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 Christain will help you with all you need.


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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4 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:)

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