Growing An Espalier Fruit Tree

A description of an espalier, and how to train a tree or shrub to grow on a wall or fence.

In order to be able to grow an Espalier, you must first know what it is. "A plant trained to grow flat against a wall or framework. To train a tree or shrub with its branches growing in a two dimensional plane, flat against a building or fence." A normal growing tree or shrub has three planes, which are height, width and depth. An Espalier has two, height and width. There is no depth since it has been trained to grow flat. This method of growing trees and shrubs was generally used where space was a problem. But many gardeners are now growing espaliers because of the interesting design that it will add to their gardens. Do remember though, these will take a lot of effort, time and will need frequent attention. If you are not interested in spending a lot of time with this, don't do it.

Any tree or shrub that has long, flexible branches is suitable for training. But must be planted when young and supple. You will also need to consider the mature height of the tree or plant in question. You want make sure that you choose a tree or plant that will not outgrow the area that you have intended. If you have questions as to whether a tree or plant would be suitable to be an espalier, ask a person at your local nursery or gardening center. They should be able to point you in the right direction.

The first thing that you will need to do is to set up a wooden, metal or wire framework. This will be the guide for the espaliers horizontal and vertical stems. Build this framework at least a foot away from your wall or fence to allow for circulation. The framework is basically just a strip of metal, wire or wood, that has been attached about a foot or two off the ground, but running parallel to the ground. Now plant your new tree or shrub at the base of the framework. Cut the main stem back, this will stimulate the growth of a single vertical shoot. Other than this vertical shoot, trim off any other shoots at ground level.

After the main stem has a six inch growth, above the place at where it is to split into two stems, (this will usually happen at about 2 feet) cut it back to 6 inches. You will generally be able to do this at the end of it's first growing season. At least two of the uppermost remaining buds will sprout. Cut off all but two that will grow opposite of each other, at the same level. At this stage your espalier will look like a T. With the main stem and two opposite growing shoots.

When each of the two opposite growing stems are about a foot long, it is time to start training your limbs to grow where you want them. Attach the T stems to the framework, using twine or some other gentle ties. Be sure to keep these ties rather loose to allow for expansion of the branch. The tips of the branches will naturally start growing upwards, making your branch into a 45 degree angle. Your espalier will now start looking like a goal post. It is also alright to force the tips to stay down and let some other upwards growing shoots to take over. Just make sure that the upwards growing shoots are even and symmetrical on both sides of your espalier. This stage your espalier will look like a dinner fork. You will now have to add vertical supports to your framework. Tie the tips that have started growing vertically to these support, again loosely to allow for the branch to grow and expand. You will need to keep pinching off any buds that insist on growing in an unwanted place. After a time, and repeating this process you will have a full grown tree that is growing flat against the framework, that is full of 45 degree angles and split trunks and branches.

Each winter you will need to cut back a quarter or even half of the new growth, it is also a good idea to really cut back on any weaker shoots. Do be sure to pay attention to pruning times in the area where you live, this is when you should be doing any pruning to your espalier. And if your espalier is a fruit tree, follow any basic pruning instructions to force fruit growth as you would with any fruit tree.

It will generally take five years to complete the growing and training of this unusual looking shrub or tree. After that basic maintenance is a must, to make sure that your espalier remains the gardening wonder that it is. Also you will be amazed that if you are growing a fruit tree, how easy it will be to harvest the fruit from this short compact tree.

© High Speed Ventures 2011