May 12, 2014

Espalier, Part 2

An illustration of espalier from a late 17th c. Dutch gardening manual, New York Public Library. 
photo courtesy, Streets of Salem

I often think the more I learn about gardening, the less I know. As my circle of knowledge expands, so does the circumference of ignorance around it. Apologies to Einstein for the misquote.

I feel this keenly now as I write, having just discovered that at least one of my espaliered apple trees appears to be afflicted with fire blight, a bacterial disease that is often fatal, & most likely came from the nursery, as I have just acquired the trees.


The espaliered apple trees of which I speak are part of the finishing touches I've been putting to the patio project that I began writing about last spring. Talented garden designer, Debra Phillips of the blog 5th & State, has been so kind to guide me through this long process with her expert design advice, her tremendous knowledge of plants, by ever-patiently answering questions, & by advising me around the scrapes into which my impetuous choices have occasionally landed me. It was she who quickly diagnosed the dreaded fire blight for me this afternoon. If you're not a regular reader of her blog, do yourself a favor & pop over there.

Now, enough about my espalier woes. I promised to provide resources to help get you started espaliering.

In Espalier, Part 1, we took a brief look at the what this beautiful horticultural art is . If you're not familiar with espaliered trees & haven't read Part 1, you may want to read that first. It's here.

While the aesthetic side of espalier is obvious, understanding the science which causes an espaliered tree to produce fruit so abundantly & earlier in the tree's development is beyond the scope of this article, but if, like me, you won't be satisfied until you know the why as well as the how, I have provided links at the bottom of this article to references that will satisfy your every horticultural-geeky need.

When I first starting learning about espaliered fruit trees, I was looking for space-saving ways to grow a productive garden in a tiny backyard. Looking so unique & very European I considered a bonus. I approached the subject with all the enthusiasm of an amateur gardener and with all the naivete of one, too! My first attempts at espalier ended in disappointment on the trash heap and showed me quite clearly that this was no hobby for the impatient or impetuous.
A free-standing espaliered crab apple. Arne Maynard
Establishing an espaliered tree begins from the ground up and can take from several to many years. An understanding of how the tree grows & where to make pruning cuts is crucial. There is, fortunately, a wealth of information available on this subject, and one who is interested in learning the art can, with time & plenty of patience, establish an espaliered tree. In the rest of this article, I will highlight the necessary steps and direct you to resources for further reading into each one.

If you haven't been recently bequeathed an estate complete with an espaliered orchard & you'd rather not wait & labor through the process of espaliering, some nurseries sell ready-espaliered trees. You may even find several varieties grafted onto one tree-- a technique that handles pollination & variety in an extra space-saving way. In my own small backyard, I've purchased and planted four espaliered apple trees from a local nursery that form two of the outside "walls" of my patio area.

To grow an espaliered tree from the ground up, here's where to start:

Rootstock 
The establishment of an espaliered tree begins with choosing a tree that is grown on dwarfing rootstock. For now, I will focus primarily on apples although I reference alternatives for warm climate gardeners, below. There's a numbering scheme (that does not follow an expected, sequential order) for apple tree rootstocks.  Here Here are succinct guides to understanding apple tree rootstock codes with descriptions of their various advantages & disadvantages, and Here for pears.

Taking a cue from my cautionary tale, above, choose a variety that also has good disease resistance.

Spur Bearing vs. Tip Bearing
Apples & pears bear fruit either near the main branches on fruiting spurs or at the ends (tips) of the branches. For espalier, it's important to choose a tree that is spur-bearing. In some cases the same type of apple tree is available in both tip & spur bearing varieties. A short article, HEREexplains that further. Some spur bearing varieties recommended for espaliering by vegetablegardener.com are 'Red Rome', 'Stayman', 'Red Delicious', & 'Golden Delicious'. If you're unsure whether your favorite variety is spur or tip bearing, the grower should be able to tell you. In some cases, the name of the apple variety will give you a clue to its growth habit. For example, Stark Bros. labels their spur-bearing varieties with the brand name "Stark-spur".

Chill Hours
Chill hours are the cumulative number of hours that the temperature is between 32-45 degrees Fahrenheit in fall & winter. Many fruiting & flowering trees, including apples & pears, require a certain number of "chill hours" to reach dormancy & set flowers & fruit the following growing season. The required number of chill hours varies widely by variety. 'Red Delicious', for example, requires 800 chilling hours whereas 'Fuji' only requires 100-400 chilling hours. HERE, is a chill map of the U.S. developed by the University of Maryland to help you determine the number of chill hours for your area. If you buy your trees from a local nursery, they have most likely done the work of determining which trees will grow best in your area, but being over-prepared is never a bad idea.

