How to Espalier Trees

What You'll Need
Espalier saplings
Wire or string
Props (trellis or open wall space)

Espalier trees work well as a hedge or yard break. The espalier method is also a practical and creative way to utilize space when space is scarce. Espalier trees are also efficient when you desire to grow fruit.

Espalier Defined in a Nutshell

You may have already gathered that espalier trees are not a type of tree but rather a method of growing trees. Simply put, it is growing your tree against some form of wall or boundary and training it to grow flat as opposed to round and bushy.

Step 1 – Plan Your Design

If you have already done your research and know that espalier trees are the choice for you, your next step is to consider your design. Think about your use of espalier trees. Is your purpose to enhance your privacy, to make a creative design, to enjoy fruit, to create a boundary or to add some greenery? 

Whatever the purpose is, draw a design plan so you know what will work and how many trees to purchase. Keep in mind that if you are planting espalier fruit trees, they do best on the east or south side for sun exposure.

Step 2 – Make Your Purchase

If you are growing espalier trees for the fruit, decide what type of fruit and how many trees will fit. If you are growing for privacy, you will need to decide what tree will serve the best purpose for you.

Next you will need to decide if you will purchase the tree already espaliered or if you will train it yourself. This decision might be based on expenses. If you decide to purchase trees already espaliered, you will pay more. But you won’t have to spend considerable time waiting for the results. Whatever you decide, you need to look for dwarf or semi-dwarf types.

Step 3 – Prepare for Planting

Generally you want to prepare for the espalier process by stringing up support before you plant the trees. No matter what surface you use as a backdrop, string up some galvanized wire or other material. Start 15 inches above the ground. String three or four rows, evenly spaced, until you reach 6 feet high. This is your training system.

Step 4 – Plant the Trees

If you are planting against a wall or a trellis, use a 2- to 3-foot sapling for best results. Plant the sapling approximately 10 inches away from the wall to allow for circulation as growth occurs. Plant trees approximately 2 feet apart, depending on the espalier design you are using. Give these new growths plenty of water.

Step 5 – Espalier the Trees

Once you have some branch growth, prune the branches that grow on the sides of the tree you are not using. Choose the strongest branches and attach them to the support system for horizontal growth. You will continue to train in this way until you have a look and design you want.

Your fruited espalier trees will take a few years to fully produce but will bear more fruit than a normal fruit tree. Regular maintenance will make these trees attractive, with minimal use of space.