Espalier - How to Build Garden Espaliers


By Steve Boulden

The word "espalier" is both a verb and a noun. It means to create a wall of fruit. That is done by creating a framework to support the limbs of the fruiting plant. The structure can be free-standing, in the middle of a lawn or garden plot; or it can be erected against an existing (preferably south-facing) wall that will provide warmth and shelter, as is often done in more northern areas.

In either case the espalier will have an upright post (at least four inches by four inches in section) spaced at ten foot intervals, to a height of about six feet, and preferably oriented to get the best all-day sun. These posts must be very securely embedded, because they will be required to accept huge physical forces. You may want to employ the services of an experienced landscape contractor for this part of the operation. Once the posts are in, horizontal wires are strained at vertical intervals of about 15 inches along the posts. The posts at either end have diagonal stays secured to the ground to help them combat the forces they will eventually support. Once again, straining the wires is a technical job. If you do not have wire strainers you will need to hire them, or employ a professional: hand-straining the wires may look satisfactory at first, but they will not have enough tension and once the fruit begins to grow the wires will sag.

When the espalier has been constructed you can plant fruit trees at appropriate intervals along the fence. Apples and pears are most commonly selected, although apricots are also suitable. There are those who use espaliers for growing soft fruits, although you may judge it something of a waste of effort to build quite such an engineered structure just to support blackberries or raspberries.

The trees can be trained in one of two ways. In both systems the stem is left to grow upright. The difference is in the treatment of the laterals. In one system these are tied to the wires as they grow horizontally, so that at harvest there is a ribbon of fruit along the length of the wire. In the other system, after the laterals have been tied to the horizontal wire for a short distance they are then trained upward, forming a 'U' shape. As the laterals grow upwards they are tied to successive wires. In this system the lowest lateral will be trained the greatest distance horizontally, and the highest lateral the shortest, thus avoiding having laterals crossing over one another when they are trained upwards.

The reason for going to all this trouble is that espaliered fruit, receiving equal amounts of light and freely circulating air, produces a heavier crop than would the same tree grown as a bush. On larger properties espaliers can also help in the formation of garden "rooms", or to demarcate zones.

Article by Steve Boulden and The Landscape Design Site which offers front yard landscaping ideas, pictures, and advice to do it yourselfers and homeowners. To find out more about landscaping and garden design, visit the site at

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