It can be difficult to embody the practices that are important to you in terms of producing your own food if you have a small plot of land or simply face logistical constraints due to pre-existing infrastructure on your land. Many times, fruit trees have the potential to consume too much of the available arable land to seem like a practical choice. However, if you are willing to move away from the traditional aesthetic of a fruit tree, there are some alternations to the growing process you can make that can serve as a perfect compromise. Even if you have plenty of space and you are simply looking to maximize the use of every single inch of land, this is a particularly useful technique.
Benefits of Espaliered Trees
Espalier is a gardening method that trains fruit trees to grow in unusual (but much more compact) ways. Espaliered trees require a large input of work at the beginning of the process, but they serve your garden or farm in many ways beyond space conservation. Trees grown using this technique bear fruit earlier in the season and more often than trees grown in a conventional manner, because all of the resources, nutrients, and energy involved are concentrated in a much smaller area. Not only do espaliered trees bear more fruit than traditional trees once growing begins, they also produce fruit for a much longer period of time. Espaliered trees are often chosen simply for their aesthetic value, which can influence which variety of fruit tree is optimal for your garden.
While the basic premise of an espaliered tree involves growing tree branches horizontally along a fence or wall, there are six different possible patterns for espaliered trees. Two variations involve branches grown horizontally: the multi-tier cordon, in which branches simply grow in horizontal layers. This style takes the most time to install, but can serve unique purposes in the garden. The second horizontal pattern is the candelabra variation, which consists of rows of branches growing off of a single horizontal branch. The Palmette verrier takes a U-shaped growing pattern, the fan takes on a radiating pattern, and the Belgian fence involves several V-shaped growths woven together. The tips of branches on a Palmette verrier turn upwards, making it a choice pattern to employ if you want to grow multiple trees along the same structure. There are also informal variations, for those looking to add a beautifully grown tree to the garden without moving hell and high water.
Setting Up Espaliered Trees
The best time to begin an espalier project is in the dormant season, because the trees will need plenty of time to entrench themselves in new surroundings to grow appropriately. Trees that grow particularly well when espaliered include apple and pear trees. The technique can also be used for peach or pomegranate trees. Peach trees require a massive input of time and energy to properly maintain and cultivate, making them a poor choice for a first-time espalier project. The amount of time it takes fruit trees to mature when they are espaliered can be much longer than the time it traditionally takes a tree to mature. With espaliered apple trees, for example, it can take three years for the tree to grow into maturity and produce fruit. Though espaliered trees have particular needs to ensure that they grow in the correct pattern, the trees are also subject to the traditional growing requirements of the particular variety. This means that before you plant the pruned tree, make sure that the daylight and exposure are appropriate for the type of fruit involved.
Once you have picked a tree, purchase the youngest variation you can find. Semi-dwarf varieties grow best, though dwarf trees will help you maximize all of the available space. Once you have chosen a tree, prune it to somewhere between eighteen and twenty-four inches tall. The smaller a tree is when first planted, the easier it will be to encourage it to defy traditional growth patterns and grow along your established pattern. While you can begin the process with an older tree to cut down the amount of time it takes to get the tree firmly installed, you may face difficulties training the branches in an appropriate fashion.
Construct or purchase a frame that provides solid support on each end of the tree. Four-by-fours are excellent for these frames because they will need to be solid enough to hold a vigorously fruit bearing tree eventually. Then run pieces of metal wire horizontally between the wood slabs to provide extra support. If you have chosen to set the espaliered tree along a trellis, the extra support will be unnecessary, but these support systems are absolutely crucial to the process if planting along a wall or other solid surface. The rest of the process largely depends on the visual effect you are looking for and whether you are planting one tree or multiple varieties. After the trees have grown for a few weeks, they will begin to branch off. Cut off each of the growths except for the three strongest branches. Let them grow for a few more weeks, and once they have grown several inches, tie them in place horizontally, with one growing left and one going right. The third branch will continue to grow horizontally, and as this vertical branch grows higher it will produce the next layer of horizontal branches. This is a simple horizontal pattern, and the easiest way to begin experimenting with espaliered trees if you want to do the training work yourself.
If pruning and cultivating a tree to grow along a fence or wall simply seems like too much work in addition to the daily requirements of your land, nurseries often sell espaliered trees that you can simply transplant into your own space. Though purchasing trees is decidedly easier, it is a more expensive option, and the espaliered trees are often trained in only three horizontal layers.
There are hundreds of permutations between types of trees and espalier patterns, making this a lovely addition to virtually any garden. As with any other facet of your garden, the outcome largely depends on the work that you are willing to put into the project.
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