With most newer apple orchards, the trees need to be staked up because of the dwarfing rootstock they’ve been grafted to can’t support a fruit laden tree. In the old days (1970’s and before) all apple trees were grafted onto seedling rootstock ( as it sounds, plant a seed, grow for a year then graft the desired variety on to it ) which will make a full size tree with out need for staking.
* For clarity: A rootstock is what a cultivar (Fruit variety, i.e McIntosh, Jonathan etc.) is grafted or budded to a few inches above ground level making it the tree. All orchard trees are grafted, there’s too much genetic variability in a seed to expect to get the same fruit from planting a seed of the variety.
Research and development on dwarfing rootstock have been going on for many years, but the common use of dwarf and semi dwarf trees for 30 to 40 years. The advantages of using dwarfing rootstock are that the trees are smaller, they come in to bearing sooner and are easier to manage. The disadvantages are they may not be as winter hardy, they need support, and are generally more susceptible to disease and variations in soil and climate.
What does all this have to do with Black Locust you may be wondering, read on. When we started here, we planted a handful of apples on seedling trees and the rest on Malling 26 rootstock, a semi dwarf which needs support. It produces a tree about 10′ to 15′ tall and can be kept shorter with pruning. When we planted we used pressure treated 2″x 2″ wood supports ( P.T. wood was allowed by the WSDA (Washington State Department of Agriculture) Organic program, but has since been disallowed. The posts were far too small to hold up a mature tree with a load of fruit, and many have rotted at ground level so to replace them means using some kind of steel support or Black Locust!
Another planting we did on our place when we started was with Black Locust trees, I call it my thorn orchard. The wood is known to be strong and rot resistant, which makes it great for fence poles or tree stakes. It’s not native here ( North Central Washington state) but grows well almost everywhere, too well in many locales, it can become a pest. The trees are thorny and spread easily especially if the roots are disturbed and it readily sprouts when cut (renewable).
It works well for us, being a small operation, to use Locust poles to replace our decaying tree stakes, not so much for bigger orchards unless a commercial source of Locust poles were available. So easy, plant trees, wait 20 years and then harvest poles!
Black Locust is an extremely hard, durable and beautiful wood which has many uses besides poles and firewood. Myself being a woodworker I’ve been fortunate to come across Black Locust wood and burl which is great to work with.
More benefits of the Black Locust are its fragrant, nectar rich blossoms each spring and it fixes nitrogen in the soil.