Growing a fruit tree in an espalier style provides all the benefits of other trellised crops, plus a few extra. Espaliered trees enjoy improved aeration and greater sun exposure. When tree limbs are manipulated to grow horizontally, more fruiting spurs develop. Harvesting becomes easier because the tree's growth is controlled. An espalier plant can also be considered art, creating a focal point. The pomegranate (Punica granatum), native to Iran, works well as an espalier.
Long a staple in Spanish and Middle Eastern cuisines, the pomegranate has emerged in recent years as a star on the natural foods scene because of the vitamins, potassium and antioxidants it contains. A good fruit producer even in hot climates and poor soils, the pomegranate adds beauty with its orange-red summer blooms, followed by shiny red fruit in fall. It grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 through 11. "Wonderful," the best-known cultivar, is grown commercially for pomegranate juice. Though the tree can tolerate drought, it produces better fruit with consistent moisture. Along with all its other assets, a pomegranate becomes a hummingbird magnet when the crinkly flowers appear in spring.
Choosing the Location
An espalier pomegranate will work best against a blank wall or fence. A simple background showcases an espalier plant best. Consider the amount of sun the site receives daily. While too little direct sun can thwart a pomegranate's growth and fruit production, a south-facing wall that absorbs heat all day may overwhelm the plant in a hot climate. Because fruit-bearing spurs tend to form facing the light, try to position your tree so the branches spread from north to south.
Pomegranate Espalier Design
Because they have the best chance of surviving, are the easiest to train, cost the least and generally bear fruit before transplanted potted specimens, begin with bare-root trees or 1- or 2-year-old whips. Left to their own devices, all pomegranates would grow as shrubs, but their narrow branches allow them to be pruned and trained into an espalier shape. A simple, informal design works best for the plant, such as a six-arm cordon, with three long branches extending from either side of the central trunk. A pomegranate espaliered along a fence or the side of a building maximizes the use of ground space.
Pruning and Training
Maintaining the graceful form of an espaliered pomegranate requires commitment. The process of establishing the espalier design takes several years. In the beginning, attach three evenly spaced, horizontal wires to the surface of the wall or fence where the tree will be planted. Choose two strong branches to become the bottom tier. Next, remove any other shoots. Loosely tie the two branches to the wire with cloth or plastic ties, gradually tightening them through the first growing season until the branches lie horizontally against the first wire. Repeat the process through the next two seasons, removing any competing shoots and training the three sets of limbs into horizontal positions.
- Vertical Vegetables & Fruit; Rhonda Massingham Hart
- North Carolina State University Extension: Espalier
- The New Sunset Western Garden Book; Kathleen Norris Brenzel, Editor
- Monrovia: Fruiting Pomegranate
- GrowOrganic.com: Versatile Pomegranate Can Be a Tree, Espalier, Shrub, Hedge or Container Plant
- Photo Credit NA/Photos.com/Getty Images