In regard to plant arrangement, an orchard’s architecture must combine aesthetics with functionality. Pruning plays an important role in organizing the orchard’s layout. Its purpose is to give the plant the most adequate shape. Espalier culture gives the orchard a fairly original structure by training fruit trees against a wall. This technique helps to save space and simplifies plant maintenance. 

There are several ways to organize the plants’ layout in an orchard. Good planning gives the garden an aesthetic appearance while facilitating maintenance. Here are some tips on how to achieve an espalier fruit tree culture.

Pruning and espalier culture  

Espalier culture can be carried out on most fruit trees. Yet, pomaceous trees and vines lend themselves best to this type of culture. Cultivation techniques and maintenance procedures for espalier plants differ little from techniques applied to other crops. However, some points are specific to espalier culture. The wall trellis should be at the north and facing south, as to allow the trellised plants to receive maximum sunlight. The shrubs are planted about 12 inches from the wall, giving them room to develop and providing better nourishment to the roots. Although the majority of fruit trees can be planted throughout the year, planting in early fall or late summer is ideal for the plant to have enough time to recover. The objective is for the plant to be ready for its first pruning by late winter. As the trellis laths are regularly spaced out every 12 in, one must keep a 4-foot space between apple seedlings and 2 feet between those of the pear.

In early spring, the young plant is trimmed down to a foot from the ground, being careful to keep two lateral buds and one pointing forward. We train the three branches that spring from these buds. The lateral buds are trained on a 45 ° angle from the trunk. Later, they will become the lower scaffold branches. Keeping the middle branch vertical, you can proceed to the second pruning in the following autumn, or wait until spring. Eventually trimmed to a 20 inch length, the lower stems are bent and trained horizontally. The trunk itself is trimmed down to 14 inches from the lower spurs. The previous year’s procedure can be repeated to produce a final structure in a “U” or “double U” shape. This shape pruning spreads out over 2-3 years. Regular pruning comes later, when the plant is three years old and about to give its first crop.  For an espalier grapevine, keep a few lateral branches and train them. We may also use a lattice instead of a wall to train the espalier plants. Another lattice-work, the free-standing espalier, can be slightly set apart from the wall trellis, and used to train the branches of tall fruit trees.

The planning of the espalier orchard 

Espalier culture is a way of organizing the orchard by pruning fruit trees following the method known as espalier. Although intended mainly to give the plant a particular structure, espalier pruning is a combination of shape pruning, maintenance trimming and regular pruning. Its main characteristic is to arrange the trained plants against a wall. Shape pruning gives the tree its general form, which can be trained in a “U,” “double U,” or parasol shape. Maintenance pruning refreshes the plant by trimming unnecessary and unsightly branches. Furthermore, by only keeping what is essential, maintenance pruning gives the plant additional vigour. Regular pruning enhances the branches and stems that will bear flower buds. Growing in espalier gives the orchard an original structure in which plants are “flattened” against the wall trellis.

The advantages of espalier pruning 

The first advantage of espalier pruning is the space saved. When properly trained, the row of fruit trees is reduced to a 12-inch wide wall of greenery. The guided shape gives the row a particular aesthetic. Apart from shaping and space saving, training against a wall also give the plant a protection against winds. It improves resistance to cold and helps plants pass the winter. While providing protection, the wall also acts as a light ray reflector. Hence, the plant takes advantage of this additional source of light. Espalier pruning is one of the most effective because the cooling and thinning of branches are excellent. The plant thus benefits from light and air circulation. Treatments against insects are also greatly facilitated. Growing in espalier is time-consuming and requires lots of labour, but the combination of shape pruning, maintenance trimming and regular pruning allow the plant to bear better fruit. The harvest is also much easier since the fruit is more accessible. Grown in espalier, fruit trees can live for over fifty years.

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Published in Orchard by Alexander on 04 Jul 2011