Trees to espalier

the best ornamentally-trained trees |

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Learning which are the best trees to espalier can make a huge difference to your outside space. Delightfully decorative to look at, especially when covered in blossom and fresh leaves, creating these precisely trained trees is easier than you think. 

A horticultural technique traditionally practiced with the best fruit trees, the aim is to encourage plants with a straight ‘leader’ trunk and horizontal branches or tiers at evenly spaced intervals. Originally devised so ripening fruit could benefit from the warmth retained by a brick or stone wall, these exquisite features were stalwarts of many 17th century kitchen garden ideas and French Potagers. 

Although the highly ornamental results have evolved over the years to include the graceful palmette where the arms are trained at an oblique angle; the interlacing Belgian pattern and formal ‘U’ shaped cordons, the classic arrangement with its distinctive horizontal arms remains the most popular. Today this growing technique has been used to great effect with a wide range of non-fruiting varieties. Ideal for ‘greening-up’ garden walls and garden fence it’s also perfect for small gardens and forming leafy dividers.

‘Espaliers must be pruned more routinely than pleached trees, so they don't make a full 'green screen', but they do have the advantage of bearing lovely flowers and fruit’, say the experts at Hedges Direct.

1. Apple

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Learning how to plant apple trees to espalier is the most popular option. ‘Apple and pears are most suited to the Espalier form and if you only have room for the one tree then look out for a self-fertile variety although you may get cross pollination from a neighboring garden,’ says Jon Munday, Nursery manager at Blackmoor. 

‘Apple Red Falstaff and Pear Conference are both self-fertile varieties and would be our choice in any garden. Both varieties have been awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit. With gardens becoming smaller planting an espaliered fruit tree against a wall or fence is the perfect solution. It makes the tree easier to prune and the fruit easier to pick.’

2. Pear

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Pears with their short fruiting spurs, rather than tip shoots, are ideal for espaliers. Not only does this training technique encourage good air circulation and bud formation but gives fruit space to ripen too. Specific fruit varieties are grafted onto rooting plants selected for their individual growth characteristics. 

The team at Chris Bowers & Sons, one of the UK’s leading Fruit tree specialists say, ‘Quince C is the most commonly grown rootstock for Pears and makes an easily managed, productive tree that grows well over widely varying soils. The best stock for cordon, column, fan/espalier or bush growing. 200-260cm’s on average height and spread, less if grown in a large container.’ Varieties Concorde, Invincible and Conference Pear are reliable and flavorsome. Learn how to prune pear trees to maximize fruit production, too.

3. Pyracantha

Also know as Firethorn, this hardy evergreen is instantly recognized by its dark glossy leaves and mass of tiny orange berries. Loved by birds and wildlife for both the tasty fruit and sharp, protective thorns, it makes a stunning espalier grown either against a wall or as a freestanding shrub. Sun loving and unfussy when it comes to soil, providing it is well drained, this handsome shrub will grow up to 9ft (3m) high and wide and is happy in HDSA zones 6-9. 

In early summer the stems are covered with fragrant white flowers adored by pollinators for their high quantities of nectar. To preserve the maximum crop of berries, prune directly after flowering, and snip off any unwanted side shoots. Tie new growth into the supporting framework during November (as the plant falls dormant) using soft twine.

4. Camellia

Although any camellia can be grown as an espalier, it’s the fast-growing tree and sun loving Camellia sasanqua varieties that are the most successful. Fall flowering, choose from single open blooms through to blowsy, peony-style flowers in shades of deep pink to white. Fully hardy down to temperatures of 14F (-10C), these elegant shrubs can reach up to 10ft (3m) tall and 5ft (1.5) wide. Ideal for a striking and fragrant display when backyards are notably short on color, they look spectacular when neatly trained. 

