Another cool, blustery spring day makes one wonder when the “normal” temps are going to start for this year! Many perennials are getting off to a slow start but the cool weather hasn’t hindered my apple espalier (pronounced es-PAL-yay) one bit. The Fuji apple tree has doubled, maybe tripled its blossoms this year making a pledge to provide some tasty red jewels come Fall.
I hadn’t noticed the multitude of pink-fringed white fluffy blossoms on my Fuji tree but today they were brilliant under the overcast sky. I also have a Gala apple espalier and its blossoms are notable but not like the Fuji. I suppose this is to be expected though as the Gala tree is in its second growing season in my garden and the Fuji in its third.
I have always been fascinated with the art of espalier – the ancient European method of growing a tree, shrub or vine on a flat plane. I’ve always wanted to utilize it for growing fruit and last year ‘the builder’ and I constructed our first one. We planted two cross pollinating apple trees (Fuji and Gala) in a sunny location just in front (six inches or so) of a very bland stretch of vinyl fence. We (I mean, he) constructed a free-standing structure (primarily of pine logs, light-weight cable, turnbuckles and eye bolts) also in front of the fence and parallel with the trees. We chose a simple espalier form (horizontal cordon) and started training the semi-dwarf trees along the structure in the desired design.
At first it looked a little strange as we had to “mold” the trees existing branches to the framework. In fact, one visitor said, “What are you doing to those poor trees, they look crucified!” But over the season the mature branches conformed to the pattern and we easily trained the new branches to become part of the design.
This year the apple espalier has become quite a focal point to this part of our outdoor area providing dimension and interest to an otherwise sanitary-looking, plain fence. Yes, espalier does require some intermittent attention during the growing season, such as pruning to maintain the chosen framework, but it easy to tend and takes just a bit of time. Plus, there’s the wonderful fruit to look forward to. Last year we shared four apples but this year there’s potential for so many more…
If you have a small outdoor space, espalier is definitely the ideal way to grow fruit in your backyard. Once mature, espalier trees can produce more fruit than traditionally grown trees and because they are less susceptible to breaking branches they have an incredible life span with some reports of trees being 150 years old and still producing fruit!
For home gardeners that want to grow fruit trees, I would say espalier is the best way and it can make your day!
How-to Espalier Videos:
Here are a couple of short videos on how to set up a structure to espalier a fruit tree and how and when to prune your espalier trees.
How-to Espalier Article:
In-depth article from Fine Gardening