Don’t remove tree tubes too soon, when the job is only half done
I have been getting a lot of questions lately – and seeing a lot of online discussion on sportsmen forums – about when to remove tree tubes. These questions/discussions are typically along the lines of: “My trees quickly grew out the top of my tree tubes, but when I removed the tree tubes the trees weren’t strong enough to stand on their own.”
Tree tubes are not meant to be removed when the tree grows out the top. At that point the job of the tree tube is only half done. There also seems to be a lot of interest in re-using tree tubes, which I think is way people are anxious to remove them so soon.
Here’s how I answered one person who emailed on this issue. I hope this helps clear up the confusion about when to remove grow tubes, how they might be reused, and the trade-offs involved in reusing them.
The best way to answer this is to explain that tree tubes actually have three roles in the successful establishment of a tree:
1. Protection & accelerated growth to get above the browse line
3. Bark protection
At the point in time when a tree emerges from a tree tube it usually (but not always) doesn´t have a thick enough stem to support itself. The second role of the tree tube then is to support the tree until it is able to support itself. Usually this is about one full growing season after the tree emerges.
Even after the tree is self-supporting the tree tube continues to protect the bark from both rodents and buck rub.
However, I also understand that many growers hope to get a second use out of their tree tubes, which is understandable given limited planting budgets. There are three perfectly legitimate strategies for getting the most out of tree tubes:
Good: Remove the tree tube shortly after the tree emerges, but tie the tree to the stake you were using to support the tree tube. Preferably this would be a flexible stake like pvc. I´m not a huge fan of this practice – I don´t like staking trees and of course it exposes the tree to rodent and deer damage. But I have many customers doing this successfully and it does mean you can use the tubes two or three times.
Better: After the tree emerges wait at least one full growing season and then remove the tube. Especially when using pvc stakes the tree will gain a lot of caliper in that first growing season after emerging from the tube, and should be self supporting at that point. Again the advantage is the ability to reuse the tube (and probably the stake if the tree can stand alone); the disadvantage again is exposing the bark to rodents and deer damage.
Best: Leave the tree tubes on until the trees are 3″ in diameter at the base. This is really how they are meant to be used. You get full buck rub & rodent protection this way. This is what I recommend (and not just because I´m trying to sell more tubes!). I recommend this because there is nothing worse than getting a tree off to a great start and removing the tree tube only to have it scraped by a buck.