Many camellias dislike being grown directly up against a wall, largely due to the retained heat. Instead support a framework of tensioned wires or timber battens on a pair of sturdy posts, sunk into the ground 2-3 feet (60-90cm) parallel to the wall. Tie the plant at 8inch (20cm) intervals using soft natural or plastic twine.

5. Crab apple

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Flowering crab apples are compact, ornamental trees ideal for training as espalier. With showy blooms in spring and vibrant fruits in fall, they add brilliant seasonal interest to even the smallest of spaces and are popular with wildlife and birds too. The crop of small, round fruits often remains on the branches long into the Winter adding splashes of gold, orange, red and russet brown. 

One advantage of crab apples is that they are all self-fertile, meaning that you only need a single plant for guaranteed fruit. John Downie, Indian Magic and Red Sentinel are all reliable growers and largely disease resistant. Dolgo also known as Pink Glow originates from Russia so is exceptionally hardy down to HDSA zone 3. 

These fruiting trees tend to be easy to train into complex espaliers. If you fancy trying a more ornate format, then these are the plants to use. Candlelabras, ‘Y’ shape fans and Palmettes all work well but do require some patience.

6. Hornbeam

‘Due to Hornbeam’s ability to regenerate after pruning, this popular deciduous tree is ideal for forming espalier or pleached trees,’ say the team at Practicality Brown. ‘It has a very compact and closed crown with a strictly vertical trunk with smooth dark-grey bark. ’ Hardy, tolerant of most positions and soil types, this handsome tree creates majestic, leafy barriers with vibrant foliage in spring and fall.

7. Quince

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Looking for a dramatic and unusual fruit to train as an espalier? Then try Quince. Deciduous with large, single, pale pink flowers in May-June followed by curiously hairy and fragrant golden fruit in late October and November, these exceptionally long-lived trees can be successfully trained into elaborate shapes. They do require well-aerated and free-draining soil and a warm, sheltered and sunny spot is a must for the best flavored fruit. Although tip bearing specimens they can be grown against a wall as fan-shaped espaliers. Their weighty fruit does require a sturdy wooden or metal framework but looks spectacular.

8. Medlar

Although tip bearing, Medlars can be trained into a fan-shape espalier, as the impressive example at The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall shows. It’s a slightly more relaxed arrangement than a formally espaliered apple or pear, but it has a distinct, individual character all of its own. An ancient fruit popular with Greeks and Romans, they were also loved by the Victorians and were a common feature of many kitchen gardens. Unusually the fruit is best harvested in October or November, after the first frost and left to ‘blet’ or sit and ferment for two or three weeks before using. This process helps to break down the tough and bitter outer skin, sweetening the flesh inside.

9. Bloodgood Japanese maple

‘Some trees are so beautiful they don’t even need flowers to be worth growing this way, so imagine the lovely Japanese maple trees trained across a wall in  a beautiful Japanese garden,’ suggest the experts at The Tree Center. 

It’s a rather a different approach to the usual apple and pear trees, but with some careful pruning and tying the colorful results can be spectacular, particularly against a black painted wall or fence. With its deeply-cut, intense red-purple foliage, this large deciduous shrub makes a dramatic feature right from when the fresh shoots appear in early spring through the last leaf fall in October-November. While it is happy in moist but well-draining, slightly acidic soil it does prefer a sheltered spot in partial shade.

10. Photinia red robin

(Image credit: Steve Taylor ARPS / Alamy Stock Photo)

‘Pleached and espaliered trees provide a wonderful architectural look within a garden, but they also do so much more,’ says Mike Glover, Managing Director of Barcham Trees. 

‘Small gardens that require privacy from neighboring properties can use pleached trees as a frame of foliage without taking up much precious lateral space to attractively create a green wall above fence height. Popular trees include the evergreen Photinia Red Robin. However, these trees do need maintaining to tame the growth to your desired shape. For deciduous trees, this is best done when the trees are dormant in the winter and for evergreen trees the time for pruning is in the spring, just before the new flush of fresh growth emerges.

