Here at MyWoodlot, one of the most common reasons we hear why people don’t use tree tubes or bark protectors is that they can be eyesores. But while they might look bad for a few years, they’re worth it in the long run, as I discovered with two larches I planted.
I’ve long advocated planting larches in old hay fields and other open areas to hasten the establishment of young forest. Larches are great in this role because they grow quickly and compete well with the grasses and other plants commonly found in old fields. As the larches grow, they cast enough shade to knock back the old field plants that require full sun, which allows opportunities for native tree seeds to become established. These new native trees further accelerate the ecological transition from sunny field to patchy young forest. Eventually the larches, themselves intolerant of shade, will give way to trees that are shade tolerant.
What makes larches so well suited to this young forest creation is that deer rarely eat them. This makes larches a frugal choice because you can often plant them without having to use fencing or tree shelters that would be essential for protecting other species. Larches can also grow quickly compared to other trees, and they’re tolerant of a wide range of soils.
Back in 2005, I took my own advice and planted two larches in the field behind my house. They started from seed in a wooden planter box, and I transplanted them to the field when they were about 3 years old.
For the first 2 or 3 years, life was great for both trees. They both acclimated to my field and grew quickly.
Then along came the buck.
Bucks like to scrape the velvet off their antlers by rubbing them on young trees. It’s a territory marking behavior. The problem is that all that rubbing can scrape the bark off the tree and kill it. Small trees—those less than 4 inches in diameter—are most vulnerable.
Bucks mark territory by scraping off velvet from their antlers on young trees, removing bark in the process. This damage can kill young trees. Photo credit: USDA Forest Service – North Central Research Station, Bugwood.org
Deer may not like to eat larch, but they have no reservations about using one to mark their territory. That’s what happened to one of my larches. The deer scraped all the bark off, and I was sure the tree was dead. In the picture below, you can see the victim tree on the far left of the shot.
Fortunately, the tree survived. It sent out a new trunk below the buck rub that has since begun to grow, although it took several years to do this. In the picture below, you can see the dead original trunk on the left, and the new, surviving (so far) trunk on the right. As of this writing, the new trunk is about 12 feet tall and 2 inches in diameter.
As for the other larch I planted at the same time, by good luck it had no run-ins with territorial deer. Twelve years after planting, that tree is now 40 feet tall with a 10-inch wide trunk.
Here at MyWoodlot, one of the most common reasons we hear why people don’t use tree tubes or bark protectors on their newly planted trees is that they can be eyesores. But while they might mess up your tree’s aesthetics for a few years, they’re well worth it in the long run. In my case, spending a few dollars on bark protectors back when these trees were four years old would have made a huge difference. If I had, I would now have two trees, rather than one tree and a perpetual twig.