Thursday, December 17, 2009

Trucks are Tree Tubes Too!

"Perhaps one in a billion seeds becomes a mature tree." Dr. Edward F. Gilman

So what does that have to do with an ugly boxelder tree growing through the rotted out floor of a Dodge pickup truck? Glad you asked.
The first sentence in Dr. Edward Gilman's brilliant article Roots of change for the better has the "billion to one-shot" claim for a seed. He goes on to list many of the hurdles a tree seed faces trying to get established. We seel product to overcome those problems at With this post I want to talk about where that billionth seed must grow to become a tree.

Seeds are tasty and need protection from herbivores. Seedlings are delicate and also need shelter from drying winds and intense sunlight. Some of the problems a seedling faces include rodents, rabbits, deer, wind, and drought. A tree seedling needs enough sunlight for photosynthesis but it cannot compete out in the open for water and sun with grasses and weeds.
Where can a poor defenseless seed find a place in nature to germinate that provides all that protection to overcome the billion to one odds? This magical or miracle location must be free of seed eating animals, protected from rabbits and deer, partially shaded against the drying sun, and not have competing weeds. Now we know why trees play the odds and produce so many seeds.

My two favorite examples are rock crevices and the brushy tops of fallen trees. Hard to imagine those two environments have anything in common, but both have the potential under ideal weather conditions to protect and nurture a seed.

A seed in a rock crevice is partially shaded and has all the moisture in the crevice for itself. What about rodents? Well, voles and mice will not leave the cover of weeds. Why? Because rodents fear death from above brought by raptors. While there might be some weeds in the rock crevice, a thin line of grass does not provide attractive cover for rodents. So hard as it is to believe, a crack in a rock can be a great place for a tree to start life. Took the picture below last spring in Colorado outside of Estes Park. And yes that tree is growing straight out of a rock - as were many others in the area.

Why is a fallen tree top a great place for a seedling? Remember we are talking billion to one shot odds, so it is OK to line up the coincidences.

Many seeds need contact with mineral soil or bare dirt to germinate. What better way to scrape away some leaf duff on the forest floor than branches crashing to the ground? Big animals such as deer cannot penetrate the dense mass of compressed branches protecting our new seedling.

Voles are likely to seek the raptor free shelter of a fallen tree, so how do our fortunate seed and seedling survive? Good shelter is hard to find and our lucky brush pile is also home to a family of snakes, or skunks if you prefer. We don't have to kill all the rodents to grow a tree. We just have to give them a good reason to go elsewhere. Snakes are a great reason for mice to go elsewhere and snakes don't eat trees.

What about weeds? A forest floor has inches of natural mulch to block weeds. Our tree seed is in a small spot where the mulch was scraped away. It will take a while for the small forbs to get through the duff (mulch) and catch up to the larger tree seedling.

Underneath the truck bed it is weed free, protected from drying sun and wind. The seed germinates and the radicle grows directly into mineral soil. The truck bed provides cover for a carnivore that keeps the rodents away. There is a small gap in the rotting floor boards. The light seeking apical meristem pours all the available energy into growing through that gap and into the sunlight. It still has to get past the deer. Our fortunate seedling is protected by the structure of the pickup bed.

While keeping four hooves on the ground the deer mouth can only reach so far in and our box elder is just out of reach. Now if box elder was something the deer really wanted or the deer was starving the it could jump right up in the pickup bed. Fortunately box elder is mostly unwanted by man and deer - so it thrives.

Below is a copy of our Stages Of Seedling Establishment available on our website at the link. It is amazing to me how a crack in a rock, an abandoned Dodge pickup truck, a brush pile and a tree tube all provide the nurturing micro-environment a seed needs to overcome the nearly insurmountable odds to become an established tree.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Can a deer repellent protect acorns from rodents? Plantra wants to know.

What might a chew hole in a big blue trashcan teach us about protecting acorns from squirrels?

The trashcan supplied by BFI lives behind our home and sits under the spreading limbs of a massive - by Minnesota standards anyway - bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) that predates statehood. In a good acorn year, I have counted 14 Eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) in that tree happily snipping branches to make it easy to gather the acorns. We have a huge population of gray squirrels.

