What is an Espalier?

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  • Written By: L. Hepfer
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 07 November 2019
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The art of espalier gardening began in the 16th century. The need for growing fruit within marginal spaces became necessary, giving the French the idea to promote various growth patterns with their trees. The trees were grown along a specific fence or wall, providing thicker shelters and radiating heat for those who lived inside. They were also used to grow fruit on the inside of castle walls.

The word, espalier, originally pertained to the frame on which the tree was planted against. However, now it is often referred to the training of the plant's growth and the type of plant itself. Espalier plants were used as a form of insulation and to provide food hundreds of years ago. Now they are more commonly used as a decorative feature in a person's landscape.

Before growing and cultivating any espalier tree, you need to take into consideration the size of the tree you wish to grow compared to the space you have. Growing espalier trees take time and patience, and a person should start out slowly when creating this particular type of garden so they can learn the specific needs of each tree. Espalier trees are trained to grow in symmetrical patterns. Unwanted branches are snipped off to encourage the other branches to grow in a desired direction.


Drawing the design ahead of time on the wall where the espalier tree or plant will be grown can help the gardener during the pruning process. If the shape is drawn on the wall beforehand, this helps the gardener cut back the appropriate branches to achieve the desired design. Many desired shapes that people choose to grow their espalier trees in are basket weave patterns, tiers, diamond motifs and candelabras.

The training process of growing the espalier plant usually takes place before any new growth begins. The best time to prune is usually in late winter or early spring. Pruning throughout any other season can cause the growth of the plant to slow down considerably or it could encourage new growth that would not have time to mature before any frost sets in.

An espalier tree is extremely ideal for someone who has limited garden space. Espalier trees create a large focal point in a person's garden where it draws attention. Certain vines that grow as a covering can be trained to grow as an espalier plant. A gardener would practice the same growth habits for the vines as they do for the trees.


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