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How to Espalier Fruit Trees

by Patti on 10/22/2010

You don’t have to be a Master Gardener to have beautiful espalier fruit trees in your own backyard. Depictions of espalier fig trees have been found on the walls of Egyptian tombs and throughout the art of the middle ages. But in the 21st century, espalier fruit trees are popping up more and more in the back yards of Americans.

The art of espalier is when trees and branches are pruned and trained to be on one plane. They’re commonly found up against a wall or fence. Not only is the look a classic focal point in your landscape, but it helps to maximize your growing space. Espaliering can help keep your fruit trees in check while still providing you with a bountiful harvest. Implementing an espalier tree still requires maintenance throughout your growing season, but no more than any other backyard fruit tree.

Beginning Your Espalier

To begin the process, plant your tree 6-10 inches from a wall or fence. If your tree is bordering a walkway, you will need to build or purchase a frame trellis and train your tree’s young branches to it.

Pruning and Training

There will be 2 major times you’ll be pruning your espalier fruit trees:

  • In the winter (when your tree is dormant), you should be performing your major cuts and pruning your fruit tree back. This will stimulate growth and bud production in the spring.
  • You will also prune in late spring/summer for the purpose of creating your tree “shape”; as it grows, you will train the branches to follow the pattern you want.

This will take up to 4 years of training and pruning to have a great-looking tree and a bountiful fruit harvest.

Keep in mind these basic pruning principles:

  1. always cut back to a bud, a lateral branch, or to the main trunk
  2. avoid leaving long stubs when you make your cuts

Types of Edible Plants to Espalier

I love to espalier the following edibles, all available at Stark Bro’s:

Grapes, Apples, & Cherries


Peaches, Persimmons, & Plums

 Ichi-Ki-Kei-Jiro Persimmon Methley Plum 

Espalier Patterns

Once you pick the location and the type of edible plant to use in your garden, it’s time to pick what style of espaliering. There are many styles to try. I hope to have as many different styles in my garden as I can. The most popular patterns are the following:



One main trunk is grown in a horizontal direction or multiple tiers of branches are trained horizontally along the wall, fence, or support. This is great to use with grapevines along a short fence — or a fruit tree against a wall. The lattice pattern is best accomplished by planting multiple trees close together, depending on the amount of space you have and the size of the lattice you want. Then branches are trained to intertwine in a lattice pattern. This is a perfect pattern to try with fruit trees as a border along a walkway, or as a hedge along a short fence.

Fan Candelabra

One main trunk with branches trained symmetrically to grow at a 45 degree angle. This style is perfect to use with a pear tree up against a wall.

So as long as the ground hasn’t frozen where you are, order your trees from Stark Bro’s and get them in the ground so you can have fresh fruit and a great looking garden.

Find more on Stark Bro’s Pinterest Board for Fruit Tree Espalier »

Enjoying the fruits of my labor,

Patti Moreno, the Garden Girl

Topics → Tips


  1. James Lunceford The Wanabegardener permalink

    Great article, good illustrations.

  2. I love espaliered fruit trees, thanks for the tips.

  3. Sandra Sandford permalink

    We planted our first espalier apple tree this spring. Now we’re into fall and wondering when the proper time to prune it is, and just as important, where does one prune an espalier each year? Should we cut back all the new growth? Leave it? How much, where, etc. Will appreciate your advice. Thanks.

    • Hey there, Sandra :) You will want to prune your espaliered tree (while the tree is still dormant) to encourage that growth. You don’t want to remove ALL the new growth, just about a third of what grew the previous year. The older your apple tree gets, the more you will want to make sure you are not pruning off all of your fruiting buds; however, you may need to thin them out to avoid over-bearing.

      We have a Pruning Made Easy book that has an entire section dedicated to starting and maintaining an espalier form. We highly recommend it! :)

  4. Lee Anne Center permalink

    Will Stark Bros. select and sell apple (or/and other fruit) trees who branches are growing in such a way that they can be espaliered into a 2-rail fence like the one in Monet’s garden. See the photograph on

    Would standard or semi-dwarf trees accomplish this look the best (or dwarf)?

    • Lee Anne, espalier is a style to which a tree is trained as it grows. Most of our fruit trees can be trained to an espalier form (with a lot of time and effort) — most people have success with this style and getting fruit when they use dwarf/semi-dwarf sized trees, and ones that spur (grow fruit down the branch rather than just on the tips). :)

  5. tom white permalink

    Great article. With all the junk on the internet, you have presented quality material. Thanks

    • Meg permalink

      Thanks for taking the time to read, Tom, so glad the information is valuable to you. :) Let us know if you have any topic suggestions!