These squirrels behave as though the trashcan is just a big nut or a big acorn. The squirrels immediately begin gnawing on the edges until they get at the garbage. (Anyone for a flavorful city squirrel stew?) As always happens, by last spring the big blue trashcan was Swiss cheese. The trash haulers replaced it and the process began anew.

Last May when the new can arrived I decided to see if Deer Guard Repellent could break the cycle. The gnawing had already begun and was confined to corners and edges. I painted the holes that were started and then all around edge of the deck lid. The manufacturer says one application lasts 4 months. Well... we held the squirrels off for 6 months with Deer Guard. If you want to try it I recommend the quart size in a spray bottle.

The advantage of Deer Guard over all the other repellents is that it lasts when the others wash off in the rain.

This experience got me thinking when last week we received an email about protecting direct seeded acorns from rodents. That is a tough one. Our standard recommendation, based on years of experience, is to tell the grower to do a better job on weed control. That's right - weed control repels rodents. Clean cultivation - bare soil - keeps small rodents away because they are afraid of death from above. Hawks and owls easily pick off exposed rodents, so they stay in the safety of tall grass.

Weed control doesn't help if the planting site is remote, not maintained or there is snow cover. We need another answer. While I cannot guarantee it, I think a product such as Deer Guard might protect acorns and nuts for direct seeding. Since all seeds are living - breathing organisms you do not want to paint or dip the acorns in Deer Guard. A fine mist applied sparingly should do the trick.

We need to have a few people try this under various conditions. If you have some acorns, nuts or chestnuts to test treated and untreated, I would be happy to supply a free quart of Deer Repellent. Write this week to joelais and tell me how you propose to do the test. If I like what I read and we have not done what you want to do, a free quart of Deer Guard will be sent immediately.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Historic Kewanee Maclura Saved (without a Tree Tube)

Ten days ago I received the following emergency email Guy Sternberg sent to his closest 1,000 friends. Guy was responding to this message from Jim Ream.


. . . I have some bad news. The city of Kewanee will take down the big hedge tree on Tuesday. Safety hazard they say.


Guy wrote:

How many of you copied here can jump on this, contact Kewanee, and help persuade them to step back and think it over a little more? Before Tuesday!!! I'm sure Jim Ream can give us the phone numbers, etc. -- contact him at . A photo of the tree with a detail inset of the plaque is attached.

Jim, please send the name, e-mail, and phone number of the person(s) we should contact. If you hit "reply to all" everyone here will have it. The historic Potter Farm Osage-orange (Maclura pomifera) was one of Professor Turner's original trees from the 1840s and should be given due process before being destroyed. We need to get on this NOW if we are to have any hope of changing the outcome by Tuesday.

Thanks everyone --

Guy S.

Guy Sternberg
Starhill Forest Arboretum
12000 Boy Scout Trail
Petersburg, IL 62675 (USA)

We had two days to save the tree.

Here is Guy with the Kewanee Maclura. The problem having Guy in a picture with a tree is he makes the tree look small. (He is a "mid" 6 footer)

My wife Mitz & I spent part of a wonderful day last summer at Guy's arboretum known as Starhill Forest. Guy was instrumental in the pioneering the use of tree tubes to establish oak trees around Lincoln's Tomb. In my experience the only sure way to grow a monumental tree is to start with a very young plant and grow it where you want it. Small seedling trees easily develop root systems with well spaced radial structures that can nourish and support a tree into old age.

When we left the arboretum we were shown more historic and champion trees in a few hours than I usually see in a year.

Short story shorter. Guy and his band prevailed and saved the tree - at least for the moment. Now comes the hard part. It was trimmed to reduce the strain, but needs some permanent support. That takes money. On Monday Guy wrote the following:

Subject: Gentlemen, start your checkbooks!

We now have an official bank account established for the Kewanee Osage-orange! Mayor Bruce Tossell joined forces with the Chamber of Commerce and the local bank to set this up. The account is restricted to expenditures for the historic tree, and all withdrawals must be cosigned by at least two of the three people representing the Chamber, the City, and the Bank.

