Advantages and Disadvantages of using Tree Tubes

An Oak tree that has emerged from one of our 5ft tree tubes after only two years of growing.

On our vacation in October we went to the farm to get it ready to sell and one of the things we did to get it ready was to check on the trees and the tree tubes and to see how the trees  fared during this years drought. The tree tubes have worked great so far but are not perfect. In this post I want to talk about the advantages and disadvantages of using tree tubes.

In the fall of 2010 we planted over 1200 fruit and nut trees on our property as a repairin buffer along the creek on the north side of our property as part of the contract we have with the Farm Service Agency. We put 300 tree tubes over part of the 1200 trees. I did a post about it Planting of the Trees, it was the second planting that was done on this property, the first attempt at planting trees failed by the previous owner because of the many deer eating the small seedlings over the first winter and flooding on the property. Also they never mowed around the trees and the tall Canary grass robbed the little trees of sun light, water and nutrients and living in the tall grass were lots of field mice and vols that also like to dine on small trees girdling the trees in the winter when food is scarce.  After the first year not one of the small trees could be found.

I had to find a solution to protect the trees from the many dangers until they got big enough to get established and that solution was tree tubes. In the post I did about The Flooding Aftermath  I talked about a lot of the advantages of using tree tubes and I am sure all of the trees we had planted this time would have been lost without them, but they  are not perfect and do have some disadvantages that the manufactures and the people who sell them don’t tell you. I will tell you from my experience what I recommend you do and what to use if you decide to  use tree tubes.

With tree tubes you can see how your rows run so you don’t mow over trees that are not in the tubes.

One of the big disadvantages is the initial cost. The tube, stake, weed mat, landscape staples for holding the weed mat in place and the plastic zip ties that hold the tube to the stake cost about 5.00 per tree. If you are doing just a few the cost is not bad but if you do 300 like we did, it gets to be expensive. If you have an area where there are lots of deer and tall grass and weeds, I strongly recommend using tree tubes and not waste your money on anything shorter than the 5 ft tube. The 5ft tube helps to protect the tree as it emerges out of the top of the tube from  deer, tree tubes may keep you from having to replant.

Use 1/2 inch pvc pipe for stakes

I recommend if you decided to use tree tubes do not use bamboo or oak stakes for your tube. I used bamboo because they were the cheapest and I tried to save a little money. This mistake has ended up costing me more money and time, because now after only two years of being in the field my bamboo stakes are starting to rot.  I plan to replace them all this coming spring using 1/2 inch pvc stakes.  The thicker walled pvc pipe will never rot and is supposed to stimulate stem growth from the pvc pipe swaying with the wind like the tree would do. You can buy a ten foot length of thicker walled pvc for about 1.20 each at Homedepot. Then cut it into 2 5ft sections. You will have a stake for .60 cents apiece that will last the life time of the tube and can be reused or recycled.

One of the biggest disadvantages that people who sell tree tubes don’t tell you about is that wasp like to make nest in the tubes. Now wasp in themselves do not harm the tree or the tree tube, but raccoons love to eat wasp larvae that are in the nest. They make a nice little protein snack and raccoons eat them like candy. The nest is usually towards the top of the tube and the raccoon climbs the tube until it crumples like in the picture below. They then shred the tube to get to the nest and in the process destroys the tube and sometimes kill the tree.

One of our tree tubes crumpled by a raccoon

Believe it or not,most of the trees that were in theses tubes were still alive when we found them. We had about 15 tubes destroyed by raccoons and I am sure there would have been more destroyed but when we were there in June I saw that the wasps were starting to build their nest in the tubes and I got rid of them. If you can get to the nest before it gets big and have lots of wasp on them is the time to do it. What I did was look into the top of the tube and if I saw a nest starting to form I would crush the nest by smashing my two hands together on the out side of the tube where the nest was. With only one or two wasp on the nest there was not much of chance getting stung.

5ft tall wire cage tube I made to protect the tree that was in a tube destroyed by raccoons.

This tree in the picture above was in the tube that was destroyed by a raccoon. It was broken and luckily it had another stem coming off it towards the bottom, so we cut the broken stem off and put a wire cage around it that is 5ft tall. This is an experiment, it does not protect it against mice and vols so we will see how this works. I also used this same set up for some of the trees that we had not originally not put in tubes.

