How to espalier ornamental and fruit trees

Espalier is the training of a tree to be decorative as well as producing fruit. They do not require any special skills by the grower, but take time to achieve good results.


ESPALIER - A central stem with horizontal arms tied along supporting wires.


CORDON - A true cordon is a single straight rod grown either upright or, obliquely (slanting). Mutiple cordons, lattice, double "U" and triple cordons are useful for more vigorous varieties.



Almost any variety of apple/pear is suitable for espalier or cordon (depending on rootstock.) Stone fruit (peaches, nectarines, plums and cherries) are best suited to fan shaped espalier as their more brittle wood is difficult to train on the horizontal lines. There are many ornamental varieties which can easily be espaliered, some of the simplest  varieties are Camellia or Michelia.



As with most fruit trees, espalier require a sunny site sheltered from wind, but if prone to spring frosts adequate air circulation is necessary. They can be grown along walls and fences but beware of north facing brick walls and iron fences as the heat reflected from these may scorch the tree. If a suitable wall is not present they can be grown along a free standing fence strung with wires. Posts should be approx 2-3 m apart for espalier and 2m of post above ground. 5-6 wires should be tightly strung between posts, with the first wire 30/45cm above the ground and the others at 30cm intervals. Cordon posts should be approx 3 m apart with 1.5/2 m post above ground, 3 wires should be enough with the bottom wire 60 cm from the ground and the others 45/60 cm apart. Hessian, rubber, nylon or old stockings make satisfactory tying materials.



One year old unbranched "whips" are best, but if branched trees are only available, they can be converted into whips by retaining the straightest leader and cutting away the rest. After planting the central leader is reduced to 5 cm below the first wire and when growth occurs only the top 3 shoots should be allowed to grow. The top shoot is tied to an upright cane that is secured to the wires. The 2 side shoots will become the 2 lowest branches. Tie side shoots to canes at an angle of about 45 so the laterals maintain their growing vigour while training is started. In autumn/winter remove these side supporting canes and tie the branches to the horizontal wires. With the central stem again cut back to about 5 cm below the second wire to train the next tier. Continue every season until top wire when you only retain 2 buds to tie down.


For stone fruit the central leader is cut out, leaving 2 vigorous side shoots which are trained outwards at 30-45 degree angle to encourage branching. As they fruit only on 1 year wood, there must be a continual renewal of growths to carry fruit.


Again 1 year old unbranched "whips" are best with side shoots shortened to 3 buds. If only branched trees are available, select the straightest leader, cut the remaining leaders right back. Plant at the angle intended for training. Summer prune - Strong lateral shoots longer than 30 cm, cut back to 4-5 buds Winter prune - Prune according to the amount of growth made. Laterals up to 10 cm should be left uncut. Laterals 10-20 cm long should be left uncut in year 1 and the following winter shortened back to a bud on 2 year old wood. This is done to encourage year old laterals to develop fruit buds. Laterals longer than 20 cm can either be cut to 3 buds or tied down so that the tips are below the horizontal to encourage fruit buds on laterals. Following winter untie and shorten to 15 cm.