Learn The Art Of Crafting Great Espaliered Fruit Trees

Small garden spaces can be wonderfully decorated with lush espaliered fruit trees that give you nice edible while adding aesthetic value to the garden at the same time. To espalier fruit trees requires patience and knowledge of the right method. We write this article to familiarize you with this amazing horticultural art.

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espaliered fruit trees

The terms Espaliering has its root in the French term ‘aspau’ which carries the meaning- a prop. In a particular context, it would refer to the trellis supporting tree branches.

It is a very old horticulture technique of training and pruning that was used to give a particular shape to several trees like vines, flowering ones, large shrubs, and the fruit trees. The results of this technique take several years to show up, however, they are very rewarding. See the benefits of espaliered fruit trees and decide if it’s worth a try or not-

  • Adds a superb artistic touch to your garden
  • Fruit gardening even in a narrow space
  • A bountiful harvest
  • Easy peasy fruit picking

There are many trees that can be espaliered. Some popular ones include-

  • Apples
  • Figs
  • Cherries
  • Plums
  • Pears
  • Apricots
  • Pomegranate
  • Persimmon
  • Citrus fruits

Origins of the Technique

The exact history of the art is unknown, however, it is established that espaliering geared up in the Renaissance period when topiary art and ornamental gardening was very popular. The Middle Age Europe saw its first use in creating outdoor ‘walls’ as well as inner courtyard ‘walls’ for preventing frost damage.

Patterns of Espaliering

There are four general espaliering patterns:

  • Horizontal cordon- The branches are laid straight out in the sideward direction.
  • Candelabra- Similar to the cordon, but the branches grow up forming a right angle with the first extension.
  • Fan- The branches grow to fan upward and sideward.
  • Belgian Lattice- The branches of different trees grow intertwined in a criss-cross pattern.

Out all of these, the cordon is the simplest one and you can get many trees pre-grafted in this shape.

Fact: The branches growing in horizontal direction tend to grow more fruits over them.

Major Types of Espaliered Fruit Trees

Depending on the shape and growth requirements, they can be categorized into formal and informal.

  • Formal- These espaliers follow the ornate styles like spirals, lattice/fences, or the ones that are very symmetrical. They have to be consistently pruned to make them grow in a specific pattern.
  • Informal- These espaliers follow irregular patterns. The basic shape is there but several branches are allowed to grow differently that accommodate more fruits. This also means that there is no requirement of high maintenance and pruning.

A Guide to Espaliering

The basic concept of espaliering involved better ripening of fruits and frost-protection by the warmth derived from walls. Let’s see what the crucial elements of espaliering fruit trees are.

Picking a tree-

This is going to be the first complex decision and needs to be taken according to many factors. You need to see the regional climate, type of fruiting patterns, pollination requirements (if at all), and your own preference before picking any plant. The young, 1-2-year-old saplings are best to start with.

Right location-

The espaliered fruit trees require full sunlight for good six hours every day. This requirement is going to be your mainstay while choosing the right spot. Also, the spatial extent is decided by the espalier shape that you choose.

Soil quality-

The soil medium to be used for these trees must be well-drained generally though the pH level can vary as per the plant being grown.

Spacing-

Keep in mind your preferences for the branch extension length and espalier design to do adequate spacing.  Generally, a distance of 6-12 inches between the plant and support or wall is good for easy access and air circulation.

Support-

It’s the most vital requirement in the initial period and a support structure must be set before planting itself. You can use any existing structure with required modifications like trellis, fences, and building or create new ones with any material like metal wire, wood, frame trellis, etc. The support system must be strong enough as per the size of the espalier that you intend to grow.

Pruning-

Usually, it takes around four years or pruning and training to get great espaliered fruit trees. You may have to prune twice or thrice a season. The two times apt for pruning are-

  • Winters: stimulate spring production and bud growth
  • Late spring or early summer: create a shape and growth training

Some basic pruning tips to follow are-

  • Prune according to the location of the fruit flowers.
  • Always make the cuts back to the buds, main trunk, or lateral branches.
  • Carefully keep removing the vertical shoots, long stubs, water sprouts, suckers, and unfitting branches.
  • Use thoroughly cleaned and sharp shears.

Watch this video.

Training-

The branches need to be tied to the fences or over the supporting structure. Use foam wire ties, ribbons, trellis wire, etc to retie the growing branches. However, don’t choke them.

Watering-

You need to provide at least one-gallon water to the young plants at gaps of 7-10 days until they get established.

Fertilizing-

You can use specially formulated fertilizers according to the specific fruit trees and apply them instructions-wise. Dormant Pest repellant sprays must also be applied carefully to remove mites, aphids, leafhopper, etc.

Additional tips-

Don’t shape the branches quickly to avoid breaking, so train them by gradually increasing the tension. Prune the trees keeping in mind their future look and make the cuts only where you want them to be.

Making an Espaliered Cherry Tree

Espalier cherry trees are great hardwood fruit trees to be grown in any garden. Sour cherry trees are a better option in this context. Let’s see the espaliering method for cherries then.

  • Pick a semi-dwarf or dwarf variety against the full size one to decrease pruning requirements.
  • Plant the tree in a hole dug closer to the support, keeping the main trunk 4 inches away.
  • Candelabra and fan shapes are good for cherry trees. Design the support frame accordingly.
  • Give the plant its specific and required care.

Making an Espaliered Fig Tree

The traces of espalier fig trees in ancient Egyptian tombs suggest that fig is one of the oldest fruit to be espaliered. Its natural strength and shape are perfect for espaliering and we are going to tell you how to do it.

  • Fig trees’ shallow root system can spread up to 50 feet. Choose a wide space carefully. Its natural height is 30 feet but can be trimmed, so location height is not an issue.
  • Plant the tree 6 inches away from the support.
  • Horizontal or fan shape is good for fig espalier. Design the wiring accordingly.
  • Prune in winter and spring and the best time is after figs harvest.
  • You can prune the fig trees according to the fruit production desire. Prune more if you are okay with fewer fruits and vice versa.

Final Words

So, you can get any deciduous, evergreen, ornamental, or even espaliered fruit trees to increase the charm of your garden. We agree that the inputs in making any espalier fruit trees are high but the results will be more than satisfactory. Follow our guide and stay assured of a great garden.

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