  6. Dale permalink

    I’m planting a 2-in-1 asian pear and was thinking of doing this w/ it. Any comments?

    • Hello Dale. The 2-N-1 Asian Pear would make an interesting espaliered tree! One thing you will have to be aware of is that the way the 2-N-1 trees are grafted, you will have a branch with one variety and another branch with the other. Be careful not to completely remove one of the branches when you are training your tree to an espaliered form because you may lose the pollinator and the second fruiting variety from your 2-N-1.

      The Pruning Made Easy Book is an excellent resource with instruction on getting your espaliered tree started and how to maintain it. :)

  7. bobanda permalink

    I think it is important to mention that the tree needs to be on dwarf root stock to save a lot of hassle whacking it back. Also, there are certain types of trees that are not suitable based on where/how they bear their fruit. It would be sad to find out the hard way after you have crafted the perfect form that you will not get fruit! The people at Stark Bros can recommend the good varieties.

    • These are excellent points! Dwarf sized trees (and some semi-dwarves) do make more ideal espaliered trees. It takes a lot of work to train to the shape you want and if you can utilize a tree that won’t grow too large, it helps. Trees that have a spurring nature (our spur-type apples are a good example of this) do allow for more fruit than the trees that tend to produce their fruit only on the tips of their branches.

      Thank you for bringing this up :)

  8. Terry permalink

    I am more or less a amaturer gardener and have planted 7 apple trees with the intention to espalier them against fencing around my raised bed potager garden. The trees were planted two years ago. I have just learned that many of them are tip bearing trees and do not work for espalier. The trees are: Fuji (tip bearing), Pixie Crunch (tip bearing), Honey Crisp (2 trees, spur bearing), Granny Smith (tip bearing), Pink Lady (tip and spur bearing), and Florina (partial tip bearing). Is there any possibility of forcing them into a espalied form, or should I dig them up and start again? If so, what varieties are best for this purpose?
    Thank you for any suggestions you might be able to give.

    • Terry, the reason tip-bearing apple trees are not ideal for espaliered fruit trees is that, while you’re training the trees to the ideal shape, you are removing most of (but not all!) the fruiting buds in the process. Tip-bearing apples like the varieties you have will still produce fruit for you, it just will be a comparatively smaller amount of fruit than it would have been with a spur-type tree. :)

  9. Steve Hendricks permalink

    I have just purchased 4 fruits trees from Stark Bro’s. they are; Red Fuji Apple Semi-Dwarf Supreme, Stark® Golden Delicious Apple Semi-Dwarf Supreme, Hosui Asian Pear Dwarf Supreme, and New Century Asian Pear Dwarf.
    I am hoping to espalier each of them against my fence. I have a few questions:
    Will these train well for espalier?
    Are they spur bearing? How do you find that out?
    In addition, I have a tall fence and was hoping to do 5-6 sets of laterals spaced 18″ apart. I read somewhere that you should not do more than 3 unless you have vigorous growing root stock. Are these trees a vigorous growing root stock? Would these trees be suitable to espalier 10′ high?
    When I prune the top shoot off to force the laterals to grown, should I use pruning “sealer” or “paint”?
    How well do your asian pears espalier? I’ve heard that some re fragile or brittle and don’t do that
    Thanks for your help,

    • Hi there, Steve. The trees we carry tell you when they are spur-type trees right in the name. For example, in the case of apple trees, you will see: “Starkspur®” Arkansas Black, Red Rome Beauty, Winesap, etc. The trees don’t necessarily have to be spur-bearing to produce fruit as an espalier, you just tend to get more fruit along the branch rather than at the tips in that case. When you prune, you don’t have to worry about using pruning sealer or paint while training your espaliered trees. The cuts you make will be small enough that the tree will heal itself. :)

      The trees should have no problem espaliering to 10′ high since they are semi-dwarf sized trees which will naturally try to grow to at least 12′ tall. Even the dwarfs, in the case of your Asian pears, will be able to reach that 10′ height. I am not sure why what you read recommended only 3 laterals (rather than the 5-6 you want) so it is difficult to recommend one way or another. It is likely the case that whoever wrote it simply expressed an opinion, but the Fuji apple for sure is very a vigorous grower, the Golden is comparatively more moderate, but they should all be able to train to the form you are going for.

      On that note, Asian pears espalier just fine. There hasn’t been any indication that they are brittle, especially not too brittle for training to an espalier form so, if you simply train the limbs while they’re young and new, you can get the lateral shape you are going for.

