Espalier Fruit Trees: How to Prune and Train

When you have a limited amount of yard space yet desire the beauty and yield of fresh fruit, espalier fruit trees are the answer. To successfully yield plenty of fresh fruit you will need to learn to train and prune the trees. Following a few simple steps will have you on your way to enjoying the fruits of your labor.

Step 1: Choosing the Right Fruit

The first step is to make sure you choose a fruit and espalier design that work well together and will grow in your climate. There are certain espalier designs that work better with fruit trees, such as the cordon designs. Apples are certainly the easiest type of fruit and there are many varieties. You can also choose pear, peach, pomegranate and many others.

Step 2: Set Up Your Training Wall

Before you plant your trees you need to have the training wall or trellis prepared. You need to have the material ready to attach your tree and its branches to. If you are using a trellis, have it firmly in place. If you are using a wall, have some galvanized wire in place. If you are using no support backing, you still need to have some stakes and string or material ready.

Step 3: Plant the Tree Correctly

In order to be able to train the tree correctly you need to plant it correctly. This means planting it about ten inches from the wall. Choose the wall that gets the most hours of sunlight per day, as the fruit tree needs about 6 to 8 hours of sun exposure.

If you have chosen a design that works with more than one tree, like the Belgian fence, you need to plant the trees approximately 6 to 8 feet apart. It’s best to purchase the tree saplings 2 to 3 feet high so you can begin the training process right away.

Step 4: Attach the Tree

Once you have planted your sapling you can begin the training and pruning immediately. Attach the sapling to the training device, gently. There should be no extreme pulling. The sapling should be very pliable and easy to maneuver.

Start the pruning process by pruning down the top to around 20 inches. This will begin the growth of the branches that you want to train. Any branches that already exist should be gently attached to the trellis in the design that you chose. Every branch that is left over should be pruned off.

Step 5: Wait Patiently, Prune, Repeat

The full training process takes time, which is the only down fall to espalier trees. You must just keep pruning the branches that grow where you don’t want them to and attaching the branches in the places you want them to be. It depends on the design you have chosen as to where you attach the branches. Keep checking and pruning each week.

The full mature espalier fruit tree does not occur until three seasons of growth and regular pruning. In fact, it is best to prune off the fruit growth of the first year, no matter how difficult that may be. This will pay off in the end with an abundance of fruit and a lovely tree to look at.