There you have some of the disadvantages of using tree, but I think the advantages far out way the disadvantages. I recommend  using tubes even if you are  just planting one tree in your yard or starting a 300 tree grove, they protect your young tree until they get big enough to survive. That way all your time and money isn’t wasted.

If you would like to buy some tree tubes from someone who really cares about trees, try Wilson Forestery Supplies at http://wilsonforsup.com/ Christain will help you with all you need.

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About Gordon Milligan

I am a conductor for a commuter railroad in Chicago IL, I have bought a 40 acre farm in South Central Iowa that I plan to retire to in 3 yrs. I want to raise and grow most of my own food using sustainible and organic methods. I have a blog that journals my journey to becoming a farmer.
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14 Responses to Advantages and Disadvantages of using Tree Tubes

  1. John says:

    I hope you guys find the right place to buy after selling the farm. Make sure you plan on having a little guest house so that your family and friends (me) can visit sometimes!

  2. Zephyr Hill says:

    Gordon, at least now that you’re planning on staying, I hope it makes some of the labor and expense a little more worthwhile. That’s definitely the kind of thing you don’t get back in a sale!

    We have about eight fruit trees my husband planted in 2008 when we moved here (a couple died despite his best efforts) and about four or five more he planted this spring. He obviously didn’t have near as many as you! We weren’t familiar with tubes; we were advised to fence the trees individually until they were big enough. Obviously that was out of the question for you! He still has one or two to do, but he used four T-posts with green wire fencing around each tree and bent the ends where they join so he can open and close the fences and get in to weed and mulch. He can do any other care (like watering) except pruning from outside the fence. He made them maybe 4×4′, too small for deer to jump in. Now, of course, the deer could probably stand up on the fencing to reach the upper limbs, but insects are a bigger problem. I’m sure our two big dogs help, too! One other advantage to this system is that we bought mostly dwarf trees (at our age 🙂 and the open area allows branches to grow out low down.

    There’s a problem with this system, too, in that it’s easy for the branches to get caught in the fencing and grow bent. It’s also very labor intensive–Herb spends hours taking care of his babies! I’ve wanted him to remove the fencing, but he says the livestock will destroy the trees. I see his point, but now I’m wondering if we might try tubes on some of the trees that aren’t fenced and give it a try. I think as long as there’s enough grass in there, they won’t bother the trees to eat, just to rub on. Maybe some day they’ll be big enough to handle the livestock!

    I guess there’s no system that’s perfect or easy; trees just take a lot of care to get started! Why can’t they grow like weeds? 😀

    Didn’t know that about raccoons and wasps. Maybe we need some raccoon-flying squirrel crosses to get at the wasps up in the barn ceilings!

    Since the orchard is Herb’s baby, I don’t think I’ve ever done a post on it, but I’ll have to do one when he prunes this winter and in the spring. They’re so pretty in bloom! Thanks so much for sharing this very helpful information, along with photos! Great post!

    • Hi Susan, we only used the tree tubes on trees that were seedlings not more then 3 foot tall. The fruit trees that were over that we did as you did, we used steel post and 5 ft tall wire fence around the tree. You can see those at the end of the post I did about Fence building.

      I would love to see the trees Herb planted on your blog:)

  3. Richard says:

    Fantastic article! I’ve planted over 1000 white oaks from acorns in the past 3 years and have about 50% survival rate. I’ve tried a lot of different things except the tree tubes because of the cost. I’m in the process of planting a small white oak Forest at camp and I’m seriously considering the tree tubes. Thank you for a very well written article!

    Rick Matha

    • thanks Rick, if you you get 50% survival rate on your oak trees is pretty good. Tree tubes are good and I wouldn’t have any trees that survived with out them but like I said in my post they do have some problems and the biggest one is the problem with raccoons knocking over the trees to get at the wasp nest to eat the larve. I have lost many trees to this. I don’t want to talk you out of them just want you to know they do have issues too.