Please inform all of your friends/listeners/readers who would like to help with this project that checks should be made payable to KEWANEE OSAGE-ORANGE FUND and sent as soon as possible to:

Peoples National Bank of Kewanee, attn: Terri Russell

207 North Tremont Street

Kewanee, Illinois 61443

Plantra is sending $100. Please feel free to contribute.

The images above were taken by Jason Knowles.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mitzi and the Zombie Trees

Last summer my wife and I were on vacation in St. Louis.

We stopped at the gateway arch to take pictures inside and out. While walking around the park under the arch, I noticed a clump of ash that could provide some welcome shade. What I found was a whole stand of zombie trees. The living dead.

The ash above is in a death grip. A death grip of circling roots girdling the tree.

Girdling roots are a common problem transplanted trees such as B&B or balled and burlap trees. Planting large trees like this means you are likely to get a damaged root system and a short life span. Planting small seedlings avoids this problem and grows a tree in place with a natural root structure and the potential for a long life.

The young oak below was planted as a seedling at Lincoln's Tomb in Springfield, IL. Notice the radial root supporting the oak. The folks managing Lincoln's Tomb want oaks and they want oaks that will live well over 100 years.

This oak tree was protected with a tree tube or tree shelter when planted. That is the secret - use a Plantra Tree Tube and plant small seedlings to produce a normal root system that will support your tree for 100 years or more.

If you want more information on trees and root systems in landscapes go to Ed Gilman's web page hosted by the University of Florida.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Seedlings in Buckets or Zombie Trees in Trucks

Did your zombie trees arrive one at a time in a diesel powered truck or...

...did someone hand carry 100 growing oaks up a hill to the planting site?

Moving a large tree is not the same as planting a seedling. As big as the ball of dirt looks on a moved tree, 95% of the root system was left in the ground at the nursery when the tree spade severed the root system. Sadly, the shattered ends of the severed root system will produce a thousand new roots with no room to grow and the tree will die before well its time.

Excuses will be made for a lack of or too much water. Some will blame the tree spade company, but the truth is the tree went into the ground a zombie - the living dead.

Plant a seedling. It will grow into a great tree. No more zombie trees!

Gosh, and I didn't even mention the carbon footprint of a zombie tree. This is starting to get scary.

Monday, November 9, 2009

University of Minnesota Grapevines Stolen

I can't help but comment on the disheartening story first published in last Friday's Minneapolis Star-Tribune. On October 20 someone stole several plants of a very promising new grape variety. The first question is, of course, who? Followed closely by, why? Every variety introduced by the University of Minnesota represents the culmination of years of work, hundreds of crosses, and untold hours spent in evaluation.

To understand the importance of what they do, you have to go back in time. According to Minnesota Harvest, "In 1860, Horace Greeley told his audience, "Never move to can't grow apples there!" This was the same Horace Greeley who was responsible for the grand command of the century, "Go West, Young Man!" For Minnesota, a pioneer land only two years into statehood, such a reputation was sure to be detrimental to efforts aimed at attracting westward-moving Easterners to settle here.

"His apple statement was true at the time. But even as Greeley spoke, a fruit-loving Minnesotan was planting and evaluating apple trees started with seeds collected from northern sources, even some from Siberia."

Somehow the fact that in order to grow apple trees in Minnesota you needed to collect seed from Siberia never made it into Minnesota's tourism brochures (Minnesota: It's like Siberia, but closer!). While Greely was disparaging Minnesota's apple growing capacity, Peter Gideon was busy breeding cold hardy applies. The name Peter apparently is an important prerequisite for skilled plant breeders in Minnesota: Peter Moe is the operations director at the University of Minnesota Arboretum, and Peter Hemstad has been responsible for the launch of many important new varieties.

The UofM launched the amazing Honey Crisp apple, which has generated $8 million in royalties for the state. Whether or not the stolen variety would have become the Honey Crisp of the (fast growing) Midwest vineyard industry we might never know - but hopefully the plant material will be recovered and we'll find out. We do know that the UofM has already introduced several important grapevine varieties including Frontenac and Marquette which are used by folks like our friends at Cannon River Winery to produce home-grown Minnesota wines that would have impressed even Mr. Horace Greeley!

