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How to Espalier Apple Trees, Tips for Pruning, Multi-Grafting, Dwarfing Fruit Trees

Updated on November 14, 2016
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John uses scientific skills (PhD) and 30 years experience as a home gardener to develop reviews & advice about gardening, organic methods

For producing big crops of fruit such as apples from a small spaces there are three options. You can Espalier the fruit trees by selective pruning and training them to grow against a wall. You can regularly prune the trees to fit into a small space with trees planted in pots or in the ground. Or you can graft branches of different species onto a single hardy rootstock. Or you can choose dwarf varieties that produce regular size fruit on smaller trees, or dwarf them yourselves.

This article describes the various method and offers a series of tips to make it work. Apples are very health and are pack with dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients

Espalier Trees

This refers to the method or pruning and training apples, pears and other fruit to grow against a wall in a set of horizontal tiers or layers, or diagonal lines. This saves space makes, makes a very attractive display and make the fruit tree easier to prune and look after in terms of controlling diseases and pests. The fruit are much easier to pick and you can leave them on the tree until you need them. You can buy a ready-trained Espalier starter tree from some nurseries. Or you can buy bare rooted trees in the winter and prune and train the trees yourself. You can also buy an established fruit tree in a pot, prune it hard and train it to grow up and along a wall.

Choose your support

  • Choose a sunny fence or wall and add a structure of four horizontal wires that are generally set about 30-50 cm (12-20 inches) apart ( the spacing between the tiers or lines ).
  • Ready-trained trees are generally supplied with two tiers, but you will want extra supports for two or more extra tiers as the apple tree grows.
  • Use eye bolts, nails, screws or other fastenings to secure the wires. The wires need to be very tight, strong and permanent.

Planting tips

  • Dig a round hole about 15cm (6 inches) from the wall or fence and loosen the soil in the base. Make it wide enough so the roots can be spread out, and deep enough so that the tree sits at the same height in the soil as it sat in the pot (use the soil stain).
  • Water the tree thoroughly, drain and place the tree in the centre, fill the hole in with dirt, firming down and mulch with well-rotted manure and then water.
  • If re-planting a tree grown in a container, make the hole twice as wide as the diameter of the pot and the same depth as the soil level in the pot.

Espalier pruning and training

  • Plant in autumn and secure the main stem to the wire. Also secure the two starter tiers that come with the prepared Espalier tree.
  • Let the main central shoot grow upwards over spring and early summer.
  • Next winter, secure the central branch and align and secure suitable shoots and branches to the wines.
  • Prune down to the level of the third wire leaving 3 healthy buds to produce the 3rd tier of branches.
  • Repeat the following year to make a forth tier.
  • Secure the side branches along the lateral wires extending outwards, along the fence.
  • If staring from scratch, select various branches at the correct position for the tiers. Prune the remaining branches leaving a set of buds for each missing tier. It may take several seasons to develop all four tiers.
  • Prune shoots growing from all the horizontal branches of the tiers between Spring and Summer leaving three or four leaves. Keep under control by pruning, but take care not to affect the crop.
  • Fruit trees can also be trained to grow over an arch or other structures, such as a balcony railing.

© janderson99-HubPages

Central Leader - Trim Terminal Shoot
Central Leader - Trim Terminal Shoot
Central Leader - Trim side branches
Central Leader - Trim side branches
Central Leader - Prune to develop a 'Christmas Tree' Shape
Central Leader - Prune to develop a 'Christmas Tree' Shape

Fruit Tree Pruning Instructions

There are three main pruning methods for different types of trees

The Central-Leader System - used for pruning pear trees, apple trees and sweet cherry trees. A "central leader" is the major central trunk or stem. This pruning method aims to encourage a focus on the central trunk, by regularly pruning the lateral branches and developing a 'Christmas Tree' Shape.

The Open-Centre System - used for nectarine, apricot trees, peach, plum and sour cherry trees. The aim is the prune and remove the central leader to keep the centre open. Pruning encourages 3-4 main branches set at wide angles to grow out at an angle of about 60 degrees to the base with about 5 secondary branches on each. Regular pruning keeps the shape and stops the tree getting to tall or wide. The open centre encourages sun and air-circulation into the centre and makes it easier to manage diseases and pests and to pick the fruit.

The Modified-Leader System - used for nut trees, this can also be used for apple and pear trees. The idea is to give the central leader and 3-4 lateral branches equal importance.

Regular pruning can be used to restrict the tree growth so that it does not out-grow the space available. The Central-Leader Design is probably best for a small garden or apple tree in a large pot. © janderson99-HubPages

General Fruit Tree Pruning Instructions

Orange and Lemon
Orange and Lemon
Several Stone Fruits grafted onto one root stock
Several Stone Fruits grafted onto one root stock

Dwarf Apple trees

Dwarf apple trees have major benefits compared with standard sized apple trees for small gardens. Dwarf trees makes it easier to prune, deal with pests and diseases and harvest the fruit, and keep the size in check. The quickest way to get a dwarf tree is to buy one bred or grafted for the purpose. The other way is to graft the fruit tree onto a special rootstock that will dwarf the tree. There are several varieties of rootstock available for dwarfing for the various types of fruit tree. Dwarf apple trees need much less care than full sized apple tree, and a lot less pruning. Dwarf fruit trees are ideal for a small gardens, including those grown in large pots. Almost every species of apple tree can be dwarfed.

Multiple-grafting - 'Fruit Salad' Trees

Several varieties of apples can be grafted onto a single root stock. Also you can graft orange, lemon, lime and grapefruit branches onto the one tree. Stone fruits can also be combined by grafting. The major benefit of multiple-fruit drafted trees is that it avoids having an over-abundance of one type of fruit at any one time. The various species will ripen at different times. It also allow multiple fruits to be harvested in very limited space from a single root stock or large pot.

  • For a small garden you can buy trees which have 3 or 4 varieties grafted onto a single rootstock. They are called fruit cocktail or fruit salad trees. What can be combined depends on the species.
  • A citrus version may grow combinations of limes, lemons, tangelos, oranges, mandarins, and grapefruit.
  • Apple versions have 2- 4 varieties of apples grafted to a single root stock.
  • A single stone fruit tree may grow plums, apricots, nectarines, peaches in various combinations. Asian pears may grow 2-4 varieties.
  • Cherries are also available in multiple fruiting trees.
  • Most multiple-fruit trees are grafted onto pest-resistant root stocks which can be chosen for temperate, warm, or cold climate conditions.

© janderson99-HubPages

© 2012 Dr. John Anderson


Submit a Comment

  • Healthy Pursuits profile image

    Karla Iverson 5 years ago from Oregon

    Thanks for a great hub! I have a pear tree with four varieties on it, and it's wonderful to have the different pears available without four trees.

    I have an apple tree that must be a very old variety, because it's not good for much but making cider. I cut it down once,thinking I'd plant another apple. But it grew back and is as hardy as ever. Now I'm thinking that I'll cut it again, and when it grows a new green trunk, I'll graft a couple of varieties on that I like.

    I've also thought that I'd like to espalier a peach or nectarine tree across a warm garage wall.

    This couldn't have been better if you had written it just for my garden.