Fruit Tree

How to Espalier a Fruit Tree?

You can espalier a fruit tree by selecting a planting site, building a support structure, getting the right equipment and then planting your tree. Espaliering a tree involves pruning it to occupy just one plane. 

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This technique is becoming increasingly popular as homeowners look for ways to grow more trees in a small space, or create a living fence and privacy screen. Espaliering is one of the most advanced tree-trimming techniques which are classified under arbor-sculpture. 

What are the basic forms of Espaliering?

There are several basic espalier forms you can choose from. The forms may vary according to the effort and time they take to create the desired shape. You should expect the basic framework of a simple design to get established in 3 to 4 years. More intricate designs tend to take even longer. 

The four most basic forms of espaliering a fruit tree are:

  • Horizontal cordon – This is the most basic type of espaliering technique in use today. In this, a central trunk is allowed to grow with lateral branches made to grow outward on a horizontal plane. Usually, homeowners go for a 3-tier horizontal cordon design. 
  • Candelabra – This is another popular basic form of espaliering a fruit tree. In this, a low horizontal branch is guided out of the central trunk with vertical branches growing upward at regular intervals. This technique eventually shapes the fruit tree into a shape resembling candelabra. 
  • Belgian Fence – Also known as Belgian lattice, this espaliering design requires weaving 3 or more V-shaped espaliers together to form a latticed structure. The trees on both ends are altered to maintain the intended finished shape. 
  • Fan – In this espaliering technique, a central trunk is allowed to grow, with the branches being grown at a 45-degree angle upward. This helps to create a distinct fan-shaped fruit tree. 

Espaliering an Apple tree

How to Espalier a Fruit Tree?

Before embarking on your espaliering mission, you should know that this task is time-consuming and requires a lot of dedication on your part. Espaliered trees may require even more care to grow than traditional trees. 

Gardening experts, such as Eden advise homeowners to initiate any espalier project in the early spring using a bare root specimen. 

1. Choosing a tree

You can choose almost any type of tree for espaliering, including ornamental and fruity. However, you will need to keep a few things in mind when buying the tree:

  • According to expert landscapers at Eden, you should choose a semi-dwarf or a dwarf tree variety as it works best for espaliering because of their shorter stature. It is highly advisable to select a fast-growing variety as this will help with quicker and more efficient training. 
  • The best option is to buy young saplings that are around 1 to 2 years old. These saplings have supple limbs as compared to older trees. 
  • If you choose a fruit tree, make sure to select a self-pollinating type if you plan to plant only one. For instance, if you plant an apple tree, then choose apple-trees that are spur-bearing as they produce more fruit. 

2. Selecting a planting site

Search for a spot in your yard that gets full sunlight at least 6 to 8 hours in a day and with at least 6 to 8 feet of open space all around it. Make sure to choose well-draining soil, with a soil pH between 6.0 and 7.5. 

3. Building a support structure

To condition the tree to grow in the desired shape, you will first need to have a support structure in place. This support structure is essential for the tree to grow until it matures and the wood hardens. You can choose any of the below-listed as support structures for espaliering a tree:

  • Wall – Usually, stucco or bricks are more resistant to weathering and damage as compared to walls with aluminum or vinyl siding.
  • Fence – You can also choose an existing fence, trellis or pergola that is already in your yard.
  • Posts – You can also choose a structure made of strong, free-standing posts with horizontal wires, just like you see in grape-gardens and vineyards. 

The support structure should be constructed before planting the tree. Majority of homeowners choose to espalier the tree against a wall or fence. 

4. Buying the right equipment

You will need to have the following equipment in hand when initiating espaliering of a tree:

  • Measuring tape 
  • Pencil/chalk 
  • Drill with 3/16” bit (masonry bit if you are building against a stucco or brick wall)
  • 3/16” eye bolts (wall mounts for masonry wall)
  • Wire cutter 
  • 12-gauge wire 
  • Pliers
  • Eye protection 
  • Heavy duty gloves 

Espaliering apple tree

6. Building the espalier structure

Here is the simple six-step process to espalier a fruit tree:

Step 1: Take measurements

Find out the approximate center sport of the open linear space in the chosen location. Take measure 4-feet up from the soil surface. Then, draw a line from the soil to the 4-foot point using a pencil or chalk. This spot marks where the central trunk will grow. 

Step 2: Mark the tiers

Going up the vertical line, you will need to make marks at 16-inch intervals to create three evenly spaced tiers. On the first 16”-mark, measure around 3 ½ feet outwards in both directions and mark the spots. This creates the first tier, marking three horizontal lines. Repeat this step to create the second and third tiers in the same way.

Step 3: Fix eye-bolts along the center

Once you have established the basic framework, wear the eye protection and gloves before taking out the tools. Using the drill, fix eye bolts along the center trunk at ground level and at the intersection of each of the three tiers.

Step 4: Fix eye-bolts horizontally 

Once again, use your drill to fix eye bolts to each end of the three horizontal tiers. 

Step 5: Threat wire through bolts

Start from the base of the central trunk and thread a wire through the four eye bolts, creating a vertical structure. Twist the wire using pliers at both ends to secure it, before snipping the end with a wire cutter. 

Repeat step-5 to threat the wire vertically, and create the individual tiers. 

Step 6: Planting the tree

Once the support structure is in place, you can go ahead and plant the fruit tree. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Dig a hole slightly deeper than the root system of the tree, around 4 inches from the structure. 
  2. Place the root ball in the planting hole so the graft union is slightly above the soil surface. 
  3. Start filling under the roots until the tree rests unassisted at the bottom of the hole. 
  4. Gently tamp the soil down using your foot as you fill the hole in. 


You can easily espalier a fruit tree in your garden or yard by choosing the right tree, selecting the right spot, buying the right equipment and following our simple five-step espalier technique. If you feel that this project may be too complicated for you, it is highly recommended to talk to landscaping experts, such as at Eden. 

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