  10. Steve Hendricks permalink

    Thanks so much Sarah…I was feeling kinda bummed about it yesterday since I just planted the trees this weekend. Sounds like it will be ok:)
    So would it be possible to allow shoots off the main laterals to grow a little longer to try and encourage fruit growth there? Or will they still only fruit off the tip?
    In addition, I’m getting ready to top my trees to encourage the lateral growth. One of my trees has several 3-4″ branches coming off right below where I want to top it. I know I want my next vertical cordon to come out of the bud immediately below my cut…what should I do since the next 3 buds down have these 3-4″ branches already coming off? I was thinking of just topping it below those branches? (Does this make any sense to you?)
    Thanks so much for your help!

    • Glad to help bring your spirits back up about your espaliered trees, Steve. :) If you allow the shoots off the main laterals to grow, they do have the ability to become fruiting wood so that would increase your chances at fruit, but it may overtax the tree so I wouldn’t recommend allowing for too many of those while the tree is young.

      Many people prefer starting with whips (branchless trees) when they are going to espalier their trees and it’s because the existing branches, like in your situation, may not be in an ideal place. If you prune to the ideal buds, that should do the trick for you (even if it is below the existing branching). I hope this helps! :)

  11. Steve Hendricks permalink

    That is what I was thinking. I’ll cut the tree off below the small branches and then train the laterals up to the wire. I thought I was buying whips. How do you tell?
    How much should I water my newly planted bareroot trees? They haven’t “woken” up yet.
    Sure wish I had found your blog BEFORE I started. Ohwell, it will still work out.

    • Hi Steve! For the most part, it’s best to ask if trees are branched or if they are shipped as whips. Apples tend to be branched so you would be able to prune the branches off when you receive your trees and just train what comes out for you when the tree sprouts new vegetative growth, for the future. :)

      As far as watering is concerned, the trees only need the equivalent to an inch of rain fall a week ~ this translates to about a gallon of water every 7-10 days. If there is rain during that time, you don’t need to worry about watering too much!

  12. Jody Pagden permalink

    Hi Sarah- I wish I had read all of this before buying and planting since none of the other articles I’ve read ever mentioned SPUR trees.However I’m going to keep the gala and the honeycrisp trees and hope for the best. I did get your semi dwarf trees and since they have branches pretty much exactly where I wanted for 2 cordons of espalier , do I still need to cut them at the first cordon and wait for them to regrow?Or should I leave them and just trim the excess. I’ve only planted them a few weeks ago and haven’t done any pruning. Thanks

    • Hi Jody! There are only a few espalier sources I’ve run into that mention spur type trees. I suppose they are an unfortunately well-kept secret.

      You should not have to prune off any of the current branches if they are working to your advantage. The only pruning you would need to do is of unwanted growth (along your tree’s trunk or coming from the cordons you’re already training) that does not go along with your design. :)

  13. Morgan permalink

    I am thinking about espaliering some of my fruit tree’s, and I am just wondering if it will cut down on the fruit production of the tree.

    • Hi Morgan! When you espalier a fruit tree, you may get less fruit while the tree is still being trained — especially apple trees that tend to produce fruit on the ends of their limbs. We recommend, again in the case of apples, espaliering a spur-type apple tree since its nature is to produce fruit all down the branches. That way your trained tree will have a greater yield.

      The fruit production is not significantly affected in most cases. The espaliered form can even help to open up your tree to more air circulation and light which increases the quality of the fruit. :)

  14. Sandra Reed permalink

    I have a fenced in vegetable garden and would like to add some Espaliered fruit trees (apple, pear, peach & cherry) to be trained on wires connected to the fence posts inside the garden.

    I am expecting that I will need to spray these trees to keep the worms out of the apples, etc. and am concerned how that might affect my vegetables growing nearby?

    • Great question, Sandra! The best thing I would recommend to address your pest concerns as well as the safety of your veggies is to use a spray that is safe for your fruit trees as well as garden plants/vegetables. The information would be on the label of any spray you plan to use and if it doesn’t say mention that you can use it on or around garden vegetables, chances are you can’t.

      I’d recommend the Bonide® Citrus, Fruit & Nut Spray because it is a natural control for pests AND diseases and it lists several common garden vegetable plants on the label (beans, beets, cabbage, carrots, corn, squashes, kale, onions, peas, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, etc.).

  15. Steve Hendricks permalink

    Just an update and a few questions.
    My trees are all doing great and growing like gangbusters.
    #1: One of my apple trees is sending up a lot of suckers (from the roots). Is there anyway to discourage this? Is this ok, as long as I pinch them off?
    #2: My laterals and verticles are growing great. At what point should I start tying my laterals down? Should I wait until the end of the growing season, or should I “tie” them down as they grow?
    Thanks for your help!

