Supporting apple trees with steel posts

Tips from the Field: Apple Orchard

I am pruning my apple trees to a central leader style. With that style of pruning each tree should be supported, especially in the early years when the base of the tree is thin and fragile. The tree is especially susceptible to breakage at the graft union. That is where the grafted "scion" connects to the root stock.

Originally I had bamboo rods as the support for the trees. That worked only for about a year or so. After that the bamboo, even though it is initially a strong wood, began to rot, disintegrate, and  fall over. During some heavy wind and rain storms I lost a few trees that either fell over or snapped right off at the graft union.

It is really depressing to go into your orchard and see one or more of your trees lying on their sides. Taking active steps to ensure the long term health of the orchard we switched to metal stakes from Best Angle Tree Stakes.

What do the stakes come delivered as?

The stakes come in bundles of 100 or 255. The 100 piece bundle weighs nearly 864 lbs and the 255 bundle weighs about 2200 lbs. I bought one of each. The 2200 bundle almost flipped my tractor as I was dragging it off the delivery truck. After we got it off we broke open the bundle to transport the stakes across the farm to the orchard in smaller batches. I have about 355 apple trees so the order minimums worked.

Painted or Unpainted Tree Stakes?

I chose to go with unpainted stakes instead of painted for a few reasons. The first was money. With and additional $0.69 per stake that was an extra $244.95 for paint. With a tight budget I opted out. Also you can't be 100% sure what's in the paint. Call me crazy, but I'd rather have the metal rust than mess with possible contamination from paint. They'll look a little funky with the rust but it really doesn't bother me. I also think, and only time will tell, that they should hold up structurally just as well painted as not. That paint will break down over time and you're going to end up with rusted stakes one way or another.

How do you put them in?

To put the stakes in we used a post-pounder. These things are useful all around farm. It's taxing on the arms after a while, but if you have a big area just do it in sections and/or have more people there to trade off with.

Where do you put them in relation to the apple tree?

I put the stakes on the North side of the tree about 8 inches away from the base of the trunk. On the North side because I wanted to maximize the Southern exposure of the tree. Also on my property the prevailing winds come from the North  blowing South. I would rather the tree pull against the rubber tubing we used to tie it up vs rubbing against the steel angle iron and potentially damaging the bark.

Do you have anything to add? Please keep the conversation going in the comments below.