Espalier is the horticultural
Horticulture is the industry and science of plant cultivation including the process of preparing soil for the planting of seeds, tubers, or cuttings. Horticulturists work and conduct research in the disciplines of plant propagation and cultivation, crop production, plant breeding and genetic...

 and ancient agricultural practice of controlling woody plant growth by pruning and tying branches so that they grow into a flat plane, frequently in formal patterns, against a structure such as a wall, fence, or trellis, and also plants which have been shaped in this way.

Espalier, trained into flat two dimensional forms are ideal not only for decorative purposes, but also for gardens in which space is limited. In a temperate climate they may be; planted next to a wall that can reflect more sunlight and retain heat overnight or planted so that they absorb maximum sunlight by training them parallel to the equator.
These two facts allow the season to be extended
Season extension
In agriculture, season extension refers to anything that allows a crop to be cultivated beyond its normal outdoor growing season.For colder climates, the fully heated and artificially lit greenhouse is the ultimate season extension device, allowing some crops to be grown year-round, through...

 so that fruit mature over a longer period.

A restricted form of training consisting of a central stem and a number of paired horizontal branches all trained in the same plane.
The most important advantage is that of being able to increase the growth of a branch by training it vertically. Later, you can decrease growth while increasing fruit production by training it horizontally.

A Belgian fence is created by cutting back an unbranched, slender tree to between fifteen and eighteen inches above the ground. The top most of three buds are allowed to form; one in the middle trained vertically while two others are trained into a V shape. Any other buds are rubbed away. Removing the vertical stem completes the individual V shaped espalier. By placing many similarly trained trees in a line two feet apart with their branches trained to the same plane a Belgian fence is created.

The Belgian fence is an intermediary form that can then be used to train onward to many other forms of espalier including; Step-over where the branches are lowered down to the horizontal in autumn while still flexible enough and tied to a trellis, Fan where the branches are lowered and cut back then trained further, Horizontal T where the branches are trained to horizontal as with step-over but the vertical stem is trained up to another level and cut usually in spring of the second year, where another V shape is created and the resulting branches finally being lowered to another wire in autumn of the second year. Multiple levels of horizontal branching can be trained in this way.

In each case branches are first trained vertically so they will grow vigorously and then later, after the desired growth is achieved, they are lowered to the horizontal to reduce their vigor while optimizing spur formation.

Espalier training can be used on full sized trees in order to force them to present their fruit within reach. As such it probably predates grafting of trees onto dwarfing root stock. Using dwarf or semi-dwarf plants is still a good idea as it reduces the amount of pruning that is necessary.


The word espalier is French, and it comes from the Italian spalliera, meaning “something to rest the shoulder (spalla) against.” During the 17th Century, the word initially referred only to the actual trellis or frame on which such a plant was trained to grow, but over time it has come to be used to describe both the practice and the plants themselves. The practice was popularly used in the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

 in Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

 to produce fruit inside the walls of a typical castle courtyard without interfering with the open space and to decorate solid walls by planting flattened trees near them. Vineyards have used the technique in the training of grapes for hundreds or perhaps even thousands of years.

Species choices

In a given region, any species of plant that grows at the required growth rate, to finish training within a single season, might be good espalier candidates. Certain types of plants adapt better to this practice than others do, but almost any woody plant can be trained to grow along a flat plane by removing growth outside that plane.
Horizontal T training of an apple or pear tree is a good example of the ideal species for espalier. In the spring the tree is pruned to the lowest wire perhaps 15 to 18 inches above the ground. During the summer, buds lengthen into branches; one trained vertically to the next wire while others are trained along the wires. Unnecessary buds are removed by rubbing them away with your thumb. In autumn the side branches are lowered and tied to the wires completing the level. The following year another level is created. So the ideal species for training to espalier is one where each part of the grand design can be completed in a single growing season.

Suggested species for espalier include:
  • Acer palmatum Japanese Maple
    Acer palmatum
    Acer palmatum, called Japanese Maple or Smooth Japanese Maple is a species of woody plant native to Japan, North Korea, South Korea, China, eastern Mongolia, and southeast Russia. Many different cultivars of this maple have been selected and they are grown worldwide for their attractive leaf...

