deer didn’t do that much damage to
them. Everything was fine until last year
When we came up in the spring, all but 1 Scotch pine were dead from
“wind burn” I guess. 

Folks who plant trees work so hard, and devote so much of their hard earned money, all to achieve goals that are more likely to be enjoyed by their children, grandchildren or complete strangers in the future.

But it just keeps getting harder and harder to grow a tree.  The “simple act” of planting a tree is, in 2012, anything but simple.  Deer, drought and dandelions all combine to kill trees.  (OK, dandelions aren’t a great threat to trees but I chose them in the interest of alliteration to represent all of the other exotic and invasive weeds and grasses that absolutely do threaten newly planted trees).

It is this particular gentleman’s goal – his dream – to restore the native conifers that grow on his property in northern Minnesota.  It is my job – and privilege – to help him achieve that dream.

Now, back to conifers in tree tubes.  If you had asked me 20 years ago (and yes you could have asked me 20 years ago because I had already been working with tree tubes for three years – the only things that have changed are the color & quantity of my hair and – hopefully – my database of tree tube wisdom) if tree tubes work well on conifers I would have said,

1) No, with the exception of baldcypress in the Southeast and Douglas fir and other conifers in the Pacific Northwest west of the Cascades.

2) In Minnesota deer don’t really browse red pine

Fortunately, #1 has changed.  Unfortunately #2 has changed as well.

With the advent of vented tree tubes 12 or so years ago we have seen very good results on a wide range of conifers, including red pine (aka Norway pine to a true Minnesotan!), white pine, ponderosa pine and white cedar.

And yes, I do recommend using 4ft tall tree tubes on conifers.  You get a funny looking conifer for the first several years (a bit like a pipe cleaner) but they start branching normally above the tube and once they reach 10ft tall you’d never know the difference (except that those planted without tree tubes probably will never reach 10ft tall).

And deer have definitely developed a real taste for red pine in the last several years.  I keep getting more and more reports of complete planting failures of red pine.

Tree tubes on conifers:  An idea whose time has come, thanks to advances in both tree tube technology and deer adaptation!

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