How to Espalier a Tree

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Espalier is an ancient form of gardening where fruit and flowering trees are trained into pleasing symmetry in a flat plane. Stretch your garden muscles with this trellising method where less is more - fewer branches, more fruit and flowers.

  • Understand the principles that will guide you to successful espalier. You will limit the natural upward habit of young trees and direct their growing energy sideways onto a system of branches trained to a trellis. This creates more places for flowers and fruit to form.

  • Choose your tree and build your trellis before planting. Look for a list of suitable varieties for your area. Set up a sturdy but simple post and wire fence or a more elaborate network of wood with crosspieces to anchor your espalier.

  • Decide between cordon espalier - single trunks in close plantings - and fan shapes. Apples make great cordons; pyracantha, peaches and flowering cherries make dramatic fans (attach each stem to a small bamboo brace and tie that to the trellis).

  • NELLIE - CAN YOU ADD A COUPLE OF STEPS ABOUT PLANTING AND TYING THE TREE - GETTING IT STARTED? THANKS!

  • Get ready to prune - at planting time, during each dormant season and throughout the growing season, too. Train the trunk and leader branches onto your trellis at first and keep them there with annual winter pruning - then clip and pinch new growth to force more flowers.

  • Work with the leaders while they are young and succulent - bend them slightly downward when you tie them laterally to the trellis. You'll stifle the tree's natural upward growth habit and release hormones that trigger flowers and fruit with this step.

  • Use clippers and your fingers to prune frequently in spring and summer - your goal is fewer branches with more flowering buds. Pinch spurs or side stems for an even green across the trellis - cut a small notch every 3 inches along stems that refuse to leaf out to encourage them.

Tips & Warnings

  • Get information from your county agent or local nurseries and garden writers for about espalier candidates including pollinators for fruit trees.
  • Thin fruit on your espalier by one third to ripen bigger, sweeter fruit.

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