      • Mike Jackson says:

        Gordon, thank you for your post. I got on the computer today and decided to search for reasons why my tree tubes are getting knocked over all the time. It seems like the problem happens more so in the months of July and August when the high temperature and humidity really gets intense (I’m in Pennsylvania). I kept wondering if it was the deer, or perhaps the humidity causing the tree tubes to fold over. Since many of my hardwood seedlings are in their 4-5 year of growth some are getting up over 7-8′ tall and looking really good. However, when the tubes get bent down this has even caused some of the trees to become broken around the middle of trunk. Very frustrating considering the years of time I have with mowing and weed trimming. As you explained, tree farming for fun like this is very rewarding but can be equally frustrating when things like this happen. I never once even thought about raccoons could be causing this so I am very appreciative of your post. I may have to start trapping coons or hunting them to try to it least reduce the population somewhat if possible. Removing all of the wasps in the tubes would be quite a task but it least now I know what is causing the tree tubes to get knocked over. For a while I even jokingly suggested to my wife that we might have a Bigfoot lurking about knocking over the tubes for kicks. Anyhow, thanks again for your site. I really enjoyed reading about your farming experience journey and found many similarities in your story and my own. I do many wildlife management projects around our farm such as food plots, fruit trees, and hardwoods (different red and white oaks as well as chestnut trees). I’ve been at it now for about 5 years. I will be checking in on your site from now on. Curious to know more about how your trees are doing these days? Any recent pictures? Thanks again and may God bless you and your family.

      • Thanks Mike for your comment, it does sound like you and I love doing similar things on our farms. I too am having the problems again this year with some of my trees getting bent over and breaking and I am finding its not always the raccoons doing it. Deer are also to blame. I have found that if the tree tube is just bent over and the tree was broken and the tube was not tore up more than likely it was deer browsing that caused the damage. They get up on their two hind legs and can reach pretty high and grab the tree with their mouth and pull the tree down that causes it to sometime to break. If the tube looked more crumpled and the tube looks like it was chewed on or shredded it was more likely raccoons. I hope this helps you, this only happens on my small diameter trees but once they are big enough than the trees don’t get harmed.

        I have found if the tree was recently been bent over and broken but still attached to the tree you can straighten it and put some electriton tape around the break, the tree will heal itself. Then after a month to 6 weeks take the tape off, it is similar when doing tree grafting. I need to do a new post on my tubes soon, I have just been kinda lazy lately when it come to my blog. Thanks for getting me thinking about my tree tube post again.

  4. Ian Graham says:

    weighing in from Dundas ON 5b zone; we started our permaculture farm in 2007, lots of trees planted over the years. Cattle in pastures planted savanna style open canopy would have wrecked trees so I put up 10ft sq cribs with cedar posts and railing. works well but needs to be at least 6ft to top rail, or use pagewire or one round barbed wire.
    Economized like you in first years and lived to regret it: now all get tubes. I’ve seen some amazing one season growth using Plantra 5 ft tubes. I worry about narrow crotch angles tho, will likely have to prune off low branches which grow inside the tube.
    No raccoon probs but maybe because I have Maremma guard dogs roaming the 20 acres.
    No wasp probs either, that I’ve noticed. Wouldn’t mind as they are pollinators, insectavores.
    Thanks for your post, will return.
    Ian at Old 99 Farm

    • Thanks Ian for your comment, It sounds like you are much further along than we are. Your place sounds great and we have also learned, experience is the best teacher.
      Good luck with your place and thanks for checking us out.

      • Ian Graham says:

        I’ve been here for 10 years, had all the buildings in place, had to get equipment, fencing, livestock, plantings etc. today was out doing my first bud grafting on apples, So the second phase orchard will be going next year. only got a couple of bearing trees now, and am embarking on a collection of heritage trees.
        regards
        IG

    • Let me know how the bud grafting goes, we did some apple grafting this past winter that didn’t work. The root stock all lived but the graft didn’t take. I like your idea of a heritage orchard, we are now only getting varieties that are resistant to apple cedar rust and apple scab which are the main deases that affect apple trees here.

      • Ian Graham says:

        will be pleased to have an update next spring on the bud grafting. my coach says don’t take the parafin tape off it’ll disintegrate with time, at least by spring when hte trees wake up.

      • Ian Graham says:

        recently checked my bud grafts, out of 5 I checked, one had new green tissue, the rest looked like bark had grafted, but no new bud growth. was told not to expect to see growth till the spring.

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