    • Hello again, Steve! It’s great to hear your trees are growing so well. Suckering is natural for trees (even though it isn’t the best thing for them) but as long as you keep removing suckers when they form, you will be able to keep them under control.

      It works best to tie laterals down as soon as they grow enough in a direction away from your desired training. Often they try to curve upward toward the sun so when they start doing this you should tie them down horizontally again. The longer you wait the more you risk the new growth becoming sturdy and woody and it becomes more difficult to train at that point.

  16. Earl permalink

    I have some Stark trees that I’m espaliering. I planted them about 3 weeks ago and they are beginning to leaf out nicely. It is now June 2nd in Pennsylvania. There are allot of leaves emerging on the trunk where I don’t want to start branches. Can I just cut them back against the trunk, removing them now or do I need to wait until after July?

    • Those new growths (leaves and branches) can be removed as soon as they appear, or whenever you decide they should go, Earl. That way, you can encourage the tree’s energy to go toward growth and support of your espalier form. :)

  17. Steve Hendricks permalink

    So my trees are growing wonderfully. I’ve been training them along the wire and everything is going great. There is not only a lot of leave along the laterals, but a few “branches” beginning to grow off the laterals. Should I cut these off entirely or let them get 4-5″ long? Will fruit form off of these smaller branches?

    • Great to hear, Steve! I hope you are keeping track of your progress (with photos and such) so that we can follow along with your trees’ success becoming espaliered. :)

      Most people prefer allowing the leaves to grow while pruning off any branching that comes out of the laterals being trained to your desired form. That way the horizontal growth for this form is maintained.

      I’ve actually discovered an informative YouTube video from one grower, like yourself, who is giving espalier a try. I’d like to share this with you: Espalier Apple Tree Update 3-12 via katzcradul

  18. karen permalink

    How high should the espalier go? Is 6 feet OK for the highest wire? Can different trees be mixed (e.g. pear, persimmon, cherry, apple) and what is the best distance between each tree?

    • Espalier is essentially an art form, Karen, so as long as you give your trees the space (from structures) they need to grow (6-10 inches as stated in the article), you can set the wires to whatever distances suit your space best. Many growers do like to train their dwarf (or semi-dwarf) espaliered forms to about 6 ft so that should be fine.

      You can mix different types of fruit trees when you espalier but, bear in mind, they will have different growth habits and different production times. The best distance between trees depends on your plan for your design and the types/sizes of the trees you’re growing and training to espalier, so it is difficult to advise. When they are allowed to grow naturally, a dwarf fruit tree will need 8-10 ft of space between trees (except sweet cherries, which grow larger naturally and need about 12-14 ft of space) and semi-dwarf fruit trees will need 12-15 ft of space between trees (except sweet cherries again, which require 15-18 ft). There is wiggle room with espalier forms, since some designs even have the branches overlapping so, depending on what you’re ultimately going for, there is room to be creative!

      Training fruit trees to an espaliered form isn’t difficult but it is very involved, so many growers prefer trying with one or two trees to get a feel for it without becoming overwhelmed. :)

      Take a look at this video from one grower who has read many books and researched other references before giving her espaliered apple trees a try: Espalier Dwarf Apple Trees via katzcradul

  19. Tim Searl permalink

    Can you recommend spur bearing pear trees suitable for Chicago?

    • Hi Tim! Most pear trees will grow well for you in Chicago (approximately zone 5b). Our Starking® Delicious™ pear and its best pollinator, Moonglow, will make excellent espalier pear trees. :) Both are productive and the Starking® Delicious™ is especially easy to care for — great for low-maintenance fruit tree growing!

  20. Keith permalink

    I really do like this site. Stark will be my choice for trees this fall. Need shade and fruit/nut trees on west side of house. Espalier on house with smaller or newer plantings at the edge of the lot should provide natural insulation and food too! I have raspberry, grape, and blackberry training on the south deck already.

    • Thank you for the kind words, Keith! It sounds like you have a great plan for the trees you plant, even beyond just edible additions to your landscape. I really like the natural insulation idea. We would love to see photos of your yard when you take this from planning to planting! If you’d like to ever send us photos of your plants and trees, please email them to us at :)

  21. George Reed permalink

    This article and the comments and responses have been very helpful. Googling had led me to a couple of articles which mentioned the importance of planting spur-type trees, though there is apparently some debate about that. I live in central North Carolina and am very interested in planting apple trees with disease resistance. I want to try espaliering (I’m not sure how one conjugates “espalier” . . .), but the disease resistance is more important to me. Should I stick with traditional pruning, or am I likely to get enough fruit from espaliered disease-resistant trees to be worth the effort. (If it matters, I’m looking at Grand Gala, Enterprise, and Gold Rush from Stark Bro’s.) Thanks.

