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How To Espalier A Tree

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The art and science of espaliering is typically used to grow fruit trees in a small space, but it also works well with some ornamental trees. An espaliered tree is trained to grow along a wall or fence, in a neatly prescribed, fairly two dimensional form. Apple, pear and plum trees are often chosen for this growing and trimming method, but you can also espalier ornamentals like roses and magnolias. The following basic guide can help you get started with this interesting method.

Tree Selection

Although nearly any tree can be espaliered if started early enough, fast growing trees work best. This is because they will quickly fill in the framework over a couple of seasons so you won't have to spend many years on the initial training. Select young trees that have a strong central trunk and at least two vigorous lateral branches.

Framework Options

There are several options when it comes to the look of the espalier:

  • Horizontal Cordon: This is the standard espalier look, used for both its neat appearance and because it allows maximum fruiting while growing along a wall. A central trunk is trained vertically. From this trunk, evenly spaced horizontal branches are trained at equal spacings.
  • Candelabra: This style of espalier is slightly more complicated and requires more time to pull off. The central trunk is trained upward sufficiently to produce at least two strong lateral branch levels. It is then prune so that the trunk splits into two. The lateral branch levels are allowed to grow horizontal for a season or two, and then they are trained vertically. The same is done for the split trunk. The result looks like a candelabra. It is used for both ornamental and fruit production reasons.
  • Fence or Weave: This is the most complicated espalier style, and it is generally reserved for purely ornamental styles. A series of young trees are planted relatively closely along the wall. The tree is then pruned to one strong lateral branch and the trunk. They are trained at in opposite directions, laid across the fence at an angle. This is repeated for each tree in the row, so that the angled branches cross and create the appearance of a grid.

Setting the Framework

Creating the framework requires just a few supplies. You will need galvanized wood screw eye bolts or masonry screw eye bolts, depending on the material of your fence or wall. These are inserted into the wall. Place the bolts in the pattern you plan to grow your tree. Then, thread trellis wire through the eye bolts and tie it in place. This should look like a wire map of your eventual espalier. Now you only need to plant the tree at the base of the design.

Basic Training

Pruning occurs in late winter, since this will encourage the tree to produce new branches. Cut off all branches except those that you are training along the lateral wires. These are tied loosely to the wire with cloth ties. The central trunk is trained to the vertical wire. Allow the central trunk to grow until it reaches it's desired final height, and then top the tree. Pruning can be one of the more difficult aspects of espaliering. Contact a local tree trimming company like Mead Tree & Turf Care Inc if you need help with this step.