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How to train Espaliers
The Espalier form is suitable for training apples, pears and quince but they must be spur bearing or partially spur bearing varieties and not tip bearing. It is not suitable for cherry or plum/damson.
An espalier consists of a several horizontal tiered branches or arms trained along a cane/wire. It takes 1 year to produce each horizontal tier, so a 4 tiered espalier will take 4 years to train after planting a 1yr old maiden tree. They can be very productive, produce high quality fruit, are easy to train and offer a great structure to the garden in the winter and the summer.
We recommend selecting your trees on a semi-vigorous rootstock such as MM106 or MM111 for apples or Quince A or Pyrodwarf for pears and quince.
How To Plant
Trees should be planted 4m apart. Planting against a wall or fence is the best option as this provides plenty of shelter and extra warmth to the trees, but you can also construct a free-standing post and wire system.
Either way, you want to attach three to four horizontal wires at around 40cm apart, with a 40cm gap between the ground and the lowest wire.
If constructing a free-standing post and wire system, prior to planting erect some strong vertical timbers at either end of the area you are planting the cordons and add an extra vertical stake for every 4m length. Setting your structure so the trees get as much south/south-west sunshine is best, if possible. Similarly, choosing a south or south-west facing wall is best for growing dessert fruit.
Structural stakes want to be at least 45cm in the ground and around 150 - 180cm above ground. The structure wants to be strong and firmly in the ground. No wobbling.
Use cable ties to tightly secure a 6ft bamboo cane to the first horizontal wire. Plant the tree so it can grow 2m in each direction along the wires, 5cm away from the lowest wire.
Planting In The Winter and First Prune
Plant your barerooted tree in the winter months, between December – March. Once planted, immediately prune the tree back to a bud at around 45cm from the ground, or just above the height of the lowest wire. This can feel fairly brutal – often you are pruning off ¾ of the tree you have just purchased, but this is the correct way to start your espalier. This hard pruning will stimulate the tree to produce strong branches, which will become your horizontal tiers.
First Year Summer Pruning
In late August choose a sunny day to do your summer pruning. You should have several strong shoots that have grown from the tip of your tree (this is the extension growth from your pruning cut in the winter). Select the topmost shoot as the leader, which you will leave and prune in the winter. Hopefully this will already have grown taller than your next horizontal wire above.
Select another strong shoot on the left to tie to your horizontal cane one way, and another strong shoot on the right to tie in the opposite way. You should use flexible tying twine to attach to the cane, pulling the shoots back gently so you don't break them.
Once you have identified a strong shoot growing upwards and tied a strong shoot in each horizontal direction on the first wire, you can prune off any other side shoots growing out of the tree.
Second Winter Pruning and Future Winter Pruning
In the second winter, prune the upright shoot you left in the summer back to just above the second wire. Prune back the tips of the horizontal branches by 1/3 of their length. This will encourage fruit bud production next summer along this branch.
Second Summer Pruning
Repeat last year's summer pruning and tying in to a horizontal cane as per your first tier, except this time on the second wire to form your second tier.
If there are side shoots growing out of the horizontal branches on the first wire, prune these back to 10cm. If they are shorter than 10cm, leave them.
Repeat as per last winter, pruning your upright shoot to just above the third wire and reducing the second tier by 1/3 of the length and 1/3 of the extension growth from the first tier.
Third Summer Pruning and Future Summer Pruning
Repeat as per last summer, tying in the shoots to create the third horizontal tier.
On the first tier, find the side shoots you pruned back to 10cm last year. If there are new shoots growing out of these, prune them back to 5cm. If they are shorter than 5cm, leave them.
On the second tier if there are side shoots growing prune these back to 10cm. If they are shorter than 10cm, leave them.
This is the pattern of summer pruning you will need to carry out until the desired number of tiers has been reached. As the years go on you will find you are developing clusters of short fruiting branches known as fruiting spurs, carrying plenty of fruit. Pruning does not effect the fruit as you are only ever reducing the current season's extension growth.