    • I’m glad you found this article and the comments useful, George! One benefit of spur-type apple trees is that the opportunity for fruit, even in an espalier form, is greater. Most apple trees tend to be “tip bearers”, meaning their fruiting buds, and eventually fruit, occur on the ends of the branches, and, respectively, the ends of the espalier form if you are growing your tree this way. Spur-type apple trees produce fruiting buds and fruit all along the branch, and, since an espalier form really opens the tree up to sunlight, the fruit growing along the branch thrives.

      That being said, the fact that the espaliered tree is more open to light and air circulation than when it is grown in its natural form actually allows non-spur-type apple trees to produce sizable fruit, even if it is in a smaller quantity. You will still get a fair amount of fruit from apple trees that are not spur-types but, for example, if you were hoping to distribute them commercially (where quantity is imperative) you might lean toward the spur-type apple trees.

      I think if you have the interest in it, you should give espaliering an apple tree a try. You wouldn’t even have to attempt it with *all* of the apple trees you hope to plant, as long as you have space for traditional plantings as well. :)

      Espalier, a French word, is commonly pronounced es-pal-yay

  22. Ives Organics permalink

    Sarah and Meg Rock! Thanks for all the info, maybe you two should start writing a book? I bought a honeycrisp from stark bros last year and can’t wait to start the art of espalier. I’ll send pics once I have something I’m proud o. :)


  23. Lisa permalink

    How do you recommend tying the branches to the wall?

    • Lisa, you might want to have a wire trellis or fence system between the tree and the wall, or something to actually tie the branches to while you’re training. Other than that, you can use soft twine, strips of nylon, or something similar to develop the tree’s espaliered shape — nothing hard like plastic, metal, or anything that might damage the young branches as they move in the wind. You should also not tie it so tight that it rubs the branches when they move, either. Only tight enough to get the angle right.

      One of our customers (thank you, Katzcradul!) has given this a try with her trees and provided a nice video with tips if you’re interested:

  24. Naomi permalink

    I was so excited to see this blog and discussion of espaliers – I’m another amateur gardener starting 4 espaliers in my garden. 2 were purchased as espaliers. Two I purchased because they seemed to have branches in good spots, and I’ve been training. While after 1 year, they both look good, it turns out my Granny Smith is definitely a tip-bearer (oops!) and the Winesap, I’m not sure – I purchased it from a garden center without doing my research first. I’m wondering if it is only the Starkspur winesap that is a spur-bearer, or if all winesaps are spur-bearers? It is young so I don’t see any fruit blossoms this year. I don’t know if that’s because I pruned them all off, or if it is a tip-bearer like the Granny. For each of these trees, I’ve established 3 tiers of laterals. Now I’m wondering about your previous advice:

    “If you allow the shoots off the main laterals to grow, they do have the ability to become fruiting wood so that would increase your chances at fruit, but it may overtax the tree so I wouldn’t recommend allowing for too many of those while the tree is young.”

    It seems this may be my only chance at getting fruit from these trees. How far apart should I space the shoots if I do this, to avoid taxing the tree.

    On another subject, I have a red delicious that I also pruned strongly to try to train in an espalier. The only thing that survived is one very wimpy lateral branch, which has a few leaves, 1 blossom this year. For 3 years I haven’t had the heart to get rid of the tree, since it’s (barely) alive. Is this a good candidate for trying a graft and thereby giving it another branch? (I’ve never grafted but have always been intrigued by the process) Or should I assume the root system is too weak to handle this? It now looks like I’m getting a little growth off the trunk below the first branch – do you think there may be hope for this as a super-dwarf (it’s only branch is at 18″ so I finally took off the main leader since it wasn’t doing anything). Or is it a lost cause, in your experience?
    Thanks so much for your super blog and advice!

    • Hi Naomi!

      1. “I’m wondering if it is only the Starkspur winesap that is a spur-bearer, or if all winesaps are spur-bearers?” — There are different strains of Winesap, but spur-type trees are unique and often identified with “spur” in the name.

