Tree guards and shelters

The right protection is essential to ensure successful establishment but which type should you choose? Sally Drury examines the options.

Spiral tree guards: popular choice to protect against damage from rabbits and hares - image: Green-tech
Spiral tree guards: popular choice to protect against damage from rabbits and hares - image: Green-tech

Tree planting horrors — I’ve seen a few. There are the dead, broken and sick as well as those that are planted so deeply the soil comes halfway up the stem. Then there is the opposite, where the pit is so shallow that the roots are exposed on the surface.

Frequently I see young trees struggling to get the nutrients and water they require because competitive weed growth is taking all the goodness. Incidences of chafing through inappropriate staking abound.

Similarly, there are far too many cases of classic girdling, where the too-tight tree tie has never been adjusted for growth, guards that are the wrong type or size for the hazards, shelters that have not been staked — the list goes on.

Then, to cap it all, there was that picture of a young tree (HW, 13 January) where two stakes were actually nailed to the trunk. Why? If it was a cost-cutting exercise, well, they saved the price of a cross bar and a decent tree tie but it surely will have cost the tree. In this day of readily available information, offered at the press of the enter button, there is simply no excuse for ignorance.

Visual and physical benefits

We plant trees for many reasons but, outside of timber production and financial investment, it is mostly to enjoy the benefits they bring in terms of what they add visually and physically to a landscape. It might be to soften the hard lines of buildings, provide shade for people or livestock, cool the hot atmosphere of an urban site, define a boundary, for noise reduction or screening, or to attract and maintain wildlife populations. Added to this, trees can clean the air, shape our soils and help in water management.

Newly planted and young trees are vulnerable. We wrench them out of the comfort of a pot or dig them from a cosy home in one piece of soil and thrust them into another, sometimes hostile, site. Their roots hurt, their feeding lines are severed.

We should be prepared to invest to ensure successful establishment. That will mean choosing the right species for the site, correct soil and/or pit preparation, appropriate staking and tying if required and then give the above-ground parts protection by using suitable guards or shelters where necessary. But what is the difference between a guard and shelter and which type do you need?

When they are first planted, regardless of whether it is a whip or a semi-mature tree, trees have to overcome the shock of transplanting and re-establish their roots to give anchorage and feeding lines. At the same time they can be exposed to potentially lethal damage from wild animals such as bark-nibbling rabbits and voles, livestock, vandals, grounds care machinery including mowers and grass trimmers, harsh winds, herbicides and even salt spray if planted near a gritted motorway. The right guard or shelter will protect the young tree from these hazards and help support growth.

It is the location, type of threat, size of tree and length of time protection is required that will determine the best protection. There is a wide choice of guards and shelters for use on single trees in small planting projects, roadside verges, urban schemes, rural sites and for where trees are spaced far apart such as in avenues or specimens that are planted in a parkland setting.

Biggest urban threats

In urban areas the biggest threat is likely to be from humans, perhaps bored youths, road sweepers or reversing vehicles. But there are some great products available to give protection to urban trees, many of them offering attractive designs as well as reinforcing a safe space around the tree.

This year Green-tech has added the modern-design Fortress Ring Guard to its catalogue. Intended for installation with the Fortress tree grille, the guard is manufactured from structural grade 275 carbon steel from recycled sources and it is fully welded with a 50mm diameter tubular top rail as well as 50x5mm formed flat bar uprights. The standard finish is as galvanised but powder coating is available.
Green-tech also offers the Dales Collection of tree guards. Handmade in the UK from UK-sourced mild steel, they provide protection up to a height of 1.8m.

Furnitubes International has a reputation for designing stylish street furniture and the company’s portfolio includes a good selection of cast iron, steel and stainless steel tree guards and grilles suitable for use in the street environment.

In rural areas, the greatest danger comes from animals. Voles, rabbits, deer and livestock all enjoy young tree stock. Bark stripping is a serious problem but animals may also graze on leaves, chew off the buds and break branches.