Where’s best to grow an espaliered tree?

Against or just in front of a wall is the ideal place to grow an espaliered fruit or ornamental tree. Not only will the plant benefit from the retained warmth and shelter, resulting in masses of blooms and fruits but the intricate shape of the carefully curated branches will make a stunning and attractive feature. Espaliered trees can also be grown as a freestanding screen. Great for adding garden screening and privacy, filtering strong sunlight or just as a softer alternative to solid fencing, they do require patience and some degree of care, but the results are well worth the effort.

Top tips for a successful espalier

Jill Morgan has spent the last 20 years writing for Interior and Gardening magazines both in print and online. Titles she has been lucky enough to work on include House Beautiful, The English

Home, Ideal Home, Modern Gardens and Although much of her career has involved commissioning and writing about reader homes and home improvement projects, her

everlasting passion is for gardens and outdoor living, which is what she writes about for Homes & Gardens. 

Espalier Trees for Every Garden

Get recommendations for fruit-bearing and ornamental trees that work great as espaliers, plus tips and tricks for training them By Nick McCullough

Espaliers are often seen as the high-maintenance hedging of the landscape design world. Sure, the time for training and hands-on maintenance is more than your standard tree or shrub, and they are often seen in the most formal and grand of gardens. But really, espaliers can work in almost any garden type: big and small, formal and informal, grand and modest.

The branches of these trees were trained into horizontal rows, mimicking the rails of the fence below.

For city gardeners, espaliers in containers or planted along a brick wall provide interest and life to a barren visual space. Compared to ivy, the maintenance and price are relatively low since it will provide instant vertical impact to the space without taking valuable square footage.

In theory, any tree or large shrub can be made into an espalier, but it is essential to select a species that will ultimately fit your space and conditions. Often when you see an espalier tree it is a fruit tree, namely apple and pear trees. The practice of training fruit-bearing plants dates back to the Romans and Egyptians, but it was the Europeans—specifically the French—who influenced and perfected the designs we see today.

Here are some reasons behind using the espalier technique with fruit-bearing trees:

  1. They are easy to train. They take training quite well when they are young and pliable, allowing you to shape them in a variety of forms.
  2. They do not grow completely out of the space in which they are intended to stay. Looking back into garden history, espaliers were found inside cloisters, where every inch was very valuable.
  3. When you have a flat tree against a wall or fence, it is much easier for the sun to penetrate the foliage, thus ripening fruit that might not have ripened otherwise. The espalier technique is often used in cooler climates where ripening fruit is difficult.

Edibles for an Espalier: Malus: Apple/Crabapple Pyrus: Pear Prunus: Stone fruit (peach, nectarine, plum, almond, etc.) Ficus carica: Fig Citrus: Lemon, orange, tangerine Vitis: Grapes

Ornamentals for an Espalier: Ginkgo biloba Fagus sylvatica culivars ( i. e., tricolor beech) Acer palmatum cultivars (Japanese maple) Pyrus calleryana (Callery pear) Tilia (linden) Katsura Cedrus atlantica (Blue Atlas cedar) Viburnum

However, if raising fruit is not your thing and you just want to add interest to a wall in a tight or design-barren space, there are numerous plants that take training quite well. From my experience, trees with good horizontal branching structure and a slower growth rate work best. One of the most beautifully trained trees I’ve ever seen is a Ginkgo biloba at Swarthmoore College in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. The tree was perfectly placed along a towering building where the tree was able to reach the third floor and the branches informally covered the building.

When I’m designing, I love using espalier as a screen along a fence area. There’s something about a living fence that just draws my eye in—the simplicity, restraint, the uniqueness—not sure exactly, but whatever it is, it works for me! Don’t let the informality of your garden or lack of vertical walls limit you from using an espalier in your landscape. Using a design element unexpectedly or outside the norm creates a garden that is uniquely yours and inspires others.

