Anyone can have beautiful fruit trees on their property, and it doesn’t have to take up a lot of space.
It is called “espalier trees,” a growing method that goes back to 1400 BC, when it was used in ancient Egypt. Espalier, if you’re curious, is just a fancy French-Italian way to say “grow flat.”
Your espalier apple tree would be pruned in such a way that it would lay flat against the wall or fence. They would be grown similarly to grapes in a vineyard, and it’s not limited to apple trees. This way of training trees works well on just about most trees, including peaches, pears and figs.
There are several reasons homesteaders grow espalier trees:
- The trees grow in tight spaces.
- The heat of a wall protects them from frost.
- They are easy to pick.
- You can grow more varieties of trees in a given area.
- Many people consider them artistic and visually appealing.
One other great reason to grow espalier trees is to provide air flow, which helps prevent disease. You also have an easier time to inspect the tree and fruit, making it simpler to maintain and pick off pests you may not have seen in a full tree.
Dwarf and semi-dwarf trees are preferable. Spur-bearing apple trees are the best fruit producers when grown this way. Their slower growth and stature make it a great candidate. These trees will produce as much fruit as a full-sized tree.
This growing process can take years to complete, but that is just the nature of the game when dealing with fruit trees. In addition to the three, here is a list of supplies you will need:
- Wire cutter
- Pruning shears
- 12-gauge wire
- 3/16-inch eye bolts
- Masonry wall mounts for eye bolts if using a concrete wall to anchor
- Drill gun with 3/16-inch drill for eye bolts
Below is how you can espalier at home. As a quick note, the basics of the process are to prune the tree into the desired shape, which is typically three arms on each side. Get as basic or creative as you like.
Mark the wall that you will have your tree against. Make one vertical line (about five-feet long) representing the tree, and then make three horizontal lines (12-feet long) bisecting the vertical line (so you have six feet on each side) representing your branches.
The first horizontal line should be about 18 inches from where the crown of the tree will be, the second horizontal line at 35 inches from the crown, and the third line at 54 inches from the crown.
Of course, these figures can be adjusted for your situation.
Place your eye bolt anchors at the ends of the horizontal lines you made, and string your wire through as tightly as possible. You are going to train your tree to put new branches along the wire with ties as they grow.
Now you have the basic idea of the future shape of your tree. Dig your hole as per the directions that came with your plant, at the base of the vertical line. The scary part is about to happen. Use pruning shears to cut 2-4 inches above the lowest wire off your tree. Don’t worry, this is the way things have to be. Even if you have a 6-foot tree, go ahead and cut it.
As your tree starts to grow new limbs, only keep the two limbs closest to the bottom horizontal wires. Prune all other side branches, and just let the leader grow to the second set of horizontal wires. Repeat the process of cutting side branches, just leaving the two branches closest to the horizontal wires.
Make sure not to wait too long to train the side branches. Working with them when they are soft and bendable assures you don’t damage the branches. Soon you will have some great looking espalier trees and more fruit in smaller spaces!
Have you ever grown an espalier tree? What advice would you add? Share it in the section below: