In nature the struggle for survival always takes its heaviest toll on the young. Only a small fraction of the seeds produced by plants live long enough to grow into seedlings, let alone survive to maturity. Seedling plants must compete with other plants for food (i.e. light and water), and they are viewed as food by a many predators (e.g. voles, beaver, deer). Local groups and individuals who are dedicated to improving habitat conditions for fish and wildlife by planting trees along streams have tried a variety of techniques to increase the odds of seedling survival. No practice has worked better or been more widely adopted locally than the installation of tree protectors around seedlings when they are planted. The protector that is currently the most popular in our area is a light blue, semi-translucent plastic tube (18 inches high X 4 inches diameter) made by Norplex. The tube is usually anchored with a 36-inch bamboo stake. Though the tube may cost more than the seedling it is protecting, tree protection tubes are valuable for many reasons:
- Greenhouse effect: Tree growth is accelerated because tubes increase the temperature around seedlings and shield them from the drying effect of wind.
- Rodent protection: Tubes provide a barrier that stops voles and other rodents, which proliferate in grassy areas, from devouring seedlings.
- Reduced maintenance: Competing vegetation can quickly overtake seedlings in the spring and must be controlled. Tubes readily identify where seedlings are planted and protect them during mowing, tilling, pulling or spraying.
- Versatility: Tubes can be used in the home garden to shelter plants like tomatoes and peppers early in the growing season and to hasten germination in squash and other vegetables planted in hills.
How to Assemble the Tree Tube