Grapes informally trained on the wall of a Belgian garden of designer Dina Deferme.

Horizontal cordon espalier being used as to screen off a private patio.

The horizontal cordon is very effective and uses minimal space.

A pear tree is horizontally trained against a garage, adding a bit of whimsy to an otherwise bland wall.

A gingko resides on the wall at Chanticleer Gardens, just outside Philadelphia, adding a touch of funkiness to the ruin gardens.

One of my favorite espaliered trees resides at Swarthmore College. The lanky gingko is trained in the palmette oblique fashion and races up the immense stone wall.

Clockwise from top: Don’t be overwhelmed when the espalier gets out of hand during the season-nip the branches back a leaf node to achieve the uniformity you want. Use 3-ply jute to attach the branch to the wire. (After a season the jute will rot away which keeps the branch from being girdled by the restraint. ) To help train younger plants, use braided stainless steel cabling and turnbuckles to create a sturdy guide.

On this living fence we trained the horizontal branches to be roughly 10-12” tall with about the same spacing between the runs.

Debora Silver employs a palmette verrier trained apple tree along a client’s garage in Birmingham, Michigan. The bright green foliage pops off the dark color of the garage, and the structure of the trees provides a wonderful pattern.

Watch this short video to see how to frame a vegetable garden with espaliered fruit trees.

Trees for Your Garden
Vertical Gardens

Flat trellis tree - crown shape, how to grow, garden ideas

As early as the 17th century, resourceful gardeners learned to tie tree branches to a frame to give the crown a flat shape. This is how the trellis method of growing woody plants appeared, which later began to be used to decorate the garden.

Trellis trees - a find for owners of small plots

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What is a trellis tree

Trellis trees are called trees with an artificially formed flat crown. The seedling is purposefully tied up in such a way that its branches develop in the same plane.

A trellis is used as a support - a structure consisting of poles and rows of wire stretched between them. Instead of poles, wire can also be attached to a fence or building wall.

For growing on a trellis, trees on dwarf rootstocks are chosen, due to which they grow not in height, but in width. How the crown of an adult tree will look depends on the way it is formed.

Crown shaping options

There are several generally accepted methods for crown shaping of trellis trees.

Cordon netting

Most often used for creating hedges - hence the name.

Seedlings are planted in a row every 25-30 cm. The central conductor is cut at a height of 10 cm from the level of the root collar. In the spring, when shoots begin to grow, they are removed, leaving two side branches for each plant. Then adjacent branches are tied crosswise and cut off above the junction. For several years, the operation is repeated, as if weaving a grid.

If the bark is cut off at the junction of the branches, over time they will grow together, forming a strong living wall.

Cordon trellis

Horizontal cordon

To form a horizontal cordon crown, plants are planted at a distance of 4-5 m from each other. As in the case of a mesh cordon, after spring pruning, two side branches (shoulders) are left, but they are not intertwined, but tied horizontally.

Usually a horizontal cordon has 1-2 tiers. The first is laid at a height of 20-30 cm from the soil level, the second - after another 50-60 cm.

This is how an apple tree looks like, formed in the form of a two-tiered cordon

U-shaped cordon

First, the seedling is formed in the same way as for a horizontal cordon. And when the shoulders grow to 45–50 cm, they are directed vertically. It turns out the skeleton of the crown, similar to a candlestick.

A year later, vertically growing branches can also be split in two.

U-shaped trellis hedge


A common form of crown formation is in the form of a fan of branches evenly extending from the central trunk. The shape of the crown resembles a palm leaf, which is why the shape was called a palmette.

Branches can be guided in different ways:

Palmette-shaped apple trees

Trees on a trellis can be given any other shape: circle, square, oval, pyramid - it all depends on the gardener's imagination and skill. For more information about mold gardens, see the video.

Which trees are suitable for growing on a trellis

Traditionally, dwarf fruit and berry plants are grown on trellises: apple, pear, quince, plum, peach, apricot.

