How to Espalier

Starting a young tree in this elegant form is a simple task

Antonio Reis, shot by Sue Roman

Espalier is a technique that can add serious wow-factor to your garden. It means to grow your tree two-dimensionally. This saves space, and makes it easier to attend to the tree. Check out the nitty-gritty espalier how-to by Peter Thevenot.

My interest in espalier began when my wife, Beth, and I visited Mount Vernon. I remember being taken by the way the paths in the vegetable garden were lined with plants shaped into low hedges. As I bent down to inspect them, I discovered they were actually espaliered pear trees that bore fruit. On the two walls that bordered the garden, there were more espaliers trained into fan shapes that served as focal points. The way these trees were artfully trained made the garden seem so inviting, while also lending structure and balance to the garden’s overall design.

After returning home, I read all the books that I could find on espalier and spent long hours in the hot Tennessee sun with pruning shears in hand, trying to recreate the shapely trees that I had seen at Mount Vernon. Since then I’ve mastered many designs and even opened a nursery that specializes in espaliered trees. And through the years, I’ve learned that all it takes to create beautiful espaliers is a good plan, some judicious pruning, and a little patience. Read more.


How to Espalier

Learn how to build a trellis that you can train a fruit tree to espalier on with this step-by-step guide.

Materials Needed and Process

1. Dig two holes. Each hole should be 2 1/2 feet deep, and 8 feet apart.

2. Place 4×4, rot-resistant posts into each hole. We used 7-foot-high cedar posts, but you can go higher if you want.

3. Fill the holes back up with dirt. Tamp the holes down.

4. Make a mark 18 inches up from the ground on each post. This is where you will string the wire between the posts. Continue making marks every 18 inches as you go higher up the posts.

5. Drill holes in the middle of the post at your marked intervals. Drill in 4-inch eyebolts. Make sure you leave two inches between the post and the eyebolt loop. That’s where your tree branch will grow.

6. Run 12-gauge wire between the posts. Make sure the wire is taut.

7. Plant your tree dead-center between the two posts, and just in front of the wire. Apples, pears, and quince trees make the best espalier.

8. Prune off any branches that don’t line up with your trellis. Once the tree only has branches that line up with your wire, tape those branches to the wire using nursery tape.

9. Leave the tips of the branches untied. This allows the branches to continue to grow out.

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