We wish the University of Minnesota the best of luck in recovering the stolen plant material (and that it is in a condition that will allow for its regeneration), and in finding effective ways to prevent similar losses in the future.

(Click image to enlarge) Frontenac grapevines planted in spring, 2009 at Cannon Valley Vineyards with Plantra Grow Tubes. Planted in May, photo taken June 24.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Tree Planting as an Event

Bonnie Lawrence knows how to throw a tree planting party. The city hauled out the portable band shell. Personally, I've never planted trees accompanied by a live band, but Bonnie has.

If I can be allowed to coin a phrase, Bonnie Lawrence is a Community Tree Planting Organizer or CTPO. Below Bonnie is receiving one of the many awards she has received for making St. Paul, Minnesota a better place to live.

She was the driving force behind the 1991 and 1992 tree planting at Central High School in St. Paul, Minnesota.

The Merriam Park Post wrote:

Central had 66 trees in their original plan. many of those trees died over the years and Lawrence thought "it would be a nice idea to get some trees planted." She believes that it's important for people to take back the responsibility for their neighborhoods, including the planting and maintenance of trees.

One of the most incredible aspects of the Central High School tree planting is how much publicity it received and how many politicians wanted to be associated with it.

Mayor Jim Scheibel spoke.

This is then Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson

The late Senator Paul Wellstone lived nearby and also spoke and participated.

Arbor Day provided a permanent plaque to commemorate the planting.

Wish I had a better picture to capture how the trees have matured and created a campus atmosphere. That picture will have to wait for the green leaves of spring.

As someone who has lived my entire life near CHS, Thanks Bonnie

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Great Central High School Tree Planting

Back in July I put together a post on the Great Central High School Urban Reforestation. Since then I have scanned 70 pictures from the original planting and learned a great deal from the woman responsible for it.

There are so many interesting things about this project I plan to break it into bits.

To me the most amazing thing about this planting is that a grove of bur oaks or any tree for that matter could start out as a tiny seedling. Those trees were seedlings in a bucket in 1991. The reason we can enjoy them today is that Bonnie Lawrence had the forsight and courage to put them in tree tubes.

This is what it looked like at the start.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I wonder how fast they would have grown in a good year?

Joe and I just made a visit to Ottertail Cty, MN that closed the book on another great year of collaboration with Babe Winkelman, host of Good Fishing and Outdoor Secrets and - just as importantly in Babe's mind - steward of a property he is working (man, is he working!) to enhance for wildlife and pass down to his children & grandchildren.

Working with Babe, his wife Kris and his staff has been one of the real highlights of Plantra's history.

Plantra Tree Tubes were recently featured on an episode of Outdoor Secrets. To view the video, Click Here.

We have actually undertaken 4 projects at Babe's ranch. Keep in mind that Ottertail Cty, MN - despite its 1100+ lakes (yes, that's more than 1000 lakes in a single county!) is generally dry & windy; it's right on the edge of where the hardwood forest meets the prairie, which means it's right on the line to the west of which annual evaporative potential exceeds rainfall - especially in recent years.

1) Planting 1500 new crabapple seedlings in 4 soft mast "overhead food plots." In May 2008 seedlings (bare root 1-0 planting stock, 6 to 12 inches tall at planting time) were machine planted by the local conservation district. Six foot wide woven weed barrier fabric was installed by machine over the seedlings. We then installed 5 foot Plantra O-style Vented Tree Tubes on all of the seedlings.

So now the trees have 2 growing seasons under their belt. Recently the staff of the local NRCS office toured the ranch. They took this photo (click to enlarge).

The gentleman in the photo is more than 6ft tall... which puts these 17 month old crabapples at 8-10 feet in height. And as you can see, that level of growth is consistent throughout the food plot.

Survival? As of last count fewer than 30 trees out of those 1500 have been replaced, a survival rate of 98% under tough, windy conditions.

