Index of Thoughts

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Espalier Fruit Trees

*Update:  In the process of training my own fruit trees.  New espalier post:  Spring Pruning.  Find it HERE.

Espaliering means to train a tree or shrub to grow in a two dimensional plane. It's been used in France for centuries, particularly with fruit trees, and it makes a lot of sense because it means you can grow what is normally a large tree in a very small area.

I have some fruit trees on the side of my house which is an East Facing wall and is protected by my neighbor's house.  It is a small space.  I have a cherry tree, a peach tree and now a plum tree there.  I want to train it to be a floating espalier which will look really cool plus keep it more contained for that space. 

Since Montrose is about a Zone 5 for cold hardiness, it is suggested to let the roots get established for at least 2 seasons before major pruning.  Therefore, pick out a tree that already has a good shape already going.  I like to use local nurseries esp. in this area because they typically grow their trees on sight and have overwintered them here.  When you get trees from larger, cheaper places like Home Depot or Wal-mart they get their stuff shipped in from places like FL & that's why most of the time it doesn't come back the next year.  Another reason is because they don't always carry the right variety for this area.  So, BUY LOCAL People!!!

My peach tree & cherry tree are ready to be pruned this year because their roots are well-established but I will wait a couple of years for the plum.  Also, early spring or late winter before buds emerge is the time to prune so I will have to wait until next year to start the espalier process.  I have a drip line from my irrigation to these trees and that really makes a huge difference.  Watering is Key out here for plant survival.  Plus fertilizing & backfilling with Soil Pep is also very helpful.

If you need advice or education on trees, pruning or plant info, don't forget to contact the County Extension office here.  They have master gardeners who are amazing & the fee is so minimal.  I have had them come out before to help decide the best way to get rid of an aphid infestation in a 100 year old Maple next to our house!  A group of at least 5 showed up and we all figured out the most feasible way to help this enormous tree!  I love working with Ginny Price there.  

Montrose Cty Ext.
Ginny Price

Here is my space & my trees.  I am going to try the Informal Fan Shape with my trees.

Here are some examples of Espalier Fruit Trees:
Pear Tree

Espalier of Apricot Tree
Apple Tree


Here is some other info that I found to be very helpful:

Creating your own espalier


Whichever style you prefer, you will need to prune regularly!

Different Forms

Pruning and training
Creating an espalier is a time consuming task which requires both patience and dedication. Basically you need to remove branches which cannot be fitted into the pattern. As branches meet the wire or support they are to be trained along, tie them gently but firmly. Ties are needed about every 20cm (8"), and they will have to be loosened and adjusted as the plant grows. The easiest pattern to follow is a simple horizontal espalier (see diagram), where the plant is trained on three wires.
This can be achieved by starting with a fruit tree which has three branches (extra branches can be cut off). Plant the tree in the centre of the framework you have erected. Tie the two side branches to the first wire, one on either side of the trunk. Shorten these branches to encourage new growth or fruiting spurs. Allow the central or most upright branch to become the trunk. It should be encouraged to grow up to reach the higher wires. At the second wire, cut it back leaving three buds (the top bud facing upwards). The buds on either side will form side branches to be trained along the second wire. The central bud will continue to grow upwards towards the third wire, where it is cut again in the same way. Most fruit trees are given a hard prune in winter, after the crop has been harvested. Plants which are trained as espaliers will also need to be pruned about three times during the growing season.
Espalier Apple trees, Lend themselves well to many espalier forms such as hedges, double cordon, vertical cordon, palmetto, and Belgian Fence.

Espalier Apricot trees, Can be pruned to hedges and fan shapes. Needs fairly heavy pruning.

Espalier Peach and Nectarine trees,They fruit on new wood only, requires vigorous pruning to produce new fruiting branches and to maintain espalier form. Best styles are hedge or fan.

Espalier Fig trees, Usually large espaliers, as you can see in the above photo. Either fan shape or natural form for tall espaliers, or low horizontal-armed shapes.

Espalier Persimmon trees, The Oriental persimmon is one of the best for a large, informal espalier.

Espalier Pomegranate trees, They do best with informal shapes, or in four, six, or eight-armed cordons.

How to train fruit trees as fans and espaliers

Fans and espaliers are popular ways of training fruit trees to grow against a wall or on a trellis. Most apple and pear varieties which produce their fruit on spurs (rather than on the tips of their branches) can be trained as espaliers. Plums, cherries, apricots, peaches, and nectarines are not suitable for espalier-training, but do very well when trained as fans. Apples and pears can also be trained as fans if required, and whilst fans may lack the formal style of espaliers, they are easier to maintain and a bit more productive.

Training fruit trees in this way can make a noticable difference to the flavour of the fruit, compared with free-standing trees. Fruit size is sometimes better as well because there tends to be fewer fruit, and also the tree may be putting more of its energy into the fruit rather than vegetative growth.

