Espalier Fruit Trees
Espalier fruit trees are a great way to save space and have
fresh home-grown fruit too!
First a few things you should know
- All espalier forms need a strong structure for support and training while they are young. Once the branches are thicker the structure can sometimes be removed.
- Branches that grow horizontally produce more fruit. An espalier tree may not produce as much fruit as a 3-D tree, but it still produces a lot.
- Pruning, at least twice a year is part of the deal. It may sound daunting, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be fine.
- Most fruit trees require a lot of care. Be prepared to apply dormant spray once or twice during winter as a preventative measure, to keep an eye out for pest and disease issues, and to treat them. Many organic solutions for treatment are available.
Espaliers at Portland Nursery
At Portland Nursery we offer apples, Asian pears, European pears and cherries in a fence shape. Each tree has 2-3 tiers, with 2-6 different varieties grafted to a central stem. Because apples, pears and cherries mostly require the presence of at least 2 different varieties for pollination and fruiting, combinations of compatible varieties are used. Our growers choose the combinations so we usually don’t know what varieties are available until trees arrive on site.
This is an example of a dormant 3-tier, 3 variety Asian pear.
Each tier is one variety.
To train fruit trees into these forms you’ll need to start with very young trees called whips. Portland Nursery stocks small fig trees, but not additional small fruit trees. The Home Orchard Society is a good resource for finding starts or to learn to graft your own.
In addition, you can refer to our handout on Espalier Trees.
Site – Fruit trees need full sun, at least 6 hours a day. Espaliers can fit in narrow spaces, but need plenty of light.
Soil – Well-drained moist soil is best for most fruit trees. Soil pH needs vary by tree type, but adding lime to increase pH is generally a good idea in Portland. Adding compost, 1 part compost to 3 parts soil will increase drainage.
Space – Plants should be placed 6-12” from the wall or support structure to allow for air circulation & easy access. Branches on espalier trees can be kept shorter to fit into small spaces or can be allowed to grow to their full width (4-10’ in both directions, depending on root stock). Spacing depends on how wide you plan to allow branches to extend, and what kind of espalier design you choose.
Support – A support structure is important, especially during the early training period. Set it up before planting. Structures can be built with many different materials - wood posts connected with wire are commonly used. Existing fences, trellis and buildings are good to start, but may need adjustments - a scaffold created with eye hooks & wire can create a strong support structure.