Bradford pears, tree shelters

Most trees and shrubs are emerging from dormancy now, some with flowers and others with young leaves. Several native trees are producing flowers. The deep pinks of the redbuds and whites of the serviceberries brighten gardens and roadsides. Several species of native maple are producing red or rust flowers.

Unfortunately, one eye-catching tree in flower now has escaped cultivation and is invading sunny fields and roadsides. If you see a beautifully-shaped medium-sized tree with white flowers, branches growing upward in a tight oval, it is probably a Bradford pear. These trees may be pretty right now, but they are not a welcome addition to a natural landscape. If you want a tree with gorgeous white flowers, consider a serviceberry. In addition to the white flowers, these native trees produce fruits in June that birds relish and some cultivars have lovely red autumn color as well.

Tree shelters protect young trees from predators and bad weather. Installed correctly, these trees have an excellent chance of survival.

Tree shelters, translucent green tubes that enclose young tree seedlings, are a common site on Frederick County landscapes.

Credit: - Mike Kay

These are often used in reforestation projects to protect the seedling for three to five years until the tree enlarges above nearby weed competition or to the point where the tree is larger than the deer browse line. (It is best to wait for the tree to reach an 8-foot height before removing the shelter.) The seedling is first planted, then the shelter is placed to cover the young tree, supported by a wooden stake.

Finally a plastic mesh “bird net” is placed around the lip of the shelter to prevent birds from climbing into the shelter.

Tree shelters were developed in the United Kingdom in 1979 to protect hardwood seedlings. Most evergreens do not grow well in tree shelters. The shelter protects the seedling from animal browse, chemical spray, machinery, and the elements.

Tree shelters also shelter the young tree from vines, brambles, or other plants that would suffocate the young seedling. The shelters are made of a translucent material designed to allow sunshine to reach the small plant. This stimulates upwards growth of the young seedling, and as a result they typically grow 40 percent faster than a seedling outside a shelter. Some shelters also have small perforations to allow some air flow inside the enclosure. The tree shelter also provides a greenhouse effect, maintaining a fairly moist climate inside the tube which will benefit the seedling during periods of drought. Today there is a wide assortment of shelters on the market.

They come in a variety of colors and materials such as plastic, wood and bamboo. Once the seedling outgrows the shelter, the shelter is removed and often can be reused.

Sometimes the shelter is damaged and should be discarded. The plastic shelters can be recycled; the organic shelters will decompose.

Many studies cite that with good maintenance practices and the use of tree shelters, a plantation should achieve an 80 percent survival rate. Observations in Frederick County confirm these results.

Article by FCFCDB member

Nature Note for 4/27/2014