  • Cercis canadensis Redbud
  • Citrus spp. Lemon, Orange, Tangerine, etc.
  • Coccoloba uvifera Sea grape
    Sea grape
    The name sea grape or seagrape can refer to the tunicates, as well as several different groups of plants:* Coccoloba uvifera, a flowering plant native to North, East, and West America* Seaweeds in the genus Caulerpa, especially:...

  • Eriobotrya japonica Loquat
    The loquat , Eriobotrya japonica, is a fruit tree in the family Rosaceae, indigenous to southeastern China. It was formerly thought to be closely related to the genus Mespilus, and is still sometimes known as the Japanese medlar...

  • Euonymus alata Winged Euonymus

  • Ficus carica Fig
  • Forsythia intermedia Forsythia
  • Ilex spp. Hollies
    Ilex) is a genus of 400 to 600 species of flowering plants in the family Aquifoliaceae, and the only living genus in that family. The species are evergreen and deciduous trees, shrubs, and climbers from tropics to temperate zones world wide....

    , esp. Ilex cornuta 'Burford Burford holly
    Ilex cornuta
    Ilex cornuta is a species of the genus Ilex in the plant family Aquifoliaceae. It is native to eastern China and Korea. It is a slow-growing, densely-foliaged evergreen shrub that attains a height of 3 metres . The leaves are usually 5-spined , between 3.5 cm and 10 cm long, oblong and...

  • Lagerstroemia indica Crape myrtle
  • Magnolia grandiflora Southern magnolia
    Southern magnolia
    Magnolia grandiflora, commonly known as the southern magnolia or bull bay, is a tree of the family Magnoliaceae native to the southeastern United States, from coastal Virginia south to central Florida, and west to eastern Texas and Oklahoma...

  • Magnolia stellata Star Magnolia
  • Malus spp. Apple
    The apple is the pomaceous fruit of the apple tree, species Malus domestica in the rose family . It is one of the most widely cultivated tree fruits, and the most widely known of the many members of genus Malus that are used by humans. Apple grow on small, deciduous trees that blossom in the spring...

    , Crabapple
    Crabapple is a term used for several species of Malus in the family Rosaceae, which are characterized by small sour fruit resembling familiar table apples . They are usually small trees or shrubs....

    , etc.
  • Olea europia Olive
    The olive , Olea europaea), is a species of a small tree in the family Oleaceae, native to the coastal areas of the eastern Mediterranean Basin as well as northern Iran at the south end of the Caspian Sea.Its fruit, also called the olive, is of major agricultural importance in the...

  • Prunus spp. Peach
    The peach tree is a deciduous tree growing to tall and 6 in. in diameter, belonging to the subfamily Prunoideae of the family Rosaceae. It bears an edible juicy fruit called a peach...

    , Nectarine, Plum
    A plum or gage is a stone fruit tree in the genus Prunus, subgenus Prunus. The subgenus is distinguished from other subgenera in the shoots having a terminal bud and solitary side buds , the flowers in groups of one to five together on short stems, and the fruit having a groove running down one...

    , Almond
    The almond , is a species of tree native to the Middle East and South Asia. Almond is also the name of the edible and widely cultivated seed of this tree...

  • Pyrus spp. Pear
    The pear is any of several tree species of genus Pyrus and also the name of the pomaceous fruit of these trees. Several species of pear are valued by humans for their edible fruit, but the fruit of other species is small, hard, and astringent....

  • Taxus sp. Yew
    Taxus is a genus of yews, small coniferous trees or shrubs in the yew family Taxaceae. They are relatively slow-growing and can be very long-lived, and reach heights of 1-40 m, with trunk diameters of up to 4 m...

  • Camellia japonica and C. sasanqua Camellia
    Camellia, the camellias, is a genus of flowering plants in the family Theaceae. They are found in eastern and southern Asia, from the Himalaya east to Korea and Indonesia. There are 100–250 described species, with some controversy over the exact number...

  • Carissa grandiflora Natal plum
  • Chaenomeles lagenaria Chinese flowering quince
    Chaenomeles is a genus of three species of deciduous spiny shrubs, usually 1–3 m tall, in the family Rosaceae. They are native to eastern Asia in Japan, China and Korea...

