Does anyone have experience with espaliering fruit trees?

Amanda Witman
By Amanda Witman on Thu, Oct 24, 2013 - 11:10am

I would never consider this if I had enough space for them without it.  But I don't.  My lot is 0.09 acres and it has a house and a garage on it.  I have to make the best of what I have.

I was planning to put three different kinds of trees in, overhanging the driveway, but it seems that I really do need a pollinator for two of them (pear and apple -- the other would be peach).  From what I've read about grafting two varieties together, it's only moderately successful long-term, and I'm not sure that's good enough to warrant my investment.

Also, my neighbor heard of my plans and is being weird about the property line and the possibility of fruit overhanging her property.  I am handling sensitively and hoping to win her over on this one.  Not sure whether she's a long-term neighbor...I need to talk with her more about why she is concerned, but I'm balancing "good neighbor relations" with "need to grow food for my family ASAP."

(I am encouraging neighbors to grow fruit trees and planning to mentor others nearby once I prove to myself that I can do it.)

I have a stretch of space on the south-facing wall of my house where I could put one or two trees "flat" in front of the wall.

I have a margin of 4-6' between my driveway and the property line, and that's the strip where I was planning on putting 3 (dwarf) trees.

I'm also thinking I'll put in two beach plums, and I have two blueberry bushes.

So, espalier...  Have you done it?  Do you have any insights or tips?  Resources to recommend?  Other thoughts on growing fruit trees in small spaces?

4 Comments

Sirocco's picture
Sirocco
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 17 2013
Posts: 31
Grafting and espalier

I have a little experience with both grafting and espaliering. My first note is that some trees take to those "treatments" and some don't. Best to ask your plant nursery expert to help you select species and varieties that will do well with those treatments.

Grafting isn't hard, with a little practice (and the right trees), you should be able to graft successfully. When done correctly, a grafted branch should be nearly as strong as the original plant would have been. I think that grafting is a good skill to have, and suggest that you give it a try so that you build that skill. There are good books on the topic, and you can probably find good instructions online as well.

Picking the right trees is even more important with espalier. You want to select species/varieties that naturally have a lateral-growing habit (vs an upright/columnar habit). You will need a "structure" to tie the lateral branches to to train them to grow horizontally, and the espaliers-in-training will need a fair amount of attention to get them to grow correctly and keep them that way. Again there are good instructions in various books and most likely online as well. 

I've always found deciduous trees to be pretty forgiving - my advice is to go ahead and try your hand at grafting and espalier. Don't be shy. You will learn a lot as you go; and the absolute worst thing that can happen is that you kill the tree and have to replant and start over - which isn't the end of the world. Equally possible is that you are completely successful, find that you can expand your fruit production for a much reduced cost, and end up having a marketable skill. Good luck and have fun! 

Sirocco's picture
Sirocco
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 17 2013
Posts: 31
Cross pollination

If any of your close neighbors have (or can be talked into planting) compatible varieties of apples and/or pear trees, then you might not need to grow your own pollinator trees. Barring that, in some cases you can graft a "pollinator branch" onto your tree, so that one tree grows several varieties (of apples for example) that serve as cross-pollinators. 

Grover's picture
Grover
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 16 2011
Posts: 839
Some thoughts

Amanda,

I don't have direct experience with espalier; however, there is a guy a few miles down the road who put a small orchard of these on his property about 5-8 years ago (I don't remember exactly when. I've never spoken with him.) Whenever I drive by his place, I look to see the results. In my opinion, his results are pretty pathetic. I've never seen more than a dozen fruits on any of the trees.

If you think about it, the canopy converts sunlight into the energy that goes into fruit production. By limiting the canopy, you are limiting the production. Fruit trees have a natural tendency to produce a large canopy for a reason. Dwarf trees can be grown normally and pruned to stay within your 4-6' strip. I have a semi dwarf Bosc pear that was here when I bought the place. It is probably 15 years old now. It has a vertical habit and is at most 8' diameter and 12' tall (I prune it to keep it from growing any higher.) This year we harvested 2 nearly full 5-gallon buckets from it. Remember, when pruning, pears and apples produce on second year wood while stone fruits produce on first year. You're looking at several years before you'll get a decent crop. ASAP doesn't mean soon.

If I were in your shoes, I'd try to find out exactly why the neighbor is objecting. Is it the mess, the property line, her perceived property values, what exactly? Find out what kind of options would be acceptable to her. Bringing a plate of fresh cookies might melt her harshness.

I would also look into other fruit options. Cane berries work well in an espalier setting. I don't know how to combat verticillium wilt other than to replant in other areas (not an option for you) when infestation occurs. Grapes are another espalier option.

Blueberries can be prolific producers and remain compact. Any errant branches can be pruned to retain the shape. In the fall, the foliage turns crimson. After the leaves drop, the gnarled twigs are still beautiful. There are many varieties (early to late production, too tart to too sweet, etc.) so pick varieties that do well in your area and produce fruit that you find appealing. Also, keep your eyes open to finding bushes that are at least 10 years old. I bought a pair of 35 year old bushes from a blueberry farm that was being converted to houses. They have very shallow roots and transplant well. I dug them up in full bloom. They didn't skip a beat. They'll live to 50+ years and keep getting more appealing and prolific with time. Birds love them so invest in some netting.

Hope this helps,

Grover

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 13 2009
Posts: 1988
espalier.

Brian and I are also considering espalier: we want to train some pears along the side of the house with an herb garden at their feet, like this guy. Forward the video to 46.20. Charlie Headington is giving a tour of his house for a permaculture class, and he has espaliered pears on the side of his house.

 

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