How to Espalier Fruit Trees

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The French word "espalier" can be literally translated as "something to rest the shoulder against." In horticulture, the word espalier describes the artful yet time-consuming tradition of training trees to grow flat against a support system such as a wall, fence or trellis. Nearly all types of fruit trees can be espaliered, but apple, pear and plum trees are especially well-suited for espalier training.

Things You'll Need

  • Support system
  • Shovel
  • Aged manure
  • Peat moss
  • Perlite
  • Garden hose
  • String or strips of nylon pantyhose
  • Pruning shears or loppers
  • Dig the planting hole for your fruit tree right next to the support system on which the tree will be trained. This might be a wall, fence or trellis. Dig the hole to be twice as wide and twice as deep as the tree's root ball. Work equal parts aged manure, peat moss and perlite into the displaced soil until evenly distributed. Return some of the displaced, amended soil to the bottom of the planting hole so that, when your tree is planted, the top of its root ball is flush with the surface of the soil.

  • Place your fruit tree in the center of its prepared planting hole and backfill the planting hole with displaced, amended soil. Water your fruit tree immediately after planting to moisten the soil. Note that, when planted, the trunk of your tree should sit approximately 6 inches from your support system.

  • Bend your fruit tree's twigs and branches into the desired design and secure them to the support system with soft string or strips of old nylon pantyhose. Tie the branches to the support system loosely to avoid girdling them and restricting their growth.

  • Remove unwanted branches from your espalier design with a pair of sharpened and sterilized pruning shears or loppers. Make clean pruning cuts when removing unwanted branches, positioning your pruning tool 1 inch from the branch collar.

Tips & Warnings

  • Use fruit trees that are between 1 and 2 years old.
  • Choose a planting location for your fruit tree that receives six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day.
  • Spread a 3-inch layer of mulch in a 3-foot diameter around your fruit tree, to help your tree conserve moisture. Mulching around your fruit tree will also help prevent weeds from growing at your planting site.
  • Avoid trying to espalier fruit trees older than 3 years, as their branches can prove too stiff to effectively train.

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