In this article, I’ll be showing you how to espalier fruit trees.
If you’ve been in the habit (or business) of planting and growing fruits, and you’d like to do something new with the way you grow your fruits, why not try espalier?
Maybe you’ve never heard of the term before and you’d like to learn more about it. Just sit tight as we discuss these techniques.
How To Espalier Fruit Trees
Truth be told, espaliering takes a lot of patience and skill to achieve. The good news is, you’ll end up with the most beautiful growth patterns known to man.
Before I get into the patterns, I’d like to enlighten you a bit about how this wonderful gardening technique was born.
The Origins of Espalier
Espalier is an ancient gardening art that involves pruning a tree to grow flat against support, usually a wall or fence.
Historically, Europeans who lived in the middle ages used espalier to create outdoor walls or fences. It was also planted indoors for art and decoration.
In other records, espalier had been practiced in ancient Egypt, as hieroglyphs displaying espaliered fig trees have been found in tombs. These tombs date to as far back as 1400 B.C, and this is a testament to how ancient this form of gardening truly is.
Originally, the word “espalier”, being a French word, was used to describe the support on which the trees are grown. As of today, the word refers to the art itself.
What Are The Benefits Of Espalier?
With or without the use of espalier, you can still grow your juicy apples and oranges, as humans have been doing for millions of years. However, espalier has a few benefits that other traditional gardening techniques do not offer.
These include –
It saves space – We all know how much of a problem space can be in the world of traditional gardening. Really, how many trees can you plant in one small garden? Not much right?
The espalier method will help you grow some fruit in very narrow spaces, and that’s a big benefit if you ask me.
Easy to pick fruits – Fruits grown with the espalier technique are easier to reach than those grown traditionally. This is because they rest on walls, and they are within arm’s reach.
You may not even need a ladder to pluck them.
Unmatched beauty – Just wait until you come across an espalier garden, you will be left in awe. Trust me, there’s nothing quite like it.
You will love it, your family will love it, and your visitors won’t be able to get their eyes off it.
Which Trees Can I Espalier?
Well, almost any fruit. The espalier technique will go well on pears, quince, peaches, pomegranates, and of course, the ever-so-popular apple tree.
Be sure to plant a dwarf, or partially dwarfed tree for this technique. The tree you plant also has to be able to thrive in the climate where you live.
Keep in mind that if your tree is not self-pollinating, then you’ll need more than one variety.
What You’ll Need To Espalier
There are about 6 known espalier techniques, five of them are very popular, while one, in particular, is the most commonly used, and that is the 3-tiered Cordon, which is what I’ll be talking about.
The major reason why the 3-tiered Cordon is so popular is because of how simple it is to execute, compared to the others anyway.
For this technique, you will need a wall with a post or wire structure for support.
Note: Do not confuse this for a building plan, it is NOT. If you require instructions on how to set up your support structure, then you can study a separate guide for that.
Here are the things you will need –
- The fruit tree of your choice
- Two 4 X 4 pressure treated wood posts
- 12 or 14 gauge galvanized wire
- A measuring tape
- A shovel
- A pair of pruning shears
- Stretchy plant ties
With all these in hand, you are now ready to espalier!
10 Easy Steps to Espalier Your Fruit Tree
Below are the steps you will need to follow.
Choose the right location
You will need to select a position that is suitable for a fruit tree to thrive. The position you choose must have access to adequate sunlight and 7 to 8 inches of linear space.
Build your structure
You can’t have an espalier without a support structure, for this reason, you have to build one. This is where you will train and prune your fruit tree.
A basic structure set-up includes two 4 X 4 wooden posts that are set about 8 inches apart. It also has a 12-gauge galvanized wire which is stretched and fixed between them at 18-inch horizontal centers (18 inches from the ground, with two extra tiers each 18 inches taller than the previous one).
Buy your tree and plant it
Now that your structure is all set up, it is time to plant your tree. I’d like to assume you already have a tree in mind, even before you built the structure.
I recommend you plant bare-root trees, unbranched whips too are excellent. Proceed to plant it 8 to 12 inches centered in front of the structure you built.
Choose the branches to attach first
Select two branches that you will attach to the first level of the wire. The branches you choose must be strong and healthy, as they will have a lot of climbing to do.
Use the plant ties to attach one branch to the wire on the left, and the second to the right.
Prune out the other branches
Painful right? But it must be done. The center trunk should be pruned just above the two branches you attached. Prune out any other branches as required.
Keep pruning all through the growing season
You will notice some suckers growing straight up, and you need to prune them off.
Spurs will also grow, so make sure you leave one spur per 6 inches along the horizontal branch. You can prune off the rest.
Year 2 pruning
Apply the steps from 4 to 6 on the second horizontal wire.
Year 3 pruning
Apply the steps from 4 to 6 on the third and final horizontal wire.
Check on the plant regularly
Have a consistent schedule for the plant and stick to it. Always check on your tree to see how it’s doing.
Check the ties and loosen or replace them as required.
Harvest your fruit
Your tree will start to bear fruit at the end of the first season, but it’s best to wait until the 3rd season before you start harvesting.
For the first 2 seasons, it is advisable to concentrate on growing your roots and branches and training them to be as strong and healthy as possible.
Not to worry, after the second season, you will find that the new harvest will be larger and fresher. It’s all for your benefit.
There you have it! That’s how to espalier fruit trees. Follow the steps I listed above and your espalier will be just right!
Note that the more you do it, the better you will become at it. After mastering one pattern, you can proceed to learn the others. Who knows, you may become so good at it to the point where you’ll develop your pattern!
Where To Plant Your Espaliered Tree
The place you choose to plant your tree is very important. It should have at least 8 feet of linear space and it should be well-drained. It must also have adequate sunlight.
With a full day’s sunlight, it means your new tree will get a minimum of 6 hours of much-needed light daily.
You can espalier on the following –
- Against a wall
- Along a fence
- Across free-standing posts (the posts must be sturdy)
Most Popular Espalier Patterns
There are six popular techniques used in espalier, and they all have their special features.
Cordon – This is the most popular of them all, as it is the most traditional and simplest to do. I just described how to do this pattern.
Palmetto Verrier – Here, the branches are made into a “U” shape, is that the horizontal branches are turned up at both ends.
Fan – Here the branches are grown in a fan-shaped pattern, thanks to the branches being grown at 45° angles.
Candelabra – With this pattern, you will see many vertical branches shoot up at regular intervals from one of the central trunk’s low horizontal branches. This forms a candelabra shape.
Informal – This pattern takes a natural shape, however, it is still in a single plane. Basic pruning is all you will need to achieve this pattern.
Belgian Fence – This is a complicated pattern, which requires a wealth of experience to achieve.
Here about 3 V-shaped espaliers will be woven together into a fence. This will produce a beautiful lattice effect.
Now that you’ve learned how to espalier fruit trees, why don’t you give it a try today?