Espaliering means training a tree or shrub to grow against a flat surface. It’s a technique which has been used in France for centuries, particularly with pear and apple trees, and it makes a lot of sense because it means you can grow what is normally a large tree in a very small area. Apples, pears, apricots, plums, cherries, almonds and citrus can be espaliered, as well as ornamentals including crabapples, flowering cherries, flowering plums and cotoneasters.
Creating your own espalier
Select a sunny spot – a north facing wall is ideal. If you’re espaliering against a wall or fence, remember that some materials (for example Colorbond or dark coloured bricks) can become very hot and will damage the branches of the espaliered plant. In this situation, erect a framework about 30cm (12″) from the wall.
You can choose symmetrical patterns or you may prefer an informal espalier, which can take almost any shape. Whichever style you prefer, you still need to prune regularly to achieve a flat, two dimensional effect which is characteristic of all espaliers.
Pruning and training:
Creating an espalier is a time consuming task which requires both patience and dedication. Basically you need to remove branches which cannot be fitted into the pattern. As branches meet the wire or support they are to be trained along, tie them gently but firmly. Ties are needed about every 20cm (8″), and they will have to be loosened and adjusted as the plant grows. The easiest pattern to follow is a simple horizontal espalier (see diagram), where the plant is trained on three wires.
This can be achieved by starting with a fruit tree which has three branches (extra branches can be cut off). Plant the tree in the centre of the framework you have erected. Tie the two side branches to the first wire, one on either side of the trunk. Shorten these branches to encourage new growth or fruiting spurs. Allow the central or most upright branch to become the trunk. It should be encouraged to grow up to reach the higher wires. At the second wire, cut it back leaving three buds (the top bud facing upwards). The buds on either side will form side branches to be trained along the second wire. The central bud will continue to grow upwards towards the third wire, where it is cut again in the same way. Most fruit trees are given a hard prune in winter, after the crop has been harvested. Plants which are trained as espaliers will also need to be pruned about three times during the growing season.
Our segment was filmed at Acorn Nursery, 673 Canterbury Road, Surrey Hills, VIC, 3127. Phone: (03) 9890 3182. Like many nurseries, they sell fruit trees already espaliered. Prices are about $125-$295 for apples, $290 for olives and $195 for citrus.