Ornamental trees and shrubs with strong and flexible branches are suitable for creating flat hedges: hawthorn, maple, actinidia, swamp oak, hornbeam.

Lindens and beeches are often grown on trellises in the Netherlands.

This is what a trellis linden looks like

Benefits of the trellis method

The main advantage of trellis plantations is their compactness. The crown of such trees is only 25-30 cm wide, and taking into account the approaches - no more than a meter. This allows you to lay a full-fledged orchard even in very small areas.

The tapestry method has other advantages.

Tapestry plants can be used to decorate an unsightly building

Location of tapestries

Depending on the decorative tasks and the type of trees, their location on the site depends.

On the wall of a house or other building oriented to the south, heat-loving fruit trees - peaches, apricots, quince - feel great. Stone or brickwork not only protects from cold northern winds, but also accumulates solar heat, which is given to plants at night.

South-western and western walls are suitable for apple and pear trees - they do not tolerate full sun and prefer partial shade.

Often tapestries are mounted on the fence, using green spaces as both a hedge and a decorative element.

Flat living walls are ideal for zoning a site. With their help, you can isolate the decorative garden from the garden, highlight the recreation area, shade the gazebo.

Instead of roses - apple trees: a kind of trellis garden on an arch

Peculiarities of caring for trellis trees

In many ways, the agrotechnics of plants on a trellis is the same as during normal planting. But there are also features.

Since dwarf rootstocks are chosen for such plantings, their root system lies shallow and is more sensitive to lack of moisture. Trellised trees are watered more often than usual - about 1 time in 10 days, pouring 3-4 buckets of water under each. To retain moisture longer, it is best to mulch the soil.

Pruning and tying up branches requires some skill and patience. It is akin to the art of bonsai, especially if you plan to create an intricate shape. From the point of view of agricultural technology, everything is much simpler. Trees are pruned twice a year - in spring and at the end of summer, removing shoots that go beyond the intended contour.

Many nurseries now sell ready-made shaped trees with support, and you just have to keep them in shape. You can also contact a landscape design company. We will show you where it is better to place the trellises, design them, plant them and help form the trees.

Trees on a trellis - less area, more yield

A variety of garden shrubs are grown on trellises. But how many have heard of growing trees on trellises? Meanwhile, this method has been used for several centuries, and it has been successfully used in a number of countries.

Trees occupy the most space on the plot. Under them, you can not plant some plants that need light, and pruning fruit trees over the years becomes an increasingly serious test - because the tree grows up. However, there are simple methods that allow you to grow several times more trees than you had before, and still get bumper crops.

Of fruit trees, pear and apple trees lend themselves well to decorative molding

Trees on a trellis - the history and description of the method

Most often, this method is used by owners of small and cramped areas who want to have an orchard at their disposal. There are several obvious advantages to growing trees on a trellis - this method does not require a lot of space, and the garden looks original and aesthetically pleasing. The undoubted advantage is that all branches are equally well illuminated by the sun, and are not damaged by strong winds and do not break off under the weight of their own fruits in especially fruitful years, as they are securely fixed to the frame.

Due to their high decorative effect, trellis plants are successfully used for vertical gardening of houses and unaesthetic concrete fences. At the same time, fruit trees fixed on the southern walls often begin to bear fruit earlier, since they are better protected from frost.

The trellis method for fruit trees began to be used several centuries ago. The peasants of Switzerland and France became the pioneers of the unusual formation of the crown of trees. It was from there that the fashion for neat and branched fruit trees went.

Walls protect plants from cold winds. And some building envelopes, heated during the day, are able to give off heat at night, reducing the negative impact of frost on trees

support. Previously, only raspberries, other berry bushes, as well as tomatoes, grapes, pumpkins, cucumbers, etc. were grown in this way.

