Tree tube background & history

Many times I have a phone conversation or email exchange and then afterward realize that the information I covered with the customer might be helpful to many other folks.  This blog is a great way to replicate those discussions.

Yesterday I had an email exchange with an environmental consultant planning a huge ecological restoration planting using tree tubes.  The customer has a long history with using tree tubes on many projects.  The primary things a large customer wants to know from me are:

1) Can she trust the guy who’s selling the tree tubes – does he have experience and know what the heck he’s talking about?

2) What makes the Tubex Combitube Tree Tubes I offer different?  (And then once a customer sees my pricing they generally want to know how I’m able to offer the world’s best tree tube at such a competitive price!)

3) What tree tube stakes are best?

Here’s what I wrote to this customer:

As for me, I have a degree in Urban Forestry (Univ of Minnesota ’89).  My first job out of college in the summer of 1989 was with the company that introduced Tubex Treeshelters to the USA.  I have worked with treeshelters in various capacities continuously ever since.  Kind of scary to think I have spent half my life selling tree tubes… but I love it and plan to keep doing it for another 25 years (actually, who am I kidding – I’ll probably never retire so I’ll be doing this for 40 more years 😉

One frustration I have always had with treeshelters is their high cost, and the fact that so much of their price to the market came not from raw material and manufacturing costs, but from overhead, high profit margins, and transport costs.  Tree tubes have traditionally been distributed by small companies with high overhead relative to sales volumes.  Consequently these companies needed high profit margins in order to cover their overhead with limited sales volume.  My goal over the years has always been to drive as much cost out of the supply chain (something they didn’t teach me in forestry school!) as possible.  I keep overhead very low, deal in very large volumes, and keep logistical costs to an absolute minimum.

As far as the treeshelter itself, I offer the Tubex Combitube Plus.  Long name but each word is important.

TUBEX – Tubex has long been the worldwide leader in treeshelter manufacture.  The basic Tubex design – twin walled tubes that ship round in nested groups of five with pre-threaded ties, a flared rim to prevent bark abrasion and a laser line perforation to split open as the tree grows – has been the gold standard for years.  Contractors love it, because as compared to other tubes Tubex is 25% faster to install.  Growers love it because it is by far the most durable and maintenance-free tube on the market.

The problem with Tubex is that traditionally it has been very expensive in the USA.  That’s not because it costs more to make; Tubex is so efficient with their manufacturing processes that it actually costs less to make.  The problem, per my comments above, was the way in which it was marketed and transported in the USA.  I am doing everything possible to make the superior Tubex design available at the lowest possible price.

Partly that’s because I don’t view my “competition” as coming from other treeshelter suppliers.  My main competition is not using tree tubes at all, because they are seen as too expensive (you know and I know that treeshelters are not expensive as compared to what it costs to successfully establish trees without them, but many folks still see them as an unnecessary cost).  So every dime by which I can reduce the price means that more people will view them as economically viable.

COMBITUBE – The biggest advance in the design of tree tubes in the last 25 years has been the introduction of ventilation.  Tubex Combitubes are solid in the lower 16 inches for rodent and herbicide protection, then have bands of ventilation holes up to the top (see attached photos).  Back in the “dark ages” of treeshelter design we thought the tube should be a hermetically sealed, air-tight environment.  Man, did we get that wrong! Vented tree tubes are the only kind I will sell, at least for 4ft and taller.

Venting was originally tested as a means to prevent one of the worst “side effects” of the old unvented tubes:  Winter die-back.  Many species, especially black walnut but also several others, didn’t harden off properly for winter in solid tubes, resulting in severe winter injury.  Venting completely prevents this by better equalizing the temperature inside the tube.

It was later discovered that venting has several other beneficial effects.  Increased exchange of carbon dioxide results in faster overall growth, and the trees that emerge from vented tubes have thicker, stronger trunks than those that emerge from unvented tubes.  Faster height growth + better stem caliper growth means we’re getting a lot more total biomass growth than we used to.

PLUS – The plus refers to the diameter.  The average diameter of these tubes is considerably larger than the diameter of standard Tubex treeshelters.  We learned years ago that the larger the diameter the more total biomass growth you get, with thicker stems and a better root/shoot ratio.

WHITE OAK STAKES – White oak stakes have been the “work horse” stake for many years.  Good for driving into tough, compacted soils and generally very durable.  The biggest challenge with white oak stakes is consistency, and finding a mill you can trust.  I have bought stakes from my mill for years, and they have probably made more treeshelter stakes than anyone.  However, even the best white oak stakes have the all the inconsistency inherent in a natural product; a certain percentage are going to break or rot over time in the field, requiring some level of maintenance.

PVC STAKES – Over the past several years I have become completely enamored of 1/2″ PVC conduit as a tree tube stake. PVC stakes have several advantages:

1) Consistent & durable – won’t break or rot
2) Not attractive for bears or deer to rub against
3) Flexible – the swaying motion mimics the swaying/shaking the tree would do if open grown, and the result is much better stem taper and diameter

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