      2. “For each of these trees, I’ve established 3 tiers of laterals.” — While we recommend the 2-tier system for the reason stated, 3 tiers still shouldn’t be too taxing. If you’ve already trained your trees in this fashion, it would be best to keep them the way they are. Some people want as much fruit as possible so, when they’re giving espalier a try, they try to train *every* branch, and this is mostly what we wanted to avoid happening.

      3. When pruning trees, young and old, if you remove too much of their existing growth, they can become heavily stressed. A lot of the time they have difficulty healing and some trees don’t survive it. When you prune, you should try to avoid removing more than a third of the new growth at a time. If you’re trying to go for a certain structure, and you need to remove branches that are already developed, it would be best to try to achieve this little by little. Remove some (not all, and no more than a third of the growth) and repeat this again the following year until you’re all caught up. It may take longer to do, but it is best for your tree in the long run.

      I would suggest taking it easy on pruning your little red delicious and just encourage it along for now. It seems to be trying to grow and develop for you, so consider fertilizing it and train the new growth to your liking as it sends those out in the meantime. This should help!

  25. Rita permalink

    We are planning to do a pear tree espalier against a chain link fence as the tree was planted very near the fence and the espalier is an afterthought. Do you foresee a problem with this idea? The tree is already taller than the chain link fence and the 6 or 7 branches are young and flexible. We are thinking of simply tying the branches to the fence in the pattern of choice that works well with the tree. Thank you.

    • That sounds like a great solution to the tree being planted where it is, Rita! As long as you are able to tie down the young branches, while they’re still flexible, your espaliered design will unfold. Just maintain the few branches you tie down and remove any unwanted limbs that bud and try to grow each season.

      There are a few examples of espaliered trees (and some with instructions) we’ve collected on our Pinterest board here: — this might help encourage you and give you some ideas! We’d love to see how this turns out for you. :)

  26. jeanne durfee permalink

    Hello, could you tell me why they suggest to cut the tree back instead of training the lateral shoots that come off the whips. Is there a benefit to cutting the main back vs training the lateral shoots. Thank you for your help.

    • Good question, Jeanne! Cutting the tree back at the top encourages growth from the lateral shoots instead. This way, your espaliered tree is using its energy efficiently. :)

  27. Diana permalink

    I recently purchased almost a dozen young semi-dwarf fruit trees – apple, cherry, plum, peach and pear – with the idea of espalier. I am in the planning phase of my planting and have a quick question I’m hoping you can answer.
    The ground where the trees is going is red Georgia clay and hard packed sand that is fille with roots from giant oak trees that have been removed. I’m thinking of planting the trees in raised beds next to the fences they’ll be trained on. I’m thinking a maximum of 6″ high beds and trying to dig down some into the native soil so that they’ll grow into it, but allowing for some ‘good’ soil plus amendments. Do you think that would give them a better chance of surviving? I’ll be going to a maximum of 6′ high with the trees but have the room to go long on the horizontal limbs.
    Thanks for your help. I’m a fairly experienced gardener but a total novice with fruit trees. Sure wish I’d found your site before I bought my trees.. :).

    • This sounds like an excellent plan, Diana. Many people do this when their native soil isn’t ideal. The method is similar to the gardening process that is referred to as “lasagna gardening” — just layering nutrient-rich media over less-than-ideal soil to give your plants and trees a better growing experience. The roots will thrive in the amended material while your new trees are becoming established and, once they mature and develop stronger root systems, they will be in a better position to break through into your native red Georgia clay. :)

  28. Carol permalink

    We are preparing a trellis for an esplaniered apple tree. That part is easy because there is a lot of good instruction on the web. Our question is about grafting. We’d like to have a tree with 3 or 4 grafts, different types of apple. My friend has a great esplanier with 4-5 different apples and it is wonderful. We don’t even know what apples we want, or where to buy a grafted tree, or if it’s something that must be done along the way. Would you speak to this subject please. Thanks.

    • All of our apple trees are grafted, as opposed to being grown from seed, to maintain the integrity of the varieties. You can read more about the benefits of grafted trees in our article, The Science of Grafting. What you’re thinking of is a “multi-grafted” apple tree. We have one, called our Double Delicious Apple tree, which has two varieties grafted to the same tree. Giving espalier a try with this tree is certainly possible.

      It might be a little more tricky to train a multi-grafted tree to an espaliered form, simply because the different varieties, grafted to the main trunk, may not be in locations ideal for espalier. Your friend may be able to speak more confidently on how things worked with their tree, having 4-5 grafted apple variety limbs in locations ideal for espalier, so I’d start by asking them. I’m wondering if their tree was custom-made for them, or for espalier. I’ve seen some “espalier fruit trees” at local garden centers that are already started in a fanned-out fashion and all you have to do is continue to train this way… no multi-grafted ones in my experience, though.

