Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Espalier Fruit Trees for Potager Gardens

After YEARS of wanting espalier fruit trees, I've finally done it! I planted two apple trees along the fence line and tied the branches (with plans for a third). When I finally made the cuts necessary, I knew I was committed. Too late to change my mind now!


Caroline at Boho Farm blog really inspired me that I could do this. When reading her post, "What's Growing at the Boho Farm", her espalier apple tree quickly caught my eye! The trained branches against the back drop of her white fence are simply gorgeous! (Be sure to visit her blog for more photos of her lovely homestead!)

In truth, I had just about given up that I could do this or that it was worth it. Two years ago, when visiting Napa, I saw several at the Farmhouse Restaurant in St. Helena, CA. I loved the idea but pruning is not my forte! I'm totally intimidated by cutting branches off an otherwise healthy plant.

Trained the trees around 
a patio dining area creating a fence


Espalier apple tree against the side of the building - 
the solid backdrop showimg off tree's lovely form 


Another concern was the fact that an espalier would produce less fruit than a standard tree. While that may be true, it seems that all that pruning can cause the fruit that does grow to be sweet and delicious. Not to mention the aesthetic value.

As I was reading Born Again Dirt by Noah Sanders, he mentioned that trees in nature are scattered and mixed, not all together. While he is clear that small orchards are not a problem, I realized perhaps I should consider NOT planting all my apple trees in one location: a few espalier trees in one area with the rest scattered in different areas of the yard so as accent other areas with beauty. This practice also helps with bug infestations by controlling the spread from tree to tree due to plants of the same kind being in close proximity to each other.

Then, as I was reading Michael Bunker's book Surviving Off Off-Grid, he suggests growing plenty of extra fruits and vegetables to have some to feed to your animals as well as sharing with those in need. I doubt if an espalier tree would be sufficient for this, but I wanted to meet production goals as well.

I've wanted a potager garden for almost as long as I've been gardening, and I decided that giving up on that dream was not something I wanted to do. So in the end I decided to train part of my trees in espalier fashion and the rest would be grown traditionally in some strategic locations throughout the yard with a few in a small orchard. This way I'm planting some for production and some for flavor and beauty, but Lord willing, all should produce fruit for our various needs.

Food production is important, but so is beauty for the soul! When both function and beauty can be achieved, it is desirable to do so!

How To Train a Tree in Espalier Fashion

Apparently there are a couple of ways you can do this. Either method will require you to have wire support or a sturdy trellis with "arms" in the desired pattern. For this post, I'm going to only talk about a simple pattern called Double or Triple Corndon, like the photos above . At the end of this post, I've included a video links for information on how to prepare your wire supports. In my case, I just used an existing fence line that was very sturdy. 

1) Bare Root Stock. In this method, you prune the tree down to the first cordon that is at the lowest point, cutting just above two buds that are on either side, forcing new branches to grow. Trim all but the two desired cordons and one vertical branch that will go up to the next cordon. When it is well above the next level, trim again just above two buds, forcing multiple branches once again. Continue this pattern until you've reached the top cordon, at which point you will only leave the two side branches. This method will take about 4 years for your branches to fill out to three cordons, but you'll have branches pretty much right where you want them. Patience should pay off in this method!

2) Potted Trees. Carefully select a potted tree with side branches about the same height. These will be the cordons. Cordons should be evenly spaced as well, so keep this in mind when looking at the branches on the tree. Plant and train selected branches to the cordon wires and trim away excess branches.  This method seems quicker, but it's hard to find trees with existing branches right where you need them.


I'm FAR from being an expert here... learning as I go. But perhaps a couple of video clips will help you get started.







Here's hoping all your garden dreams come true!


39 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for this post! You have inspired me to venture into these beautiful trees :)

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  2. This was very helpful.
    We've lost most of our fruit trees; all the peach and plum. All that is left is the hug fig tree near the barn. We're talking of replanting in the fall--don't know if they'd survive our hot summers if we planted now. I'm interested in espalier plantings not because of space; but because of their beauty.
    This is a very good article with lots of good information.

    Thank you- Pat

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    Replies
    1. Pat,
      Sorry to hear that you lost so many of your fruit trees! Was it due to the heat and drought last year? I hope your new trees take off quickly!