2) Rejuvenating a failed hedgerow of Nanking cherry, American plum and assorted other fruit-bearing shrubs and small trees. Over the course of 6 years Babe has planted more than a mile of hedgerow to provide food, cover and edge effect/travel corridors for wildlife. I should say he planted, replanted, and replanted again. After 5 years Babe had nothing to show for his efforts - at least at first glance. He pointed to the hedgerows and all you could see was 2ft tall grass. A closer look revealed hundreds - thousands - of surviving seedlings that had been kept mowed in bonsai fashion to about ankle or shin height. Babe was stuck. You couldn't see where the seedlings were so you couldn't mow or spray around them. And without protection they would never grow past the browse line.

In late May, 2008 we selected a 3/8 mile section of the hedgerow to start with. 4 foot Plantra O-style Vented Tree Tubes were applied. We have a saying at Plantra: "As long as you have a root system, you have a tree." These trees had root systems that were 3, 4 and 5 years old, a huge amount of growth potential just waiting to be unleashed... and man was it unleashed!

The first plants started emerging from the 4ft tubes on June 25 - just 5 weeks later! Here's what the hedgerow looked like as of July 3, 2009 (click photo to enlarge). After a cool July but a somewhat warmer August, the trees are even bigger now.

It's obvious how the Plantra Tree Tubes protected the trees from deer browse, and how they shielded the plants from the drying effects of the wind to keep them actively growing when un-tubed trees would have stop growing and closed their stoma to conserve limited moisture.

Less obvious, but no less important, is how Plantra Tree Tubes enabled Babe to spray RoundUp in the tree rows to eliminate weed competition for light, water and nutrients. Tree Tubes make it easy to see the trees amidst the tall grass, and they protect the trees from herbicide spray. It's hard to say which factor - deer browse protection, moisture stress reduction, or reduced weed competition - contributed most to the amazing growth. In the end it doesn't matter which matters most, all that matters is that a planting project a dedicated landowner considered to be an expensive, frustrating failure is now a resounding success.

2) Rejuvenating a failed hedgerow planting, part 2. Based on the success of the 3/8 mile hedgerow section in 2008 we decided to rescue the remaining - much longer - portion of hedgerow in 2009, which two important changes.

First, we used 5 foot Plantra Tree Tubes instead of 4 foot tubes. In 2008 deer repeatedly browse trees as the emerged from the 4ft tubes. By applying Deer Guard Repellent to the emerging trees Babe was able to get the trees past the browse line. This a great solution for landowners who are limited by their initial planting budget to using shorter tree tubes than they would prefer (hey, a 3 or 4ft tubes a whole lot better than no tube!). Spraying emerging trees with Deer Guard will provide that last bit of protection to grow them past the browse line.

As effective as the 4ft tube/Deer Guard combination was in 2008, Babe wanted to avoid the added trips to the field to spray repellent in 2009, and chose to use 5ft tubes instead.

Second, we pruned all of the deer-browsed "bonsai" trees to a single stem before applying tree tubes. This adds time and labor at the beginning but it has two huge benefits: 1) All of the growth potential stored in those huge roots would be channeled into a single stem, resulting in faster height growth (getting the terminal shoot above the browse line more quickly), and 2) Produces trees with better form - fewer lateral branches and narrow branch crotch angles.

The results? In a word: Wow!
Joe took this photo (click to enlarge) on October 23. That's me standing next to a tree that was tubed on May 20, 2009 when it was no more than knee high. It is now very nearly 10 feet tall!

85% or more of the trees we tubed just this past May have emerged from 5ft tree tubes. What's the reason for the great results? Is it the fertile soil? Babe's soil could be charitably described as "gravelly loam." A less charitable description given by someone who has spent several days driving stakes into it is " rocks." So trust me, it's not the soil.

Is it the high rainfall? Ottertail County has been in a drought for several seasons. Was it the warm, sunny summer? I just came across this amazing fact on the East Ottertail SWCD web page:

Did You Know?

Perham had only one day 90 degrees or greater this summer.

Every night this summer had temps below 70 degrees.

I think that safely rules out unusually good growing conditions as the reason for the great growth. Again, it was a combination of browse protection, moisture stress reduction and the ability to do great weed control that unleashed the pent up growth potential in those root systems.

