How To Espalier Trees & Shrubs
Espalier is the horticultural technique of training trees through pruning and grafting in order to create formal "two-dimensional" or single plane patterns by the branches of the tree. The technique was popular in the Middle Ages in Europe to decorate solid walls by such trees planted near them, although evidence exists suggesting that the technique dates back much farther, perhaps even to ancient Egypt. The word espalier initially referred to the actual trellis on which the plant was trained to grow, but over time has come to be used to describe the technique.
An espalier collects almost as much sunlight as a regular tree, yet has far less mass. This makes them ideal not only for decorative purposes, but also for gardens in which space is limited. They may also be planted next to a wall, which can reflect more sunlight and retain heat overnight, or be planted so that they are facing south and absorb maximum sunlight. These two facts allow an espalier to succeed in cooler climates, where a non-espaliered tree of the same variety would fail. They also mature fruit more quickly.
Certain types of trees adapt better to this technique than others, although any fruit tree will theoretically work. The branches of the plant must be long and flexible. Examples of trees that take well to espalier are the Ficus carica, or fig tree, Malus (apples), and Pyrus (pears).
There are several types of espalier, including horizontal (branches grow horizontally out of one central trunk), palmette (branches grow in a fan shaped pattern), and cordon (the tree resembles a menorah). A Belgian fence is a form of espaliering that weaves a string of espaliers into a fence. There is also the Baldassari Palmette, lepage espalier, verrier candelabra, U double, and drapeau marchand.
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