About Espalier Trees
The term espalier refers to the way fruit trees are trained to grow against a wall. It makes the tree easier to prune and the fruit easier to pick. This decorative method was often used traditional walled kitchen gardens and is perfectly suited to growing fruit in the smaller garden.
The advantage is that you can also buy a ready-trained tree. Perfect for the small garden, an espalier tree has branches trained horizontally on either side of the stem to make a compact, but productive tree. Many varieties can be bought as bare rooted trees in the winter (usually from specialist nurseries).
You can also buy espaliered trees in pots at garden centres which are available all year round. These are perfect for growing where space is limited. The trees usually have two tiers of branches and will quickly make three or four tiers.
What to do
Make your support
- Choose a sunny wall or fence and fit a framework of horizontal wires that match the distance between the arms of espaliers – usually 35-45cm (13-17in) apart.
- Most ready-trained trees come with two tiers of branches, but it’s easier to fix three or four supports now than when the tree is growing. If you have a fence, drill holes between two posts and fix wires using eye bolts. Use vine eyes and a tightener on walls.
- Dig a planting hole 15cm (6in) from the fence or wall, wide enough for the roots to be spread out and deep enough so the soil mark on the stem sits at the same level as the soil. Fork over the bottom of the hole.
- Soak the plant thoroughly and allow to drain.
- Place the tree in the centre of the hole and check the level by placing a cane across the gap – add or remove soil as necessary.
- Fill the hole with soil, firming gently until you reach the top.
- Firm the soil with your heel, drench with water and mulch with well-rotted manure.
- Tie side branches with twine in several places to your support wires running along the fence.
- If planting a container-grown tree, dig a hole twice the diameter of the pot and deep enough for the rootball to sit at the same level as the surface of the soil.
- Water trees well for the first couple of years, especially during periods of drought.
- If planting in autumn, allow the central shoot to grow upwards over spring and summer. The following winter, prune to the third wire leaving three healthy buds to produce your third tier of branches. Repeat to make four tiers.
- Prune shoots growing from the horizontal branches between July and September leaving three or four leaves, and shoots growing from the main stem shortened to three leaves.
- Regularly tie down new growth at the ends of each branch to stop it growing upwards.