Espalier- Espalier designs, Espalier cordon and Plant List

An Espalier can transform your shrub or tree into a glorious sight.Espalier are used to train shrubs or trees into a formal branching pattern on a fence, trellis, wall, or even on freestanding posts and wires. Get facts and information on how to use espalier, design choices, how to create a simple tiered cordon, and a list of popular trees and shrubs for espalier.


Fruit Tree Espalier

Uses of Espalier

You can use espalier to soften walls, enhance fences, grow fruits in small gardens, and create live dividers (known as Belgian fences) for narrow spaces, or for plant supports. Espalier is an art form that anyone can learn.

Espalier in Cold and Warm Climates

If you happen to live in a cold climate, grow your espalier against a south-facing, dark wall (like brick), which draws heat from the sun and enhances the plant’s growth. In warm regions, avoi planting against dark walls in full sun. A reflective white-painted wall or fence out of direct sunlight is a better bet.

Design and Shapes for Espalier

You should choose a pattern that suits the size of your wall, your taste, and your desire to prune. Shapes range from fans, palmettes, and candelabras to tiers, fountains, triangles, and diamonds. Or, instead of a predictable design, you can let whimsy be your guide and create a shape all your own. I’ve seen free-form wavy shapes, as well as Boulevard cypress pruned into heart-shaped espaliers. The key to successful espalier is having fun and doing a design you like.

How to create a simple tiered cordon on a wall, a good DIY project.

1. On a brick wall, mark with chalk where you want to drill for the eyebolts that will support the espalier wires. Work with a level to keep each tier horizontal. Make your first mark 18 inches from soil level. Sketch in marks at the same height every 2 to 3 feet to the ends of the wall. Add another line of marks 18 inches above the first. Repeat until you reach the top of the wall or the desired height of your espalier.

Tip: Variation of Theme- If you prefer a more complicated pattern, bend the branches as they develop. Tie them with landscape twine to the wire in the pattern of your choice.

2. Using a masonry drill, drill holes at every mark, then insert 5 to 7” eyebolts with expanding lead anchors into the prepared holes. Thread 14 gauge galvanized wire through one eyebolt, winding the tall around the longer side 5 or 6 times to fix it in place. Stretch the long wire horizontally to the next eyebolt, threading it through the second hole, drawing it taut, and securing it as before. There should be 4 to 6 inches between the wire and the wall for air circulation.

3. For one tree or shrub, pound a vertical 4 foot stake in the ground at the planting site. Then plant a bareroot whip ( a young, typically unbranched shoot) next to it, about 2 inches above ground to keep the graft from growing roots. Keep the trunk straight by loosely tying it to the upright stake with a piece of twine looped around it in a figure 8. Slacken the twine as the trunk grows. Remove the stake when the pattern of growth is established.

4. With sharp pruners, snip off the top of the tree right below the bottom wire. Be sure to make your cut at a spot above where two buds show on either side of the stem.

5. When new shoots develop, select one to train upright and two to train to either side. Attach side shoots to the wire. Avoid making the ties so tight that the trunk and branches don’t have room to grow.

Tip: Never use wire to attach branches to the horizontal wires.

Next, rub all other developing shoots off the trunk until the plant reaches the second wire, and shorten shoots on the limbs by pinching,

6. When the main stem reaches the second wire, trim it just below the wire as in step 4, then train themain stem and two side branches as in step 5. Repeat this process for each level.

7. When growth reaches the top wire, cut off the top of the trunk but keep two branches on the sides. Take out the stake, and secure the trunk to the horizontal wires. Check each year to see if ties need replacing. If you see dead, diseased, or damaged branches during the growing season, remove them. Also take off wayward shotts that spoil the lines of the espalier.


Mature Espalier

Popular Tree and Shrubs for Espalier

Camellia- Camellia species

Flowering quince- Chaenomeles speciosa

Lemon, lime, orange- Citrus species

Cotoneaster- Cotoneaster species

Dwarf apple, crabapple- Malus species

Mock orange- Philadelphus coronarius

Firethorn- Pyracantha coronarius

Yew- Taxus species

Viburnum- Viburnum species

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