In our edible garden, every panel of the fencing has either a berry growing over it or an espaliered tree growing in front of it.
Espalier is the ancient art of training and pruning plants so they grow in structured, formal patterns against a fence or wall.
It was originally devised in Europe in the Middle Ages as not only a decorative way of planting but also as a way of fitting full sized trees into small courtyards or gardens. Another great benefit of the espalier design is the increased and extended fruiting due to the warmth reflected and stored on the wall or fence, the open shape of the branches allowing more sunlight in and the air flow.
We decided to espalier as many fruit trees as we could against the fences to increase our crops and also hide the fencing. It is certainly not an instant gardening technique with immediate results. Training an espalier tree takes a number of years and a fair bit of work with the pruning. Creating an espaliered tree is also not for the faint hearted. While your trees start out just like any other tree, in the Winter it must be lopped off to almost nothing, just a 30cm stick (approx), to allow the first tier to grow. It’s not an easy thing to do, no matter how many times I do it.
Now is the time to start training down the horizontal tiers that have grown over Spring and early Summer. These should have grown out enough to be tied to the wire system put in place to support the espalier. I have to say, this is the most exciting part for me as the pattern starts to take shape, another tier adding to the structure. Espaliered trees can look a bit miserable until this point and I am always impatient to get the next tier in place.
This Apple tree has just had it’s 2nd tier tied in place and it’s starting to take shape. It is one of the newer trees but has a good shape and is forming well. The leader growing straight up will be cut off in the coming Winter to create the next set of new branches for the 3rd tier. Another sacrifice for the final form.
Our older espaliered trees have produced a good crop of fruit which is a relief after all the snipping and hacking that had to happen, seemingly holding it back and possibly reducing it’s chances of producing much. But they are now are strong and healthy, and delivering perfectly delicious full size fruit on their stretched out arms.
If you want to try espaliering trees in your own backyard, check out the American Horticultural Society Pruning & Training (American Horticultural Society Practical Guides) or Living Fences: A Gardener’s Guide to Hedges, Vines & Espaliers.