Low Chill Options
For areas with few chill hours, apple varieties with low-chill requirements are available. Because I've been asked specifically about Florida, HERE is a map showing greater detail of chill hours for that state.

Tangerine tree espaliered into an informal shape surrounded by hen and chicks at its base. Design by Scott Shrader. Photo: Mark Adams

If you live in an area that doesn't receive enough chill hours to grow apples or pears, you might consider growing espaliered citrus-- orange, kumquat, lemon or lime-- or a fig tree. Some of these you may be able to find already espaliered at a local nursery, and certainly you can find young trees, not espaliered, available for sale.

Pollination
Some apple trees are sold as "self-pollinating", but I'm told for effective pollination & consistent fruiting, a second variety is necessary. Here is a handy checker for pollination compatibility-- select your tree from the list, and a list of effective pollinators pops up.

Choose the Site
Apple & pear trees grow best in full sun. Walls & fences make nice backdrops for espaliered trees, and the warmth from a wall can help protect the tree from late spring frosts, but free-standing espaliered trees are also very attractive. Be sure there's enough room for the tree to spread out on each side, about 5 feet in each direction.
Training posts & wires on espaliers 

For training wires for one set of our espaliered trees, my husband & I sank 4x4 posts in concrete on either side of the tree & used 14 gauge wire attached with eye-bolts between the posts. Turnbuckles attached to one end ensure that we can tighten the wire as it gives over time.

Choosing the Espaliered Form & Planting 
If you can imagine the espaliered form, you can probably train your tree into it. Formal shapes are most traditional, but informal shapes are also attractive and may not take as long to achieve.

In fall or early spring, plant a whip close enough to the framework to attach the lateral growth to the wires. A whip is a young vertical tree with no branches or side shoots. If possible, you'll want a pair of opposing buds at about the level of the first wire. Just above these two opposing buds, cut the whip at a 45-degree angle. Attach the whip to the bottom training wire with a soft tie, like this one.

An informal espaliered tree, This Old House

For an informal espalier, the branches of a young whippy tree may be trained flat against a trellis or training wires, unwanted outward growth can be removed.

Training progression of espalier
photo courtesy Cottage in the Oaks
Training
About 4-6 weeks after the first new growth appears, tie the side growth to the training wires. (Doing this too soon before the new growth has established slightly will cause it to break off.) The central vertical growth will become the new leader. Once the new leader reaches the 2nd wire, continue the process for the second tier.

Well, what do you think? Care to give it a try?! Be sure to tell me if you do.

Below, are some excellent articles on espalier from which you can find a wealth of helpful information, as questions are sure to arise as you work through the process.
Best of luck!
Keri
Vegetable Gardener - How to Grow Espalier Apple Trees
French Gardening - The Fine Art of Espalier





28 comments:

  1. Keri, Loved this and the previous post! I am so impressed with all you are doing in your yard. I loved the shapes (what cool drawings!) and ideas here.
    At our last home we had an espalier apple with Golden Delicious, Braeburn, Gala and one other type of apps I forgot now. So pretty when it grew and we got a ton of unique and delicious apples after several years. I really miss that tree! Where we are now, the previous owners put in a wall of citrus varieties in espalier form. Love them too, but they have overgrown their areas and need help! So much to do! You always inspire me here and I get excited to think of what I can do with my own place. Great posts! xo Kim

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    1. Kim,
      Thanks! Your California weather is enviable. All the things you can grow is just amazing. Try your hand at another espalier. I think you'd love it!

      Keri

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  2. Thanks for sharing all your research on this most civilized art form! I never knew about chill hours. I'd say we definitely got the required chill hours this past winter,although with global warming the garden zones keep changing. So sorry to hear about the fire blight, Keri. Keep us posted!
    Enjoy this garden season - Loi
    PS - Debra is the best of the best!!

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    1. Loi,
      It's my pleasure. Thank YOU for reading. Every year I check the USDA growing zone maps to see what has changed. You never know what this crazy weather will do. It's a bit of a lottery.

      Best,
      Keri

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  3. GOOD MORNING MY FRIEND! It is great to see you here, and sorry to hear that one of your apple trees may have the blight; I know for us up here in Minnesota, this horrible winter took its toll on many of our STURDY trees and boxwoods, so I suspect that winter has left its mark on your garden. But the espalier is the most gorgeous project to focus on, and I wish you luck. You have reminded me this morning to take my camera with me because there is this magnificent white brick house on my way to school with a PINK crabapple espalier over the front entrance. I think by Friday the blooms will be open, and I hope to snap away!

    Wishing you happy days in your garden dear friend. Anita

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    1. Hi there, Anita!
      This has been one crazy winter, hasn't it?! I'm glad it's finally warming up. If you get a chance to snap a pic of that pink crab apple espalier, I'd love to see!