Where there are signs of animals or if it is known that the area will be open to livestock, protection should be taken from the start — depending on the size of tree and the animals concerned. Spiral tree guards and those made of mesh are popular as a means of protecting small stock from rabbits and hares. There are also vole guards and where the hazard comes from out-of-control grass trimmers and bumps from mowers the solution will be a tough plastic strimmer guard.

Timber post formats

Parkland and areas with grazing livestock bring their own problems and the design of the guard should reflect the type and size of tree as well as animal. Mesh guards may be sufficient but where there are deer and livestock, protection is likely to be needed for the longer term so timber guards may be required in three-post or four-post format to a height and spaced at a distance from the tree that means livestock is unable to reach the growing tips.

Guards for protection against rabbits only need to be 60cm tall, hares a little more at 75cm. Against roe deer a height of 1.2m is needed, sheep 1.2-1.5m depending on the breed and red or fallow deer 1.8m.

Shelters are another type of guard and provide protection from animals and other threats such as herbicide and salt splash. But they also provide a beneficial microclimate around trees. They were first used in the late 1970s after it was shown that the associated temperature lift, moisture retention, lack of wind but availability of light within the "mini-greenhouse" tube could boost growth rates of broadleaved trees.

In fact, in early years after planting, height growth can be doubled compared to that of unsheltered trees. This factor, plus the physical protection provided against animal, chemical and mechanical damage, has made shelters so popular, particularly on road verges and in forestry.

Many forms of tree shelters are available and there remains debate as to the best colour, size, shape and texture for optimal growth. But it is important to recognise that while height growth can be accelerated this is not necessarily matched with an increase in stem thickness. Regular inspections are needed if the production of wind-vulnerable whippy trees is to be avoided.

Degradable materials

The majority of shelters are designed to be photo- or bio-degradable, with different materials providing different longevities. The timing and degree to which degradation is effective varies tremendously between materials and ultimately depends on environmental factors such as sunlight and soil bacteria.

The cost of collecting the remains of tubes may need factoring into contracts, although biopolymer or starch-based shelters such as the Tubex 12D and paper-based versions such as the Bioshel from The Tree Shelter Co or Eeze Tree degrade more fully, the latter two being compostable. Tree shelters should be secured with a cane or stake outside of the tube and, as with guards, need regular inspection. Unmonitored guards and shelters can cause growth restriction and damage.

Recognising that tree planting is important, the Government is committed to planting 11 million between 2015 and 2020. But in the first year, according to Forestry Commission England, only 546 acres of woodland were planted — about 640,000 trees. This is a substantial shortfall of the 2.2 million that need to be planted each year to meet the 11-million target. We need to plant trees, but we also need to do it properly. 

Guards, canes, stakes and shelters supplied for planting at solar park

Green-tech has supplied 13,500 spiral guards and canes, 1,650 mesh guards and stakes plus 4,000 Tubex shelters and stakes to specialist solar park contractor Orchard Groundcare for use at one of Britain’s biggest solar farms. The 213 area[?] site in the south-east of England was restored and revitalised by reseeding with a mixture of grasses and wild flowers, but Orchard Groundcare also planted 11,000 hedging plants and 9,500 trees to help screen the solar farm, encourage biodiversity and provide a habitat for local wildlife. Orchard Groundcare commercial director and head of solar parks Richard Clarke says:

"For a project of this size we rely on our trade partners and Green-tech provided advice and supplied canes, spirals and tree guards. The result is we have a site that we and our client are delighted with."


Alba Trees 01620 825058
Amenity Land Services 01952 641949
British Hardwood Tree Nursery 01673 818443
Cheviot Trees 01289 386755
English Woodlands 01435 862992
Ezee Tree 01858 575454
Farm Forestry Co 01588 650496
Furnitubes International 020 8378 3200
Green-tech 01423 332100
Grower Services 01379 678286
Sherriff Amenity 01638 721188
Stanton Hope 01268 419141
The Tree Shelter Co 07740 464026
Tubex 01621 874201

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