How to espalier like a pro

Grow up and over a wall, fence or trellis.

It’s a decorative feature that won’t take up space, and not only is it beautiful it’s practical too. Training a tree to grow flat against a wall, fence or trellis exposes all parts of the tree to direct sunlight, increasing flower and fruit production. It’s also particularly useful in cooler areas where frosts are likely, as the wall can protect plants from weather extremes.

You can buy ready-made espaliered trees from your local nursery or create your own. There are lots of designs to choose, including vase, fan, candelabra or Belgian fence. However, for beginners, start with a simple horizontal design. Like growing a hedge, it takes time and patience, but it’s worth it.

Gather your supplies

• 150mm-dia. x 1.8m wing split sleepers (2)

• Young tree (we used a lemon tree)

You’ll also need

Spanner; screwdriver; 90mm screws; 72 x 4 x 14mm screw eyes; 3.2mm swage; bottlescrews; 3mm rope thimbles; 3.2mm wire rope; secateurs; swaging tool or cable clamp, budding tape.

Here’s how

Step 1 Select a sunny spot. To ensure there is adequate room between fence and espaliered tree, attach wing split sleeper to fence post. If necessary, measure fence post and cut sleeper to measured size. Position sleeper on fence post and screw evenly along sleeper to secure. Repeat for neighbouring fence post.

Step 2 On each sleeper, measure and mark 500mm from ground. Then measure and mark evenly spaced intervals, approximately 300mm along sleeper. On each mark, predrill then screw in screw eyes. Use spanner to tighten.

Step 3 Along 1 sleeper, attach 1 end of bottlescrew to each screw eye and unwind halfway. On opposite sleeper, feed 1 end of wire rope through swage and through 1 screw eye, then back through swage to create a loop. Insert thimble into swage and pull down on wire. Clamp down on swage with swaging tool or cable clamp to seal. Turn swage over and repeat.

Step 4 Run wire rope to screw eye in opposite sleeper. Cut wire to length, then feed through swage, bottlescrew end and back through swage to create a loop. Insert thimble into swage and pull down on wire. Clamp down on swage to seal. Turn over and repeat. Tighten bottlescrew until wire is taut. Repeat Steps 3 and 4 for remaining screw eyes.

Step 5 Plant tree 150-200mm from wire support. Use budding tape to tie central trunk to wire.

Step 6 Carefully bend side branches towards wire and loosely secure with budding tape. Ties are needed approximately every 200mm along branch. Loosen and adjust ties as branches grow, slowly lowering branches towards wire until they are horizontal. Forcing branches to bend and sit along wires may cause them to break.

Step 7 Remove branches or any buds growing at front of central trunk. New branches will form each year – tie them to wire, adding new wires if necessary, until desired height is reached.

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