      Keri

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  4. Keri,
    I need to do some additional research to be able advise my kids on the apple espalier we planted in 2012, thank you for tracking down some of this information for me. :-) I'm sorry to hear one of your trees has fire blight. I'm assuming there's a cure? The apple we planted has produced fruit in abundance for it's young age. I didn't taste the apples to determine if they were delicious or not, but they are a very small, well-formed apples---not crab apple sized, but small.

    I think I would still like one in my yard, even if we don't get the chill hours. It makes me wonder if the tree we bought is a hybrid. There is a well known, well respected nursery (grower) in Southern California [Monrovia Nursery] that has created plants that are supposed to thrive in our excessively warm climate.

    I hope your yard is coming along nicely and that you'll be ready to share with us soon. Oh, and the rosa banks espalier I wrote about in my yard is going strong. Maybe I should stick with that!
    xo,
    Karen

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    1. Karen,
      Thank you. Unfortunately, there's no cure for fire blight, but I'm taking measures to slow & stop it the best I can. It's a bit of a wait & see game.
      Your 'Rosa Banks' is awesome. I loved seeing photos of it!

      Keri

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  5. Keri
    I would love to try this at our lake home when my life settles down. This is really helpful. I am bookmarking for a later date!

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    1. Cindy,
      That's the story of my life, too-- "when life settles down". It's crazy wonderful, isn't it?! I hope you have a chance to get one started. Best of luck!

      Keri

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  6. Wonderful blog post. So thorough and interesting. We are putting an espaliered apple tree soon and I have bookmarked this post for future reference!

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    1. Sunday,
      Thanks so much. I'm glad you liked it, & good luck with your apple tree! I'll watch for pictures of it on your blog.

      Keri

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  7. What an amazing amount of research! Now if I can just find a spot for an espaliered citrus with hens and chicks at the base. Beautiful.
    XO, Victoria

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    1. Thanks so much, Victoria. I've wished so many time that I could grow citrus without bringing it in for the winter. Consider yourself super lucky!

      Keri

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  8. Hi Keri, lots of great info here - thank you.
    I've got the wall, I've got the plant, now there's nothing stopping me from following instructions!!
    Hope all well, and you have a lovely day,
    Liz x

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    1. Liz, I hope you do it! It's great fun. Good luck!

      Keri

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  9. I love the look...I would love to put a tree against my garden walls...

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    1. Julie & Danni,
      In your wonderful California climate, you have so many options. You should give it a try!

      Keri

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  10. Hello Keri! SO nice to see your visit today! Well, this weekend for us is supposed to be nice so I am getting out there to clean out my three gardens. I have a boulevard rain garden, a hillside garden in the front then the back garden. GOAL: clean up all the dead leaves and start to till the ground. By the first weekend of June, I am pruning away the dead branches from my boxwoods! I will try to get a photo of that gorgeous house with the crabapple espalier!

    Much love dear Keri, Anita

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  11. Now I would absolutely love this...Unfortuately we have recently had to remove the Boston ivy from our home...It was absolutely taking over...we just could not keep up with it. Life is just too busy. Now we are left with the horrible task of removing all the suckers from three different surfaces. Stone, stucco and painted wood. What a mess. Do you have any tips? Have a great week.

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  12. Such an interesting post Keri! I adore the art of espalier, and we are nurturing a line of Hornbeam here at home in Kent, England. Some great information here, so thank you.

    Happy Gardening!

    Sophia x

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  13. KERI! HELLO! I am so happy to see you came by my post because I was thinking of you when I found that espalier photo. And it wasn't until this morning that I was looking at my post that I even noticed how appropriate the missing branch was for the message. I picked the photo because of the "family tree" feeling of it. My dear, the pains with the joys....you know them too...may you always be filled to the brim with more joys, always! Have a great Memorial Day and I did so much gardening yesterday that today, I am pleasantly exhausted! XOXOX

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  14. I espaliered 4 dwarf apple trees after seeing them at a garden show about 3 years ago. I used an informal method choosing trees with already appropriate branches and pruning away the rest. They look great and I get lots of apples. Just inform your gardener what you are trying to achieve. Mine did some pruning of branches when they got too long.

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  15. What an amazing amount of research! Thank you for giving me hours of enjoyment! Your blogs are interesting, beautiful and exciting.
    DIY Wallpaper Based Ornament Design

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  16. I am currently trying my hand at climbing roses, and then espaliered walls. I have done this in years and am attempting to re-claim our 1-acre piece of property and mold it into something beautiful instead of something wild. This is a totally wonderful post, and so are all your others. xx's

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  17. Hey Keri. Just how gorgeous is that Tangerine tree with the Hen & Chickens at its feet. I'm so tempted to give it a go still. Have a fab weekend. Paul x

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