If you want to grow fruit but do not have enough space for a whopping great tree in the garden then Espalier fruit trees might be the right solution for you.
Furthermore, these trees create a beautiful focal point for the garden and will almost certainly be a conversation starter. However, many people would agree that this is something of an art and takes a little practice to get right.
But there is an easy way and your timing and pruning are important factors if you want to be successful. It is important to keep in mind that training your tree will take some time but the end result will be more than worth your patience. In this guide, we are going to show you an easy method to train Espalier apple trees and maintain them.
What Is An Espalier Fruit Tree?
The term Espalier refers to a fruit tree that has been trained to grow against a wall as opposed to in a conventional way. This is a technique that dates back many centuries and was popular in the gardens of the French palace of Versailles.
Espalier training might have been good enough for the walled gardens of the palace but it is also ideally suited to smaller gardens where there is no space for a fully-fledged apple tree (or pear tree.) Furthermore, for kitchen gardens where there isn’t much space, Espalier fruit trees will provide you with a good supply of fruit and will look ornate and beautiful.
These fruit trees are excellent for many reasons and while the size is one concern, easy maintenance is another. If you have ever tried to prune a fully grown apple tree, you will know that this can be something of a challenge. However, pruning is made much more simple using an Espalier training method and on top of this, it is far easier to pick the fruit.
Rather than branches being allowed to grow in any direction they please, Espalier apple trees are trained so that the branches grow horizontally out to each side of the main stem. While it is entirely possible to train a tree, there is also the option to purchase a ready-trained Espalier apple tree from your local garden centre.
Training An Espalier Apple Tree
If simply buying a ready-trained Espalier apple tree seems a little too easy for you and you would like more of a challenge, then training the tree yourself is a great choice. We are going to be looking at one of the easiest ways to do this but you can feel sure that it will still provide you with something of a project.
One of the first things you will need to think about is the type of apple tree you are going to plant. With Espalier training, there are certain varieties that will be more successful.
If the soil quality is reduced, then it may be better to go for something more resilient such as the MM111 rootstock which is also good for larger trees. However, for something more compact, you can use rootstocks M26 and MM106.
Planting The Tree
In order to train the tree, you will need to install horizontal wires along your fence or wall. These wires will need to be between 30cm and 45cm apart and are ideally placed between the posts.
However, when it comes to planting the trees, for the best results you will need to leave a significant gap of between 12ft and 20ft but if you have less space, they can be grown closer together with the right nutrition.
Unfeathered Maiden Pruning
When your trees reach the age of one year, it will be time to begin pruning. At this point, you will need to cut the stem down to around 1ft, after which, you will notice that the shoot begins to come from the top. You will typically only want three shoots from each tree stem and as these grow, you can train them using your wires.
To do this, the middle shoot will need to be tied to a cane in a vertical position while the outer two will be trained out horizontally. However, you won’t be able to get them to a 90º angle from the get-go, so to begin, you can use some twine to hold them at a 45º angle. Come the autumn, you should be able to gently bring them down to their permanent position, again tying them gently into place.
Once you have done this, in about November, you will need to trim the vertical shoot down to around 45cm. This will encourage further shoots to emerge which will form the next layer of the Espalier tree.
This will need to grow for a year before the above process is repeated. You can do this as many times as needed over the course of a few years. Typically, most small trees will form around four layers.
To get the best outcome for your Espalier apple trees, it is vital that, when they blossom in spring, you remove these immediately. While the blossoms may look good, they will sap a lot of the tree’s energy-reducing growth and health in other areas.
How To Prune An Established Espalier Apple Tree
Once your apple tree has finished growing its layers, you will need to maintain it each year. While immature trees should be pruned in autumn, established ones should always be pruned in early August.
The reason for this is that if you do it any earlier, there is a chance that new shoots will emerge where they aren’t needed. On the flip side, late pruning may result in the buds not having enough time to swell.
If you do find that any new shoots develop after you have pruned the tree, you will need to wait until the end of September to cut these away. Any side shoots should be completely removed. While this should discourage future secondary growth, there are cases where it does not. In this instance, we would recommend not pruning the tree until the beginning of winter.
Espalier apple trees are trees that are trained to grow horizontally across a wall or a fence and are great for gardens where space is limited. They provide a beautiful aesthetic and pruning the trees is thought to be far easier. While many people are concerned that training an Espalier apple tree will be a difficult task, it may be easier than you thought.
The process of training and growing your Espalier apple tree will take some years, depending on how many tiers you want it to have. However, once established, these decorative trees require nothing more than annual pruning and will continue to bear fruit for many years to come.
Garden Doctor Tips
“MM106 root-stock is best for growing small espaliers!”
“Remove any blossom in a young tree to promote growth elsewhere!”
“Horizontal wires or bamboo make great espalier frames!”
“Once you are happy with the height, take the top off to promote growth lower down!”
Frequently Asked Questions
What fruit trees are best for Espalier?
Espalier is a method of training trees to grow in a flat, even shape. The most popular types of fruit trees for Espalier are apples and pears. If you have limited space this is an excellent way to maximize your production potential!
Can any fruit trees be espaliered?
Espalier is a method for growing fruit trees, and they make it easy to grow a large number of plants in a small space. There are many varieties of trees that can be grown as an espalier: apple, pear, peach, cherry, plum, apricot and grapevine. The most popular type is the apple tree.
How do you start an espalier tree?
The answer to the question of how do you start an espalier tree? is really quite simple. All you need are two things: a fruit tree and some wire. The type of wire used will depend on the size and shape of your desired espaliered pattern.