I had a past post on how I made my first espalier, but it was lost to time and past blogging platforms (does anyone even remember iWeb by Apple?)
That was a while ago. I now have three espaliers – three dwarf pear trees, two dwarf apple trees, and what I call a “poor man’s espalier” of blackberry canes along my back fence. I’ve had a lot of questions on them over the past few years and just realized I didn’t have any DIY info on how I made them.
The Pear Tree Espalier
In 2005, started as an apple, a plum, and two pear trees. The apple tree got some sort of disease that killed it, it was replaced by another pear tree. The plum tree (which was sold to me as an apple tree!) attracted so many aphids they sucked the life out of it. It was never replaced. So currently in the space against my garage wall, there are three dwarf pear trees. I do not know the variety. Dwarf trees grow to a maximum of 12′ (that’s what these said anyway). I only needed them to be about 8′ tall in this spot, under the garage roof eaves.
First thing was to mark off the wall in the diamond pattern.I use a diamond shape for projects in the garden – the checkerboard garden, the lattice on arbors, the blackberry espalier, and there’s diamond shapes incorporated into the shed in its windows and embellishments.
I first plotted where the four trees would be planted, giving 4′ between each tree. Then I divided the length of the wall into ten equal segments, screwing in 8″ stainless steel lag eye bolts along the top of the garage, and along the bottom.
With a chalk line, I snapped pattern on the wall, adding eye bolts at the intersections of the chalk lines. Next was threading the wire rope (cable) through the eye bolts. Easy peasy. It took the better part of an afternoon to set up.
The trees were planted. Ideally, I should have planted them with the trunk growing up along the diagonal cable instead of straight up vertically and relying only on the branches to be on the diagonal. If you try this, don’t make my mistake!
I tell people that if they’re going to create an espalier, to not do it out of sight in the garden, and not to be so tall that a ladder is required for trimming. It will need regular training and clipping throughout a season. the more distant it is from where you spend time, or have tools readily available, the less likely you will be to trim it. If it requires a ladder and climbing, it may not get the maintenance it needs as often, I know that would be true in my case. But maybe you’re not as lazy as me.
As it is, the pear tree espalier is along my deck where we eat and cook. I keep secateurs nearby the grill so that while I’m grilling, I can go over and trim a bit. I started off by tying branches to the cable with an expandable plastic “tape” meant for staking tomatoes. My wife picked up these great clips that are easily moved and life has improved significantly.
Only one of the trees has ever fruited, and not even every year. The most pears I’ve ever gotten in one year was 10. The squirrels, so far, have had more of them than I have. I’ve since learned that different pear varieties have different pollination needs in order to fruit. There are male and female trees, and some only want to be pollinated by the same variety. Some even need two other pear trees to pollinate them. Kinky.
The Apple Tree Espalier
In 2009, I added a knee-high dwarf apple tree espalier around our raised-bed potager garden. I’d first seen a tree like this in Monet’s garden in Giverny, and knew I wanted to do it for my own garden. We bought two dwarf apple trees, again, I don’t know the variety. I have these espaliers for the esthetics, any fruit is just a bonus.
I pounded stakes at the two corners of the raised bed, and stakes where I wanted the trees to end. I strung wire rope between them at the top and about halfway down. They really need to be tightened up – I haven’t gotten to that yet.
The trees did have to be topped. It killed me to do it, but I wanted them to only be about 2.5′ tall, and dwarf apple trees don’t come that short. I covered the topped tree “wound” with wood glue to keep it from getting diseased.
As it grows, I train it along the wire rope. It really takes little care other than an occasional clipping. Last year I got my first apple. Yes, just one.
The Blackberry Cane “Espalier”
This is not a true espalier where branches are trained to follow a path. This is more wrangling and cajoling the canes into a forced pattern along wire cable. The trick to this one was to plant the blackberries in the five specific spots where the diamond pattern meets the ground. They fill in quickly and look great. These work on a large format, a tight pattern would not work for blackberries or other berries that grow in brambles. You can’t bend mature canes. They are somewhat pliable when the canes are young and growing.
They make a great impact along the back fence, it can be seen from almost every place in the garden, and especially up the length of the 150′ driveway – another reason why a larger pattern works – it can be seen from the street.
The canes grow fast, so I’ve noticed it requires even more tying-up than even the true espaliers. Keeping the canes growing only in the five points where I want them is a little work too. They come up in other spots and I quickly pull them.
We do get tons of blackberries and do eat them. Well, we do share them with the birds.