4) Planting white oak seedlings in forest openings to enhance hard mast production. Like many farms in the region, the hillier portions of the property were not cleared for farming, and the oaks (bur and red) that benefited from period prairie fires were allowed to grow. Over time, and in the absence (and active suppression of) fire, more shade tolerant species like basswood began to gain ascendancy in the woods. Basswood is a terrific tree, but it does not produce much mast for wildlife, and you generally don't want it to comprise a high percentage of your forest composition. So Babe worked with a local logger to harvest basswood trees from the woods. This has two benefits. First, the crowns of the basswood trees were competing with the crowns of the oaks for sunlight and growing space. Removal of the basswoods will give the existing oaks more room to grow, and they will dramatically increase acorn production in the coming years. Second, it created openings for planting new oaks - and Babe choose to plant white oak to provide a different (and sweeter) type of mast than his indigenous bur and red oaks provide - to get started.

Approximately 150 white oaks were planted, each in a 5 foot Plantra O-style Vented Tree Tube. While the results are not as exciting as the crabapples or the hedgerows (no stories of 10 feet of growth in one year), the results were terrific. On our recent visit to the ranch we replaced the few oak seedlings that didn't survive with direct seeded acorns which will germinate next spring. We'll easily see the first of the oaks emerge from their 5ft tree tubes next summer, and growth will be enhanced by further clearing of brush and overstory trees that are shading our seedlings.

All in all, another fantastic year at Babe Winkelman's ranch. And the best part is knowing that these are the kind of results our customers are seeing across the country.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Beware The Leaf Clot

The top picture is a bur oak leaf clot looking down a tube. You cannot see the shoot and that is bad.

The second is a side view of an Autumn Blaze Maple leaf clot.

Leaf clots are bad. They prevent gas exchange and can trap the shoot. Always prune to a single stem.

Temped to jam the foliage in the tube?

Don't own a pruner?

Don't have time to prune?

Here's more detail.

Have to admit I love the next picture - and not just because the growth and form benefits of Plantra Vented Tree Tubes are so obvious. The other reason is that there are so many lessons from these two trees.

At the bottom you can see the "leaf clot" I want to talk about. The a shoot escaped the clot and screamed to the top of the emerged and formed a new area of dense foliage.

Standard Plantra recommendations are to cut back to a single stem before installing the tube. There are three reasons for this recommendation.

Structure: First is that we want to produce a straight single stem. If you want the tree to live a long productive life, you have to get a sound structure and that means a single straight trunk.

Root System Energy: The most important thing you purchase in a seedling is the carbohydrate stored in the root system. It matters how this energy is used. If there are three shoots the energy is divided between the three and you get three short stems producing leaves that compete for light and CO2. We want one shoot to command that energy. The key to the Plantra Growth Engine is to rapidly fill the tube to the top with an array of spaced out leaves that do not overlap. We want leaves fully expanded and intercepting light through the wall with the stoma on the underside wide open and absorbing CO2 from the humid-CO2 rich air the vents move past the stoma on backside of the leaf.

Leaf Clots: A tangle of leaves can trap the shoots. In the confined space of a tube bunched leaves can form an impenetrable blockage.

Please PRUNE Preventively

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

This Bud Is For You - If You Want A Straight Tree

On 23 June 2009 this Autumn Blaze Maple was tubed with a 4 foot tall Plantra Vented O-Style Tree Tube.

As you can see in 11 weeks there was a tremendous difference in growth.

The untubed maples are shrubby and about 17-20 inches tall and the tubed maple is 5-1/2 FEET tall with a gun barrel straight stem.

Given the fact that all 1,000 maples in this picture are under two feet and the Plantra maple is well over 5 feet, I think it is safe to say the Plantra Tree Tube made a difference. I would go so far as to claim statistical significance. If the difference is great enough - all you need is one!

Quite a difference - an important difference, but not what I want to call to your attention.

My purpose is to explain some of the hidden mysteries of plant growth in a well designed tube.

The next image is a close-up of the leaves and buds that formed just at the point the maple was emerging from the Plantra Tree Tube into full sun. There is something odd about that picture - it looks upside down. Can you see it?

Notice the dark bark has developed above the younger looking green bark.

Normally you would expect the newer parts to look newer and the older parts to look older. Not in this case.