      Delete
    2. Pat, Keep in mind that the cordon pattern of espalier cutting won't work for peaches/nectarines/apricots. These kinds of fruits only grow on new-wood growth, so you should choose a fan-type espalier pattern, and learn about proper pruning so you know how to keep new-wood growth each year for optimum peach production. The cordon pattern is great for pear and apple, which can grow on old wood. There are some great books on pruning specifically relating to espalier fruit trees out there - that may help with regards to the peach if you choose to do an espalier peach. :)

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  3. Amy, I didn't know what style of growing this was (or its purpose), but at the local farm where we pick a lot of produce spring-fall, this is how they grow certain varieties of their apple trees. So interesting! So much knowledge out there to learn, it's exciting! :)

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  4. I absolutely LOVE your blog!

    The End :)

    L~

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  5. I would have never thought or even known about this before reading this post. What a beautiful fence line this would make when all the trees were in bloom.

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  6. Espaliered fruit trees are beautiful! They will quite an enhancement to your potager garden! What variety of apples did you get? We'd like to plant some. :-)

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    Replies
    1. So far... one each of Honeycrisp, Pink Lady, Granny Smith, and a Rome. I still want to get a Fuji, maybe a Braeburn, and perhaps another Honeycrisp or Granny Smith. They're my favorites!

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  7. Wow, this is fascinating. I'm assuming this is most of how we see grapes trained as well? I know the wiring system seems similar. Though I don't have space for a spread of my apple trees I may be able to put this information to use with grapes. Really great post.

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  8. I have been planning to use this method in our front garden for some time now. It's an effective use of a small space. Anything that can bring food production in without large sacrifice of gardening ground is always welcome.

    The fact that they're beautiful is a big bonus!

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  9. This is a great post. I have always "thought" about doing this. These trees are and will be beautiful!
    Blessings,
    Susie

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  10. I absolutely love espaliered fruit trees and now my husband has gotten on the band wagon. Just out of curiosity? Do you know how long it will take for start producing fruit? We have been in our current home for two years and plan on being here for a minimum of another 5 years. Potager garden.... something I am completely and totally in love since seeing Monticello as a young teen. Do we have one? NO.... but we are working on raised beds at the moment (outside the fenced in backyard as our dog loves to dig big holes in the garden and sleep in them.... its a Newfoundland/malamute trait.)

    Thank you for sharing with us!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. To be really productive, I believe you need to wait 3 years for fruit. Some will appear before then, but I've always heard you should pick it off the first 3 years so as to develop the root system. I think it's interesting that there's something in the Bible that references to waiting when you plant a fruit tree. I'd have to look it up again.

      Hope your Potager takes off and you can enjoy it while you're in that house!

      Delete
  11. Lovethis, very informative. Good luck with your trees! :)

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  12. Welcome to the world of espalier. I think you'll really enjoy growing trees this way. You may be surprised at the amount of fruit you will get by opening up your trees to more sun and air circulation.

    Please consider getting an excellent resource if you're going to grow fruit trees..."How to Prune Fruit Trees" by R. Sanford Martin has been around for decades. It's one of the very best sources on how to prune, including espalier. The small book should only be under $10 and is well illustrated with very, very simple instructions.

    Good luck and keep on gardeniing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maybelline,
      Thanks for the book information! I need it!! I'm wondering if that is the book I saw at the Nursery a couple of weeks ago? If it is, I'm going to grab a copy for sure!

      I'm excited to know this could be even more productive than I originally thought! The only thing that would be even better is if I could grow citrus and olive trees! (I'm thinking of growing them in pots!)

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    2. The book is a small paperback. It's available online but if your local nursery has it why not support them? My Granny Smith has produced each of the 4 years I have had it. This year really looks to be a banner year. It's nice to have fences that not only look good but they produce produce! I bet cherry trees would work well up your way.

      Hang back on the citrus for now. There's a disease getting started in California called Citrus Greening Disease. It's heartbreaking to start a project only to have it die.

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    3. Oh... Citrus disease... NOT GOOD. Hope they can get a handle on it quick. And cherry trees... yes! I planted a Bing and a Tartarian just as you enter my garden - one flanking either side of the gate on the outside (north of the garden).

