How to Espalier Apple Trees

Maintenance and training of espalier apple trees. What type of apple tree to use. When trellising or cordoning is preferable to espaliering an apple tree. Espalier patterns.

Cordon pattern espaliered apple tree.

Cordon Espalier

Espalier is the art of training a plant to grow flat against a support--usually a wall or fence.  Espaliering plants both saves space and enhances the beauty of the garden.  Espaliering fruit trees can make fruit production possible in a very narrow space.

Apple trees are often grown in this fashion as they are one of the easiest fruits to espalier.  Apples develop beautifully on espaliered trees because the meticulous pruning required to keep the shape exposes each fruit to sufficient sun and air.

What Type of Apple Tree is Best for Espalier?

Espaliered trees planted 35" apart.

An inexpensive, bare-root whip is what you want.  A larger, older tree's branches will be too stiff for you to tie them to the wires without breaking them.

Variety does not matter, but for best fruit production, plant a self-fruitful variety or plant 2-3 compatible types.

All the apple trees offered in the left column of this page are bare-root whips.

When Not to Espalier Apple Trees Against a Wall

Apples planted at a 45 degree angle.

A wall--especially one made of brick or stone--will store and radiate heat back onto any plant grown against or in close proximity to it.  In a cold climate, this is a benefit.  In hot summer areas where temperatures climb into the 90s F., the heat from the wall can cook the fruit.

A south-facing wall will, of course, get hotter than a north wall, so keep this in mind when deciding where to espalier apple trees.

In places where summers sizzle, it is better to train the trees against free-standing trellises.

Trellised apple trees enjoy better air circulation and you can walk all around them to inspect, prune, and harvest.

How to Espalier Apple Trees

Apple trees espaliered over a door in a brick wall.

A Word of Caution:

Be careful not to damage or remove the fruiting spurs as you prune the tree each season.

Once removed, fruit spurs do not always grow back.

Run horizontal wires across the wall at 18 inch intervals.

Plant a bare-root apple whip at least 6 inches from the wall to allow for vegetative growth and air circulation.

Cut the whip off just below the height of the first wire (18 inches from the ground).

During the tree's first summer, 3 buds will grow below the level of this cut.  Select the top shoot as the tree's trunk and train the 2 side shoots onto the lowest wire by tying them to it.  These side shoots will become the tree's main branches.  Pinch any other shoots that form along the trunk off.

Espaliered apple tree branch tied to a wire.

Espaliered apple tree branch tied to a wire.

Pinch back the tips of shoots which form on the branches (laterals).

Cut the trunk off just below the second wire (36 inches above the ground).  This will force the 3 buds just below the cut into growth.  Select the top shoot as the trunk extension and the side shoots as the next 2 main branches.  Tie them to the second wire and remove any excess shoots from the trunk.

Prune the laterals on the first set of main branches back to 3 buds each.  These buds will develop into fruiting spurs.

Repeat this process until the espalier apple tree is as tall as you want it to be.  Once the side branches have been trained along the top wire, remove the trunk extension to stop upward growth.

To Use Stakes

Trunk and bamboo stake.

Set the tree into the soil at an angle. Place a stake against the trunk.

Espalier apple tree tied to a bamboo stake.

Tie the tree's leader to the bamboo stake as it grows.

A Cordoned Apple Tree vs an Espaliered Apple

This cordoned apple tree is displaying its rich fall color.

This cordoned apple tree is displaying its rich fall color.

A cordon (meaning cord or rope) is a tree which has been shaped or trained into a living fence.  An espaliered apple tree is patterned against a wall or fence.  A cordoned apple is tied to a free-standing fence made of rails or wires which is not near a wall.

If there is no fence in the area in which you wish to plant the cordoned apple tree, make one by sinking posts into the soil at both ends and tying wires to the posts at 18 inch intervals.

The fence needs to be at least 2 wires tall.

Train your cordon by following the instructions for training an espalier.  Once all the main branches have been trained, cut the laterals back to 4 leaves early each summer.

Each winter, remove all woody growth which extends beyond the fruit buds of each spur.  Keep the laterals trimmed to 4 leaves until the fruit buds form, then cut them off just above the fruit buds.

Espalier Patterns

Palmette espalier pattern.

Palmette Espalier Pattern

Several apple trees espaliered in the palmette pattern on the same wall.

Palmette Espalier Apple Trees

In the Palmette espalier pattern, the side branches are trained up at a 45 degree angle and tied to the wires as they cross them.  The lowest branches are also kept longer than the ones above them.

To make a Candelabra espalier, bend the main branches upward after they have grown 6-24 inches from the trunk.  You can make a single U, double or triple U shape of any desired width. 

Just remember to make the lowest U wide enough to accommodate any other Us which will be growing inside of it.

A French Lattice can be created by planting several trees equal distances apart and training their branches to form a grid.

Fan Espalier

The number and type of espalier patters you can create using apple trees is limited only by your imagination.

The Apple Adventure Continues on These Pages:

The Best Rootstocks for Grated Apple Trees

Apple Tree Pruning Guide

Growing and Caring for Apples

Buy a Dwarf Apple Tree

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