The lower - older - stem parts were protected from intense sun, strong winds and scouring sand, so the plant kept the protected area photosynthetically active. There is chlorophyll in the stem inside the tube. This effectively increases the leaf surface area and the growth potential of the plant. Not sure if I have every read that observation before.

But that is not what is truly interesting here. Let us look at the next set of leaves below the dark stemmed area.

The first thing you will notice is the angle of the leaf stalk or petiole. It is angled upward because it developed in the restricted space of a tree tube. Next again notice the photosynthetically active green stem.

But wait... there is more.

The most significant difference between the two images is that in the upper picture small branches have emerged between the stem and the leaf stalk. Scroll back up and take a look.

In the lower picture all we have are two leaves. This two leaves only pattern continues exactly the same down the stem for all of the new growth in the tube.

Why is this significant?
  • It means the grower has a labor-free method to control the height of the first branches
  • It means the plant has not wasted energy producing useless branches
  • It means the grower has far fewer branches to prune
  • It means the stem it straighter
  • It means the stem is stronger - no narrow crotches or included bark
  • It means the stem has a more appealing form for a veneer or landscape buyer
  • It means more growth due to excellent air flow within the tube to replenish CO2 consumed in growth
  • It means no excess of fungus harboring moisture trapped by over crowded leaves and branches
There will of course be a dormant bud at the leaf site, but it will not form a branch under normal conditions.

Branches do not form readily in the tube because of the absence of blue light and a surplus of red light. Not all tubes take this important plant response to account when designing products. At Plantra we try to think of everything.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Borlaug and Plantra

In November of 2008 Steve Tillmann, Chris Siems and I had an offsite meeting to set the future direction of Plantra. One of the tasks Steve set for us was writing a vision and a mission statement. I was as enthusiastic as a five-year-old wait for a shot. I think it is fair to say Chris thought it was a waste of time. Steve pulled vision and mission statements from deep within us. Much to my amazement and relief, I strongly believe in both. This morning I realized where our vision really came from and I am deeply honored to realize we are just continuing a path blazed by Norman Borlaug.

A blog entry at Instapundit noted that Norman Borlaug had passed away and had two links. One article referred to him as The Man Who Saved More Human Lives Than Any Other. The other link went to a 1997 article by Gregg Easterbrook titled Forgotten Benefactor of Humanity. That article contained the seeds of the Plantra vision.

By producing more food from less land, Borlaug argues, high-yield farming will preserve Africa's wild habitats, which are now being depleted by slash-and-burn subsistence agriculture.

Our vision
Revolutionize woody plant establishment to make agriculture lands more productive and wild lands more wild.

Borlaug's vision is not limited to subsistence agriculture in the third world. The Borlaug Effect (it deserves a name) can be seen for those who look in every practice of modern sustainable horticulture and agriculture. The beauty of the vision is the way it links Plantra's horticultural and habitat work. When Plantra Grow Tubes get a vineyard into full production a full year sooner we create a surplus of land. That saves 300 year old Coast Live Oaks in California. When Plantra Tree Tubes take a year or two off the time to produce an ornamental shade tree for sale at a lawn and garden center in Illinois, it frees up land for corn and soybeans. That in turn reduces the demand to convert CRP acres back to cropland. That means more wildlife with more wild land.

If you think I'm exaggerating, look at this example. Let's say you currently need a 100 acre field to produce shade trees for sale at Green Acres Lawn & Garden Center. It takes five years to grow the trees to marketable size. The Plantra Tree Tube produces the same tree in four years. That means you only need 80 acres to meet the demand for shade trees. What do you do with the extra land? With 20% fewer acres, less diesel fuel, less fertilizer, less herbicide, less labor and generally less of everything that goes into producing the tree for sale we have saved money and contributed to the environment. We have freed up 20 acres of land and substantially reduced the other economic and ecological impacts to produce a tree.