      I haven’t seen an espaliered apple tree with more than two varieties, but I am certainly intrigued by your friend’s tree, Carol! Would you be able to share any photos of your friend’s tree with us? :)

  29. Monique permalink

    I am in the planning phase of a fruit tree espalier project and I’m trying to figure out how many trees I can fit into my space, which is 56′ long and 8′ wide. The spacing recommendations I’ve seen vary widely, from as little as 2′ between trees to as much as 20′. I want to squeeze as many varieties as I can into my space without compromising the health or productivity of the trees. Is 6-8′ enough for trees on dwarfing rootstock? Or should I give them a minimum of 10′? I want to plant apples, apricots, figs, peaches, and pomegranates. Can some be kept smaller than others? Lastly, is 8′ enough between two rows of espaliered trees? I was thinking of having the ones against the fence trained into a taller fan style, while those set 8′ out would be kept low as single or double cordons.

    • This may become a lengthy response, but my goal here is to equip you with information so you can choose what spacing works best for you, Monique — after all, espalier is an art form and it should be an expression of you! :)

      The reason the spacing recommendations you’ve researched vary is because the intent and the locations vary — sometimes greatly! Someone who is growing fruit trees as espalier for the aesthetic appeal is most likely not trying to make a living off of the fruit production from these trees and vice versa. Many commercial fruit-growers implement some form of espalier (or “high density planting”) to maximize fruit production in a small space in a short amount of time.

      I’ll answer the easy question first: the spacing between rows typically depends on how much space YOU need, for the long term, to move between the trees for maintenance purposes. If it’s just you walking, you can get away with less space. If you need to get a push mower, riding mower, water truck, spray truck, harvest truck, etc. through to maintain the trees, you’re going to need to leave enough space between rows for this sort of equipment. If I’m imagining your plan correctly, and, assuming you’re not going to need to move big equipment through the space, 8 feet between rows sounds like it should work.

      Now, the spacing between trees depends a little bit on the mature size of the trees you’re hoping to espalier. A typical dwarf fruit tree is not, in its best year, going to be 20 feet tall or wide, so there would be no reason to allow for that much space between trees. I would recommend finding the mature size of the trees you hope to use in your plan, so that you get a better idea of what to expect. These sizes may depend on the individual varieties.

      • Dwarf pomegranate tree: Most sources say these mature at 2-4 feet (may vary depending on variety/source)
      • Dwarf apple/apricot/peach tree: normally 8-10 feet tall at maturity (“miniature” varieties can be smaller)
      • Fig tree: Usually matures at around 10+ feet (most aren’t marketed as dwarfs)

      The larger-sized trees can be kept smaller through pruning and training as espalier. The “normal” rule for tree-spacing is to allow the mature height/width between trees — so if the tree is 8-10 feet tall, allow 8-10 feet of space between trunks. This doesn’t need to apply with espalier, but what does matter is how your trees fill in the space between them. If you only allow 2 feet of space, not only are the roots competing for nutrients, the branches are going to be running into one another. If the 6-8 feet of space you mentioned works with your plan, you can go with that.

      Most importantly… have fun with it! It’s going to look amazing even if it doesn’t turn out perfectly according to plan. I hope you document your efforts and share your progress with us. :)

      • Monique permalink

        Thank you so much Sarah! I’ve been searching for that info for weeks, with your advice I feel confidant enough to move forward with my plan. Now I just have to wait until it’s a good time for planting.

  30. Timoti permalink

    I’ve taken five Stark Bros trees and set them up to be espaliered. Fuji, Maxi Pear, 2n1 Asian Pear, Blushing Golden and Honey Crisp. (I have 18 Stark trees total) You can follow the progress here
    I’ve setup a four tiered trellis to train horizontal branches. I was worried about not using spur type trees but I’ve noticed on my non espaliered trees that any branches that form from main branches will also produce fruiting spurs.

  31. Joan permalink

    I have three semi-dwarf pear trees that I planted as oblique (45 degree angle) espaliered cordons in fall 2011. The varieties are Blakes Pride, Moonglow, and Ubileen. Only the Blakes spring bloomed in spring 2012, so it wasn’t pollinated and didn’t set fruit. I pruned according to standard espalier directions in fall 2012. None of the varieties bloomed in spring 2013, even though we had no frost problems. Here’s what I wonder:
    1) Are all these spur-bearing varieties?
    2) Why didn’t any bloom this spring?
    3) Since the side shoots are growing like crazy, should I be pruning them again now–or waiting till fall?

