Learning how to espalier your favorite fruit tree or ornamental shrubs is a great experience for the gardener. If you are new, and wondering how to espalier and what types of plants do best for espaliers, see: How to Espalier Fruit Trees and Ornamental Plants, and for pruning tips, How to Prune Established Espalier Trees.
If you are just starting your espalier adventure, you should consider purchasing trees that have a framework of branches already in place from a nursery. Otherwise, you should follow the same example of locating good specimens that have a good framework of branches as well. Espalier fruit trees should always be on a dwarfing rootstock.
What is Espalier?
An espalier is a trellis upon which a tree or shrub is trained so that its trunk and branches lie in one plane, or a tree or shrub that is trained in that fashion. The meaning of the term is commonly extended to include any tree or shrub trained with its trunk and branches in one plane, whether it is grown on a trellis, against a wall, or is supported in some way. Espalier is also used as a verb to describe the training of such trees and shrubs.
How to Build Espalier Supports
Your espalier trees or shrubs must be supported by a trellis or wire fence, the branches being evenly spaced and securely fastened, or they will soon become unshapely. When they are grown against a wall or fence wires should be stretched taut between eyelet nails driven into the wood or brickwork and held 4 to 6” out from the wall and 1’ apart. Branches must not be fastened close against the bricks or wood. In the open garden a trellis must be erected, and while strong support may not be required by a young tree for a time, it is advisable to erect the permanent trellis in the first place.
Strong support posts, 7 to 8’ long, are required at each end for straining the wires. The posts should be driven at least two feet into the ground. If several trees are being planted, smaller intermediary post may be placed at intervals between the end posts. The bottom wire should be set about 15 inches above the ground level, and the other wires at intervals of 1 feet above. The top wire should be 4 ft. 6 in., or 5 ft. above the ground, according to the number of tiers of branches needed.