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    4. Maybelline... that was the book! They had it and I got the LAST copy! Thanks for the recommendation. I had almost purchased it earlier, but didn't. Glad I got one before they were all gone.

      Delete
    5. This will be your garden bible for years to come.

      Delete
  13. Very cool! Do have a question though, in the one picture it is so close to the building makes me wonder how much it will grow. If the trunk will grow into the building and think about the roots and drainage...or is it just an optical illusion?

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    Replies
    1. Heidi, you're wise to think about root damage to a foundation! You'd have to research if the roots on an apple tree grow down or out. Obviously out would not be good next to a building. However, the Farmhouse Restaurant is connected to their garden Nursery and vegetable garden - they seemed to know what they're doing. Perhaps someone else can add their input.

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  14. Wow...impressed, Amy! I have always wanted an espaliered apple too...but this year instead I put in more citrus! Wishing you a Happy Easter week~

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  15. These are so pretty! I wish that I had a place to put something like this. I guess I will just have to keep watching your blog to get peeks of yours ;)

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  16. Your trees look so good!! Awesome job. I'm like you, super intimidated to prune my fruit trees and vines. I'm always so afraid I'm gonna snip the wrong thing, lol! Great job following through with your goals. It's gonna be so pretty when it's fully grown and producing!

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  17. This is so cool. I remember seeing one of these trees for the first time when I was living in Oregon. The homeowner wanted to grow some produce, but didn't have a lot of space...and this tree was the perfect solution :) Love and hugs from the ocean shores of California, Heather :)

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  18. This is exciting Amy. I look forward to watching your progress. Your new espalier apples trees look great. I have the same concerns as you re: espalier, but they have many benefits too. They can fit into small areas, are "groomed" so they do not overgrow their placement, the quality of fruit is larger and good tasting, plus less fruit set equals less plant stress and possibly even more root development. They're also pretty backgrounds to other plantings. I have dreamed of an espalier fenceline for years, but I am not as brave as you, yet... Have a GREAT week and thanks for sharing so much about espalier.

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  19. Wonderful idea. Can someone please tell me how to control the squirrels from devouring all my apples??? I have two trees and they eat them up when they are still small and sour. I salvaged one Golden Delicious last year by placing my daughter's butterfly net over it. The apple was by far the most delicious I have ever tasted! I do not want to spray anything, so the method would need to be organic. Any suggestions are very welcome!!!! Thanks! Maria smiths4jmj@gmail.com

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  20. I have a friend who does her trees like this. I was surprised how much fruit she got.

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  21. Very cool! Have you ever considered the columnar apples?

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  22. Hi Amy, I've been going through all of your past posts and tonight I've been looking at "The Family Table" posts. I just had to stop and write to you how much I really admire the way you and your husband are raising your children, what Godly manners and wisdom! My heart swells and my eyes tear, thank you for reminding me of the importance of family meals!
    God Bless, kim

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    Replies
    1. Kim,
      What a kind and encouraging comment! Thank you!! Things are far from perfect in our home, but I hope and pray that our values are being written on their hearts along with a deep love for God and His Word above even our own!
      Blessings to you and your family on your own journey!
      Amy

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  23. nice idea.. thanks for sharing...

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  24. We are growing our pear trees this way...interesting post!

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  25. I am so glad to have found your blog. Everything is absolutely gorgeous. I too love Espaliered fruit trees...I only have 4 but would love more. I will be visiting often.
    Ciao,
    Mary

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  26. Thank you for taking time to give a valuable video. This is inspiring.
    Would you by any chance know an apple variety that would be great to grow in a 5b to almost 6 growing zone? I have a small garden space and i would like to espalier an apple tree. :)

    Thanks,
    Gem

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    Replies
    1. Gem, there are several sites that list great varieties by zones. For example:
      http://appletreesforsale.org/apple-tree-zones-and-the-best-varieties-to-grow/
      You can also look at various nursery websites and often they will give growing zones:
      http://www.naturehills.com/fruit-bearing/apple-trees
      Honeycrisp is one of my favorites and it will grow in your zone.
      Happy gardening!

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  27. Planting trees is not only time-consuming, it is also hard work, especially when you do it right like you said.


    Dwarf fruit trees & Quince tree


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