You should start with a 1-year bare-root or 1-year container-grown tree. Within a few years you should have a very productive fruit tree which will be a real asset to your garden.

Benefits of fan-training and espalier-training

There are several reasons for training a fruit tree as a fan against a wall or trellis:

  • The fruit receives more light, which helps improve development of natural sugars and fruit colour.
  • If you are training against a south-facing brick wall, the micro-climate allows you to grow varieties that would normally require a warmer climate.
  • You are naturally restricting the crop compared with a free-standing tree, and this can also help to improve flavour.
  • Protecting the tree e.g. from frost or birds, is relatively easy.
  • As well as productive capacity, fans and espaliers have an appealing ornamental value in the garden.
Location / Orientation
Setting the planting level
The ideal location is a south-facing brick wall because of the warm micro-climate created by the wall. South-east or south-west facing are also good orientations. East-facing and north-facing orientations are only possible in the case of certain fruit tree varieties which can cope with this tough situation. If you are preparing a trellis in open ground then a north-south orientation is worth considering. A trellis does not create the micro-climate of a wall, but on the other hand light can reach the fruit from both sides.

How to train a fruit tree as a Y-fan

If you have not trained a fruit tree before, the Y-fan is the easiest form to try because it looks very impressive but actually requires very little skill!
Start by ordering a 1-year "maiden" fruit tree. 2-year trees can be used but are not ideal. Although we supply container-grown trees that can be planted at most times of the year, note that when planting a tree to be grown as a fan or espalier, planting is best done either in late autumn (November) or early spring depending on your climate situation - but choose a mild day and check the weather forecast to see that no frost or cold weather is likely for the next few days. The training process must be carried out when the tree is still dormant, once spring has got under way in your area, it is too late.
Prepare a planting hole in the normal way - for general information on planting, see our planting directions. If training against a wall, the tree should be planted at 8" - 12" from the wall. If you are concerned about the roots damaging the foundations you can plant up to 24" away if necessary, and angle the tree towards the wall.
Cutting the tree, just above 2 buds
Place the tree in the hole. Try to spread the roots outwards and downwards away from the wall. Note the position of the distinctive kink on the stem of the tree - this is the graft union (where the fruiting variety joins the rootstock). Ideally the graft union should be on the wall-side of the hole.
Once the tree has been planted, you need to cut the stem down quite drastically, to form the bottom leg of the "Y". Don't worry if you feel you have just planted a 6ft tree and are now throwing 5ft of it away - it will grow back very quickly. This is the only part of the process which requires any real skill, so pay attention! The cut is performed at a height of roughly 12"-18" / 30cm-40cm from the ground, but the height is less important than choosing the right point, just above 2 buds on either side of the stem, and parallel to the wall. Make sure you have plenty of buds below the point where you intend to cut. It is these buds which will form the arms of the "Y". The cut should be performed at a slant away from the top-most of these 2 buds. Study the photograph carefully and find a similar point on your tree, then make the cut with sharp secateurs - be decisive and cut cleanly. It is a very good idea to practice higher up the tree first.
The finished prototype fan tree
Apricot fan - emerging shoots
Apricot fan - new shoots
Apricot fan - emerging shoots - June

Information Above:


  1. Wow... that looks like a lot of work. It will be beautiful though. I can't wait to see what you do with yours!

    1. Work indeed but I LOVE stuff like this so I consider it therapy :)

  2. I am working on espalier my blackberry bush, crazy thought, right? But it grows very fast... so I am hopeful, When the branches get long and go beyond the end of my wall, do I just cut them back to the wall? I don't see any instruction regarding the full grown ends. Thanks! Beautiful work,

    1. Thanks so much! I would just keep cutting them back to where you want them to be. I would love to see a photo of your blackberry bush. Post a pic on my Marmie Facebook! Happy Gardening.

  3. Hi. Thanks for the very clear well illustrated article (update pic?).

    I'm about to plant apple trees in a very narrow strip between a wall and a tall colourbond fence ( against the fence). It appears that tomake the lovely v-shape id need to cut very low, but this would seriously limit sunlighr. Can you start it much higher up like a standard or will it just keep trying to make low branches? Should I justgrow cordons or minarettes?

    1. I believe you can start it wherever you would like. Most people like to start it low so it is easy to pick the fruit.

  4. No plants give sweeter returns than fruit trees. From cold-hardy apples and cherries to semi-tropical citrus fruits, fruit trees grow in nearly every climate.

    Kevin Nelson ||

  5. The most common reasoning behind not wanting to plant trees is that they’re extremely high maintenance. However, most fruit trees are fairly easy to care for. While newly planted trees usually take a few years to start bearing fruit as their root system develops, soon you’ll be able to enjoy fresh fruit from your own home.


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