How to Espalier Fruit Trees

apple tree

How to Espalier Fruit Trees

What is Espalier
Espalier is a horticultural term that refers to training and pruning a tree or shrub to grow flat and vertically against a wall, fence, trellis, or other supporting structure. There are espalier kits you can purchase online or from garden centres which are easy to install.


Why Espalier
With garden and outdoor spaces reducing in size as urbanisation increases, espaliering fruit trees is an efficient and practical way to make the most of available space you do have - by going vertical you can still enjoy delicious fruit in smaller gardens. Espaliered fruit trees (or ornamental trees and shrubs) can also be used for decoration e.g. to create a privacy screen or disguise an unsightly view.  


Varieties to espalier

  • Apples: All varieties can be successfully espaliered. Ideally, choose an apple variety that is grafted onto EM9 rootstock. Although it’s a dwarf rootstock, it’s exceptionally vigorous, producing fast-growing laterals that are perfect for espaliering. Your local garden centre can guide you.
  • Citrus: Lemon: try Lisbon or Meyer lemon. For limes, try ‘Bearss’.
  • Figs: Figs are vigorous growers and will yield heavy crops after a few years. Pruning them hard in autumn is essential, as they bear fruit on the new season's growth.
  • Nashi: For successful pollination, plant two different varieties of Nashi trees.
  • Pears: Remember to plant two pear trees that can pollinate each other to ensure fruit production.
  • Plums: Select self-fertilising varieties like Wilsons Early or Louisa, or plant varieties that can cross-pollinate with each other.
  • Persimmons: These grow best when espaliered, and the Fuyu variety is a great choice to consider.
  • Quince: Try Smyrna which has extra-large foliage and large golden-yellow fruit.  


Selecting your tree
First, choose a fruit tree variety that is suited to your region/climate. When selecting a new tree, look for a young specimen (1 year old is ideal) with a strong vertical habit, and where possible with evenly spaced leaders (branches).


Planting & Positioning

  1. Choose a sunny, well-drained position with a fence, wall or strong wires attached to sturdy stakes to carry the weight of a mature espalier fruit tree. (see below re how many tiers).
  2. Soak your tree in a bucket of water with Garden Time Seafeed while you prepare your planting site.
  3. Dig a hole twice as wide and as deep as the container the tree came in.
  4. Mix generous amounts of Daltons Premium Garden Mix or Garden Time Enriched Garden Mix into the hole.
  5. Create a mound at the centre of the hole to enhance drainage.
  6. Carefully place the tree in the hole and refill it with soil around the rootball, patting it down to ensure firmness.
  7. Position the tree so that the base of the stem is slightly higher than ground level to prevent water from pooling around the trunk and causing rot.
  8. Apply a generous layer of Daltons Premium Mulch and Grow around the top of the soil, being careful not to touch the trunk of the tree.


Espaliering your tree

  1. Attach wires to the support structure to match the number of tiers you want. An espalier usually has two or three tiers (layers/rows), but more are possible with trees like pears which are vigorous growers. 
  2. Leave room for the tree to grow up to three metres on either side of the trunk.
  3. Tie the first branches down horizontally, about 500-600mm above ground level. 
  4. The next set of branches should be 350-400mm above the lower branches for air movement, full sun penetration and room for fruiting spurs to develop.
  5. As the tree grows, train horizontal branches to create the espaliered effect along the support wire.              
  6. From here, encourage spurs to develop, ideally spaced 80 to 120 mm apart. 
  7. As your tree grows you can attach branches to the higher rows.

What is a fruiting spur?
A fruiting spur is plant growth that emerges from a main branch and is specifically dedicated to producing fruit. These spurs undergo a two-stage process, first producing blossoms and then developing into fruit.
Espalier apple tree stems trained against a wooden pole and pruned to a side shoot fruiting spur. 

Training and Pruning:
To maintain your tree, it's important to regularly trim it and tie the branches along the wire as they grow. 

  1. When the branches reach the desired length or the end of the structure, either secure them to the wire or redirect them downward to slow down their growth. It's important to cut off any spurs that are growing downwards to prevent them from producing fruit. Cut the central growing main leader to be 5-8cm shorter than the top wire to encourage more side branches to grow. 
  2. Every 5-6 years, replace the existing fruiting spurs with new ones that appear. Don't hesitate to remove any surplus growth that won't produce fruit. In winter, prune your espaliered tree as soon as leaf fall has finished. This allows for easier access to branches.

For best results, for the first 1-2 years after planting, remove young fruit so the tree’s energy is focused on vegetative growth and establishing a strong framework.


Watering & Mulch
Water new trees deeply and regularly as required over the summer and add a layer of Daltons Premium Mulch and Grow to help with water retention.


Feed with Garden Time Fruit and Citrus Fertiliser in early spring and every six weeks till mid-December, recommencing late February till late April.

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