Q: I planted a two acre wildlife orchard four years ago on my property, using sawtooth oaks, crabapples, persimmons, pears, and chestnuts.
The catalog where I bought the trees included a tube, to protect the trunk, with each one. They said the tube would deteriorate over time. Now the trees have grown to 10′ – 12′ tall and are breaking over where they emerge from the tubes, about 6′ high. They have huge crowns and the main trucks are not large enough to support the tops.
I tried removing the tubes and wooden stakes, which just made it worse because then they bent completely to the ground. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
A: Wow – you’re in a tough situation!
The tree tubes were a good idea at first because they kept deer and rabbits from damaging the new seedlings.
I think they should have been removed immediately when the tops of the trees peeked over the top of the shelter tube…or after a year’s growth, which ever came sooner.
The stakes that supported the shelters and the tree trunks kept the trees from moving very much. That is what caused the weak trunks. Trees have to sway in order to build trunk thickness. Your’s were kept still by the stake and so they stayed thin and weak.
This may take some ingenuity on your part, but here’s what I’d do for each tree:
> Remove the shelter tube and stake
> Drive three pieces of half inch rebar into the ground in a triangle around each trunk ( a foot away from the trunk)
> Use one inch wide strips of inner tube to *loosely* tie the trunk to the top of the rebar. The rubber should sag a bit, so the tree trunk can move and sway.
> Selectively prune the top of the tree to keep a good form but remove some of the weight
> Don’t fertilize, except perhaps with potash and/or phosphorus, as determined by a soil test (www.soiltest123.com)
By removing weight while slightly supporting the trunk, you’ll give the tree a chance to strengthen on its own. In a few years the wildlife will really appreciate your orchard!