Grow espaliered fruit trees

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Growing fruit trees flat against a wall or along a wire is a great way to grow a lot of fruit in a small space.

Espalier tree training is an age-old art originating in europe where very old espalier fruit trees can be found growing on brick and plaster walls. This method of tree training is becoming popular with new zealand gardeners keen to create an attractive formal feature or grow more fruit in limited space.

Espalier trees are often grown against a wall, traditionally brick or plaster. Alternatively, they can be supported by a strong post and wire structure. This creates a part-wall, perfect for dividing areas of a garden while still retaining sunlight and visibility.

Getting started with your own espalier fruit tree

  1. Decide on a pattern to suit the type of fruit tree you are growing (see right).
  2. Choose a sunny location. Most fruit trees need a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight.
  3. Choose the plant and appropriate rootstock. As most espaliered trees are subjected to intense pruning and ‘braking’ of growth, semi-dwarf or vigorous rootstocks should be used in all but the most fertile soils. Generally, any fruit tree variety can be espaliered, but selecting a disease-resistant variety will ensure minimal spraying is required.
  4. Prepare the support. You will need to fix wires to a structure that will support your espalier. These will be used to train the branches at desired angles. Wires can be spaced 30cm to 60cm apart. With fences and walls, fix the wires using eyebolts to keep the plant away from the structure and allow air flow behind the plant. Using turnbuckles to keep the wires taut is recommended.
  5. Plant your tree. Set the plant in the ground about 30cm from the wall to allow room for root growth.
  6. Start training your tree. Use soft cloth (like strips of tee shirt fabric) to tie the branches, making sure the end 20cm of horizontal branches is left untied otherwise the growth will slow or cease.

Which pattern is best?

Stone fruit, citrus, figs, persimmons and berries produce fruit on young (one or two-year-old) wood only. This means we have to prune each year to ensure new fruiting wood is formed. A fan shaped espalier is the most appropriate pattern for these fruit types. In this type of espalier, the fruiting branches are cut away from the main trunk after fruiting, and the new fruiting branches that form in spring are then tied to the wires ready for their summer crop.

Apple and pear trees produce fruit on the same wood year after year, therefore a formal, static pattern [such as horizontal or u-shape] can be chosen and is much easier to maintain.

The triple horizontal espalier - ideal for apples and pears

1. In the first spring after planting, cut the young tree trunk to where you want the lowest set of branches to form – usually at the first wire.
2. The tree will grow side shoots just below your cut. Select the best three shoots (these will become your two side branches, plus one to keep growing upwards).
3. When two of the sprouts grow to about 7.5cm long, make them the horizontal arms and begin tying them along the bottom wire. Make sure to use a tying material that will not damage or restrict the branches as they grow thicker.
4. Let the third shoot grow vertically, up to the next wire (you may want to use a bamboo stake to keep it strait). Once it reaches the next wire, cut it off again to stimulate the next layer of side branches. Repeat the process from step 2, selecting and tying horizontal sprouts, leaving one to grow vertically to the next wire.
5. As the horizontal branches grow, continue attaching them to the wires. Side shoots will grow from these horizontal branches – remove any that grow toward or away from the wall.
6. Trim often to train your tree as it grows.

Find out more about growing all kinds of fruit trees in waimea nurseries ‘grow it yourself’.  This handy home orchard guide is packed with advice and features all the latest fruit tree varieties so you can choose the best for your garden. It’s available in garden centres now.


Look for these products, tips and advice at a Go Gardening Store near you.

Feature article from Waimea Nurseries. For further information and more inspirational planting ideas, visit



Candelabra espaliered apple

Triple Horizontal espaliered pear tree

Fan espalier at Hamilton Gardens