That was Norman Borlaug's vision and Plantra unknowingly followed in his footsteps. Maybe this is not as surprising as you think. Norman Borlaug's undergraduate degree is in forestry and from the University of Minnesota. Chris Siems and Steve Tillmann both have forestry degrees from the University of Minnesota. Coincidence? I think not.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Seedling Safety

Pardon the dark image. Lee Wahlund of the Central Dakota Sportsman's Club plants trees and shrubs for wildlife forage and habitat. Even with tubes and mats the grass is so high it is easy to drive over a tree. Lee is a planner and he marks safe driving lanes to protect his trees.

The idea is simple. I didn't think to ask at the time but I think it is similar to teh channel marking system for avoiding hazards navigating a river. The safe lane to drive is between two different colored stakes. The stake on the left is yellow and orange. (Click to enlarge) The right stake is solid orange.

Now you can tell people where to drive when visiting your plantings. No need to worry... maybe... maybe not.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Best Un-Natural Forest Regeneration Ever

In July the Northern Nut Growers had their 100th meeting and scheduled it at Purdue University. Purdue has a national reputation for work on black walnut. My wife Mitzi & I live in Minnesota. There are many innovative hardwood tree planters between Indiana and Minnesota. On our way back, we drove through Iowa to meet John Olds of One-Stop Forestry. We wanted to see for ourselves the directing seeding magic we had heard so much about. John was at his office in Postville, IA behind the Northeast Iowa RC&D. By the way, Mitz took most of these pictures.

John Olds and Gary Beyer of the Iowa DNR were unsatisfied with the results from traditional low-density seedling planting and decided to see if they could take an old method of reforestation called direct seeding and modernize it to make it work for hardwoods in the Driftless Area where Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota come together.

John and Gary reasoned that trees know how to grow from seed. Seed is cheap. And the highest quality timber is produced when the trees are crowded and forced to grow clean straight boles in competition for sunlight. By direct seeding a large volume of nuts, seeds and acorns, they hoped to germinate and grow over 10,000 stems per acre. Competition, the site and natural selection would sort out which trees grew where. With help from three years of weed control and Plantra Tree Tubes the landowner would have an incredible stand of hardwoods.

We followed John in his pickup out to Daryl Landsgard's farm. Every forester has his favorite client. You know the type. The grower willing to try new ideas and the one who can be counted on to do his part. No planting succeeds without an involved landowner. Daryl is an enthusiastic deer hunter and wants improve habitat. He doesn’t mind if he produces some high quality hardwood timber along the way. Even though there were seedlings every two feet in this planting, I think Daryl knew the status of every single one.

A typical planting with seedlings has about 700 stems per acre. As I wrote above, John’s goal is to over produce an incredible 10,000 or more stems per acre. It was originally thought this many plants would overwhelm the deer. It would be more than they could eat.

That is only partially true. Although deer do appear to randomly browse as they walk around, in fact deer have strong species preferences for browsing. That means with so many stems nip, the deer get selective and nip what they prefer. In John’s plantings, if there is enough oak, the walnut grows free. Walnut is a fast grower and even excretes the phytotoxic chemical Juglone to control competition. So, even though there is plenty to eat, the deer browse the defenseless oaks. John has found that he needs to use tree tubes to protect the oaks and give them an advantage over the walnut.

At Plantra we are always looking for new and improved methods to establish trees. We have the luxury of working with the best of the best. Not surprisingly, John Olds is truly one of the best. After leaving Daryl’s farm we followed John back to his house. The Olds Estate (It doesn’t have a name yet, but is more than impressive enough to deserve one) sits on the crest of a hill with a commanding view of an immense valley. John wanted to show us what Daryl’s planting would look like in a few years.

The regeneration is so dense you have work up a little courage to enter. John’s biggest problem is deciding what to thin. With so many high quality stems to choose from the choice can be a difficult one.

Darn, too much black walnut!

Direct seeding is not a new concept and has many variations. Arlyn Perkey, author of Crop Tree Management has written about a direct seeding acorns in Tree Farmer Magazine and has a photo journal on direct seeding chestnut. By the way, John Olds says he reads his copy of Crop Tree Management every year. While written for the forestry professional, Arlyn’s clear prose and minimal use of jargon make it very easy to read for anyone. Every woodlot owner should have a copy.

For direct seeding in Iowa and the Driftless Area call:

John Olds

One-Stop Forestry

101 E. Green Street

Postville, IA 52162