  • Cotoneaster sp. Cotoneaster
    Cotoneaster is a genus of woody plants in the rose family, Rosaceae, native to the Palaearctic region , with a strong concentration of diversity in the genus in the mountains of southwestern China and the Himalayas...

  • Gardenia jasminoides Gardenia
    Gardenia is a genus of 142 species of flowering plants in the coffee family, Rubiaceae, native to the tropical and subtropical regions of Africa, southern Asia, Australasia and Oceania....

  • Juniperus spp. Juniper
    Junipers are coniferous plants in the genus Juniperus of the cypress family Cupressaceae. Depending on taxonomic viewpoint, there are between 50-67 species of juniper, widely distributed throughout the northern hemisphere, from the Arctic, south to tropical Africa in the Old World, and to the...

    , esp. Juniperus × pfitzeriana
    Pfitzer juniper
    Juniperus chinensis
    Juniperus chinensis grows as a shrub or tree with a very variable in shape, reaching 1-20 m tall. This native of northeast Asia grows in China, Mongolia, Japan, Korea and the southeast of Russia.-Growth:...

  • Ligustrum japonicum Privet
    Privet was originally the name for the European semi-evergreen shrub Ligustrum vulgare, and later also for the more reliably evergreen Ligustrum ovalifolium , used extensively for privacy hedging. It is often suggested that the name privet is related to private, but the OED states that there is no...

  • Photinia glabra Redtip photinia
    Photinia glabra
    Photinia glabra is a species in the family Rosaceae.-References and external links:*...

  • Photinia serrulata Chinese Photinia
  • Podocarpus spp. Podocarpus
    Podocarpus is a genus of conifers, the most numerous and widely distributed of the podocarp family Podocarpaceae. The 105 species of Podocarpus are evergreen shrubs or trees from 1-25 m in height...

  • Pyracantha spp. Firethorn
    Pyracantha is a genus of thorny evergreen large shrubs in the family Rosaceae, with common names Firethorn or Pyracantha. They are native to an area extending from Southeast Europe east to Southeast Asia, resemble and are related to Cotoneaster, but have serrated leaf margins and numerous thorns...

    , esp. Pyracantha coccinea Pyracantha coccinea
    Pyracantha coccinea
    Pyracantha coccinea is the European species of Firethorn that has been cultivated in gardens since the late 16th century. The tree has small white flowers. It produces small, bright red berries. The fruit is bitter and astringent, making it inedible when raw. The fruit can be cooked to make...

  • Stewartia Koreana Korean Stewartia
  • Viburnum sp. Viburnum
    Viburnum is a genus of about 150–175 species of shrubs or small trees in the moschatel family, Adoxaceae. Its current classification is based on molecular phylogeny...

Woody vines
  • Allamanda cathartica Allamanda
    Allamanda, also known as Yellow Bell, Golden Trumpet or Buttercup Flower, is a genus of tropical shrubs or vines belonging to the dogbane family .The genus Alamanda is native to South and Central America...

  • Ficus pumila Creeping fig
    Ficus pumila
    Ficus pumila is a woody evergreen vine that is native to East Asia.This plant requires the fig wasp Blastophaga pumilae for pollination, and is fed upon by larvae of the butterfly Marpesia petreus....

  • Jasminum nudiflorum Winter Jasmine
    Jasminum nudiflorum
    Jasminum nudiflorum or Winter Jasmine, is a slender, deciduous shrub native to China. It has arching green shoots and opposite, pinnate, dark green leaves. Each leaf is divided into three oval-oblong leaflets which are about 3 cm long....

  • Pyrostegia venusta Flame vine
  • Trachelospermum jasminoides Confederate jasmine

Design options

Espalier design often uses traditional formal patterns developed over hundreds of years, but can also employ, more modern informal designs. A stunted or deformed plant or one that already has interesting or unique characteristics might be just right for an informal espalier.

