Espalier trained trees consist of a vertical trunk and a set of horizontal arms or tiers extending either way bearing short lateral branches or spurs on which fruit is produced.
Espalier trees are useful for growing fruit trees where space is limited and as a decorative feature on walls and fences. The shape is brought about by pruning and training. The arms would typically be 0.5m (20 inches) apart. Mature espalier trees usually have between two and six tiers giving heights of 1.5m (5ft)m) to 3m (10ft). The span can range from 2m (6ft) to 4.5m (15ft).
Espalier trees need a suitable support structure in the form of a set of horizontal wires. They are usually grown against a wall or a solid panel fence. Alternatively they can be grown in the open supported by posts and wires. While some earlier ripening and cooking apples can be grown on a north or east facing wall or fence, ideally espaliers and in particular pear espaliers should be grown on a south or west facing aspect. If planted in the open the espalier arms should ideally run in a north-south direction so that both sides receive similar amounts of light.
Espaliers also need appropriate annual summer pruning to maintain and develop the form. Espalier training is usually done with apple and pear trees. Plums, cherries and other stone fruit trees are less suited to espalier training and are more commonly trained as fans.
There are two options available to you if you wish to grow an espalier trained trees.
The first option is to buy a ready trained tree. We supply a large range of over 30 varieties of espalier trained apple and pear trees. This is a far larger range than any other nursery. Unlike most other nurseries which produce container grown espalier trees ours are field grown and supplied bare-root in the winter. As a result they are larger and more robust. We supply two types of espalier trained trees: Regular two-tier and the more economically priced alternative one-tier. The two tier trees are two year old trees which have two sets of arms already trained and a continuing centre leader to allow more sets of arms to be trained if required. The two tiers are at approximately 50cm (20 inches) and 100cm (40 inches) above ground. The one-tier trees are one year old trees on which the first set of arms has already been trained at 50cm (20 inches) above ground and there is an extension leader for training additional sets of arms. We currently only have apple trees in the one-tier format. We offer a choice of espalier trained apple trees on semi-vigorous MM106 and dwarfing M9 rootstocks and pear trees on semi-vigorous Pyrodwarf rootstocks. As there is usually a limited supply of these ready trained trees and considerable demand we advise ordering early. Please click on the links at the top of the page for lists of available espalier trained trees.
The second option is to train you own from scratch. To do so you need to start with a maiden (untrained one year old) tree on a suitable rootstock. Two year old trees trained in other forms would not be suitable. Training your own tree gives the additional flexibility of choosing from a larger range of varieties or rootstocks as well as training trees with non-standard tier spacing etc. The rootstock most commonly used for apples is MM106 but M26 or M9 can be used for smaller espaliers and MM111 for very large ones. Quince A and Pyrodwarf are the commonly used rootstock for pears, but Quince C can be used for smaller espaliers. Most varieties are suitable for training, but tip bearers should be avoided. You can find out if a variety is a tip or spur bearer by referring to the characteristics page for that variety on our website.
As with all restricted forms the mature size is ultimately determined by pruning and training. Because of the heavy summer pruning the mature size of an espalier trained tree will be much smaller than the equivalent tree grown in a non-restricted form. While there is quite a lot of flexibility, it is nevertheless important to choose a rootstock appropriate for the space you have available. If the rootstock is too vigorous you would get too much new growth every summer and would then need to prune excessively. If you have too little vigour the tree may struggle to fill the space. You also need to take into consideration the growing conditions. If conditions (soil, climate etc) are poor you should err on the vigorous side.
Espalier apple and pear trees on semi-vigorous MM106 and Pyrodwarf rootstocks are suitable for typical four tier espaliers of 2m (7ft) height and 3.5m (12ft spread). Apple espaliers on dwarfing M9 rootstock are suitable for smaller espaliers typically with three tiers or 1.5m (5ft) in height and spread of 2.5m (8ft). Espaliers can be trained to be taller with a larger number of tiers and narrower in spread or shorter with a wider spread. As a rough guide if you have a wall or fence area of more than about 5 sq m (50 sq ft) you should have a tree on a semi-vigorous rootstock. For anything smaller you should consider having a dwarfing rootstock as long as you have reasonable growing conditions.