DIY Guide – How to Espalier

Trees are usually three-dimensional, but with some intervention they can be made to have height and width but not much depth. Using this technique to train a tree is called espaliering. Espaliers were developed in Europe around the 16th century as a way of helping temperate climate fruit grow in colder regions by taking advantage of the warmth of a sunny wall.

There are many choices about what plants to espalier. It could include deciduous or evergreen trees or fruiting or ornamental plants.

Some good examples filmed by Gardening Australia included:
* a fruiting pear tree which had been trained for a formal design effect.
* a cumquat is a popular tree for espaliering in an informal fashion.

But you might want to try any citrus as an espalier. For example, a Valencia orange would work, lemon trees are popular, as are Kaffir limes, because of the knobbly fruit and the beautiful segmented or double-lobed leaves – it’s a glossy tree in any garden.

For a Mediterranean feel, try an olive tree, and camellias look good in flower and their glossy green leaves look terrific all year. And an absolute pièce de résistance as an espalier is a gardenia because of its magnificent fragrance.

Making an espalier yourself is easy to do. Firstly select the site. You should leave plenty of room between the trunk and the fence or trellis behind. For example, to espalier a Lisbon lemon, just tie the trunk onto the back of the trellis, so that it’s sturdy, and always use a flexible tie. Remember that there’s always a back and front to a plant. Look for leading branches and what you’re trying to do is create a horizontal look so that the sap runs horizontally and not encourage any vertical growth. Use little clips available from the nursery to clip the horizontal branches to the trellis. The clips are placed halfway down the branch and another at the end.

As you are making the espalier, look to see that it’s going to be nicely planed on one dimension. Any branches that look wrong need to be trained back or trimmed.

Espaliers need to be attached to something sturdy. If you decide to use wires, then they need to take some weight, so tension them, and ensure they are fixed to something well constructed. Any horizontal wires should be placed about 30 centimetres apart – that’s a good average and means the plant should grow well.

Before you buy a deciduous plant as an espalier, make sure you’re happy with the bare winter look before planting. For example, apples are a common espalier plant. Try planting different varieties so even in a small space it’s possible to enjoy the different flavours. Just remember to prune to encourage the tiny fruiting spurs because that’s where the apples will appear.

Espaliers need constant work, especially over the growing season. But if you’re the kind of gardener who likes to get out with the secateurs, to prune and shape plants, then they are probably right up your alley. They are not only good space-savers but a really good espalier makes a fine feature in the garden.