Some common formal patterns include
  • V shaped: Tree is cut to a low wire 15 to 18 inches from the ground, two buds that lengthen into branches are attached to canes that keep them straight and the canes are attached to another wire that maintains a V shape. The V shape is the first step in producing many other formal patterns.
  • Belgian fence: More than one, V shaped espaliers, are planted two feet apart so that their branches cross, and are tied to a trellis.
  • Stepover: A Horizontal espalier with only one set of branches tied to a wire around 15 inches above the ground. Start with a V shape until desired branch length is attained but lower branches to the bottom wire by autumn of the first year. Takes only one year to produce the design from a well rooted unbranched tree (it may take somewhat longer for it to start producing fruit).
  • Horizontal T: Branches are trained horizontally along evenly spaced wires. Also referred to as a horizontal cordon. Start with a V shape where a third bud is trained straight up to another wire. Train other two branches to stepover. In spring of second year prune the vertical stem to the second wire and again train to a V shape etc. It takes one year per each level.
  • Palmette
    The palmette is a motif in decorative art which, in its most characteristic expression, resembles the fan-shaped leaves of a palm tree. It has an extremely long history, originating in Ancient Egypt with a subsequent development through the art of most of Eurasia, often in forms that bear...

     or fan: Branches grow in a radiating pattern created when the branches of a V shaped espalier are cut back and lowered slightly. Multiple buds are coaxed to form branches that are tied to a trellis in a radiating pattern.
  • Baldassari palmette: A palmette design created around 1950 used primarily for training peaches.
  • Cordon
    A cordon is also a line of people, military posts, or ships surrounding an area to close or guard it.Cordon may also refer to:* Cordon and search, a military operation...

    : Consists of a main stem with short fruiting spurs tied to a fence or a wire trellis. Probably the simplest and quickest espalier is the single vertical or angled cordon. The weakness of the vertical cordon is that its difficult to reign in the vigor of the tree. An angled cordon reduces the vigor of its growth, and increases fruit production.
  • Verrier candelabra is a type of vertical cordon with multiple upright stems that usually starts from a V shape.
  • Drapeau marchand: A cordon trained at an angle with the branches on its upper side trained to a right angle from the main stem.
  • U double and other U shaped espalier is just another way of referring to a double vertical cordon.

Plant selection, installation, and maintenance

Espalier plants intended to grace a solid wall are usually installed at least six inches and preferably up to twelve inches from the base of that wall, to allow space below ground for roots to grow in all directions and space above ground for good air circulation and pest control. Supports for wire guides, which are generally necessary to train an espalier into a design, are installed first, directly into a wall constructed of suitable material. Masonry walls are ideal for placing u-bolts, eye bolts, or eye screws, anchored with either plastic plugs or expandable lead shields, directly into the mortar joints. Wooden walls may be better fitted with galvanized nipples, using turnbuckles for adjustment of the wire tautness.

Suitable established healthy plants, three to four feet tall in perhaps three-gallon containers, are available from most nurseries. Some may even have trellises already installed and these could also be good candidates for espalier treatment, if their form is similar to the intended design, as they frequently have already been pruned into a flattened overall plant shape. All that is required for such specimens is transplanting. Unpruned plants benefit from being allowed to become well established following transplant, before pruning them gradually into their flattened profile and training them as designed. Any major pruning needed is generally accomplished either while the plant is dormant, or for flowering plants, during the proper season for pruning that species. Bending and training of the limbs that will remain in the design is done during the progression of the summer season, when they are most flexible.

Related tree shaping practices

  • Bonsai
    is a Japanese art form using miniature trees grown in containers. Similar practices exist in other cultures, including the Chinese tradition of penjing from which the art originated, and the miniature living landscapes of Vietnamese hòn non bộ...

  • Grafting
    Grafting is a horticultural technique whereby tissues from one plant are inserted into those of another so that the two sets of vascular tissues may join together. This vascular joining is called inosculation...

  • Pleaching
    Pleaching is a technique to weave the branches of trees into a hedge or to form a quincunx. Commonly, deciduous trees are planted in lines, then pleached to form a flat plane on clear stems above the ground level. Branches are woven together and lightly tied...

  • Topiary
    Topiary is the horticultural practice of training live perennial plants, by clipping the foliage and twigs of trees, shrubs and subshrubs to develop and maintain clearly defined shapes, perhaps geometric or fanciful; and the term also refers to plants which have been shaped in this way. It can be...

  • Tree shaping

External links

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