A prerequisite for the trellis method is the selection of slow-growing species of trees and shrubs. It is important to consider this before purchasing a seedling. After all, sometimes manufacturers use different types of stock. In nurseries, varietal trees and shrubs are often grafted onto the root system of specific crops, and sometimes even to another crop (pear to quince, plum to apricot, etc.). Manufacturers go to such tricks to limit the growth of the root system and improve fruiting. Within the same variety, one apple tree can grow by 2 m, and the other by 10, it all depends on the type of rootstock. Therefore, for growing on a trellis, trees on dwarf and semi-dwarf rootstocks are usually chosen.

Advantages of the trellis method

Growing trees on a trellis is gradually becoming popular not only among the owners of small country plots, but also among those who are seriously engaged in fruit crops. And here's why:

  • the trellis method is ideal for anyone who wants to grow fruit trees but is limited by the size of the plot. Many summer residents enjoy the fruits of crops for which there would be no place for ordinary planting;
  • fruit trees on a trellis can serve as a hedge and a natural garden fence;
  • trees on a trellis, lined up in even rows, allow you to divide the garden into several zones with clear boundaries;
  • growing trees can be given any shape - a cube, a ball, a fan or form a branched crown;
  • trees on a trellis are used for landscaping recreation areas, gazebos, arches and utility rooms. And some trees, for example, lindens with a crown in the shape of a cube or a ball, perfectly protect the house from gusts of rain and wind.

Trees such as swamp oak, field maple, sycamore and some others are ideal for trellis cultivation. They have a dense crown, which gives excellent shade, so it is good to have recreation areas under the canopy of these plants. And to create a simple green canopy, mulberry or bean is often used.

Installing trellis supports

Tree supports can be walls, fences or specially installed posts with tensioned wire. The trees will need a lot of sunlight, so they are usually planted on the south side and additionally protected from the wind, if necessary.

The basis of the trellis is a massive and durable structure, consisting of poles and a frame with a solid screen of slats and wire fixed to it. The trunk of the tree is fixed on a pole, and the branches are bred in different directions along the rails lying in the same plane. Thus, the crown of the tree begins to form not in a 3D projection ("I grow where I want" - in breadth, up, to the sides), but in 2D - only to the right, left and up.

Plants on trellises make it easy to zone the garden or create neat hedges at the border of plots

Trellis tree seedlings are planted in the same way as ordinary trees, only taking into account the distance between the supports. It's still a good idea to plant a couple more fruit trees nearby using the "normal" method - this is necessary for cross-pollination.

The classic U-shaped crown of a trellis-grown tree is called Palmette. During its formation, only two main branches are left, which are placed horizontally, and as the tree grows, they are directed upwards. But there are many other - more complex forms.

Apricots, peaches, cherries and sweet cherries are most often formed in the form of a fan palmette, in which the lateral shoots are directed diagonally upwards.

If desired, the crown can be formed completely in the horizontal plane. It is convenient to harvest from such a tree.

Wall tapestries are placed at a distance of 7-15 cm from the wall. Plants are planted about 25-30 cm from the trellis. Some species that usually form thick trunks can be planted further.

Pruning is the most important step in the development of a tree

Regular and precise pruning is an essential element of proper trellis tree care. It is she who allows you to give the tree the desired shape and place it on the supports properly.

You will need a sharp pruner for pruning and all cuts must be made at an angle.

Young trees are pruned in early spring before vegetation begins, and not more than once a year. The exceptions are cherries and plums - they are best cut in late spring, summer or early autumn.

During spring pruning, the tree is given the desired shape, forming the length of the trunk and branches.

A tree that begins to bear fruit is pruned twice a year. In this case, additional pruning is carried out in the summer, during the period of fruit ripening. First of all, remove branches that cover ripening fruits from the sun, then diseased, dry and damaged ones. Formative pruning relieves the tree of dense foliage, which allows you to direct nutrients to the development of fruits and, as a result, to a rich harvest. New branches are pruned with a margin of 1 cm after the growth knot.

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