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Espalier Training

Julie Willis tells us how to espalier fruit trees

Espalier fruit trees need a solid support system such as sturdy posts with horizontal wires every 60cm or so, or a trellis or set of wires attached to a wall.

As our apples and pears are on dwarfing root stock, they can be planted 2m apart and if kept 2m high, they can easily be pruned, thinned and netted. Fruiting is early (2 years) and yields are 10-80% higher per square metre.

Planting and training

Fig. 1 - Plant your tree against the support system and in the first winter cut the leader back at the height of the first wire.

Fig. 2 - In summer, train two strong side growths along the first set of wires and tie in the new leader.

Fig. 3 - The following winter, cut this new upright when it reaches the height of the next wire.

Fig. 4 - In summer, train two strong side growths along the second set of wires and tie in the new leader. Prune any side growth from the main stems back to 3 leaves. Continue in this manner until the tree reaches the top wire.

Ongoing care

♦ Espalier fruit trees need to be pruned in summer to restrict their growth. Side growth from the main stems should be cut back to 3 sets of leaves. Shoots pruned in this way last year will have produced side shoots of their own, prune these back to one set of leaves. This encourages the formation of fruit producing spurs.

♦ During December apples and pears may drop fruit depending on the variety and the weather; this is just the tree thinning out its fruit load naturally.

♦ During January, remove any damaged or diseased fruit and thin the remaining crop to one fruit every 10cm. Although it's heartbreaking to remove fruit, the resulting crop will be of superior size and quality. Fruit thinning also reduces demand on the trees resources, encouraging good growth and fruit bud production, which will reduce the risk of biennial bearing.

♦ Fruit is ripe when you can twist it gently and it detaches from the tree easily.

♦ Early cropping apples and pears don't store well, so they are best used soon after picking.

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Julie Willis

Julie is our Horticultural Advisor, bringing her UK qualifications, Australian experience and knowledge of plants for all climates and situations to Diggers, where she presents workshops, develops fact sheets and gives gardening advice to members.
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