    Thanks for this informative website!

    • Thank you for the compliment, Joan! :)

      You’ll know a spur-bearing fruit tree by the small stubby shoots along the branches. Most pear varieties are not spur-types, but they still make for excellent espaliered trees!

      Blooming depends on the development and maturity of the individual trees. Even two of the same variety at the same age may not bloom in the same year — similar to how twins don’t always develop in exactly the same way. Stark Bro’s bare-root pear trees are two years old when we ship them and often they don’t mature, bloom, or set fruit for another 4 years (after planting). They use this time to become established and grow strong and healthy to support future fruit crops.

      Blooming also depends on the environment — and not always in the current year. Last summer, many areas experienced a highly-stressful drought and the winter prior to that was very mild, followed by late freezes. These past stress factors can still affect your fruit trees; not permanently, but it’s not uncommon. The best thing to do in this case is keep caring for your trees, making sure they are in good health, and look forward to next spring!

      If the side shoots are growing beyond your plan for their espaliered form, you may tip them back to keep them in check, but any sort of significant or heavy pruning should be done while the trees are fully dormant.

      I hope you find this information helpful!

      • Joan permalink

        That is helpful. Thanks so much!

  32. Ken Hamilton permalink

    Question: I’ve seen and understand how to do the Espalier form, my question is can it be done with nut trees, I am in the planning phase for a small espalier orchard, and all the directions talk about fruit trees. I REALLY would like to do pecans.

    • This is a truly great question, Ken. Not many people attempt to get creative with nut trees, mostly because of their mature size (sometimes over 100 feet) — there may be other reasons, but I haven’t heard of pecan tree espalier.

      William Reid is a pecan-tree expert and a resource our horticulturalists refer to often here at Stark Bro’s. You can find his contact information through his blog here: — I would highly suggest getting his thoughts and input on the subject of espaliering pecan trees. I’m incredibly curious about what you’ll find!

  33. Caroleve permalink

    Hi there

    Thanks for a great article, I am new to espalier although I have wanted to try it for years.
    I have bought a conference pear bare root last winter and it is growing nicely and even has 4 pears on it. Is this suitable for espalier and can one do espalier in a pot please.

    I also have Victoria plum, morello cherry and a braeburn apple also from a bare root last winter.

    Thanks Caroleve

    • Hi Caroleve. As long as a tree grows branches, it can be trained to be espaliered. Espalier is an art form, more for aesthetic purposes, and it is not reflective of the normal growth habit of a tree, so you may have to change your expectations similarly. It doesn’t really make any difference to your espalier design if the tree is in a container, but it may limit the size of the tree and therefore its overall fruit production.

      Training the branches has to start on new/young growth, since branches get more “woody” and a lot less pliable and unwilling to bend to the shape you desire once they’re older. It may take a few seasons for things to really get where you want them to be, but the unique appearance is well worth it! :)

  34. Eric permalink

    I am in Colorado and have started two espalier trees against a south facing fence, one granny smith and one braeburn. Didn’t know about the tip / spur thing when we started, but love granny smith apples so we are going to give it a go anyway. The braeburn is doing great, whereas the granny smith has struggled somewhat.

    My question is this; the granny smith has two horizontal branches, but the vertical shoot was broken at the main vertical trunk and has not reappeared. As mentioned, the granny smith has been struggling, so perhaps it will throw a new vertical shoot at some point. Do I just need to wait patiently or is there something I can or need to do to encourage a new vertical?

    (The granny smith horizontals are about 3/4 to 1 inch below the angle cropped main stem and are about 12-16 inches in length trained along the wire).

    Much thanks in advance for any advice.

    • It’s kind of difficult to advise on your Granny Smith apple tree without seeing what’s left after the damage to the vertical trunk. It’s also late in the season to try to force growth to your struggling Granny Smith tree, so I think it would be best to wait at this point and do what you can to help it through to next spring (protect it from dangers like rabbits and deer — cages, repellents, etc. — and sudden hard freezes — mulch over the root system, but not against the trunk, helps here).

      • If the “top” of your tree is now, for all intents and purposes, the horizontal branches, then there really isn’t room there for a new center shoot to develop and grow vertically. I would recommend, in this case, re-training one of the existing horizontal limbs into a vertical position to replace the central leader of your tree. It may look funky at first, but it will serve the purpose. You can train a new horizontal limb later when it develops.

      • If the vertical center/central leader of your apple tree still has enough room remaining on the trunk after what broke off, then you can select new growth that sprouts on the main trunk and train that to be your new, vertical, central leader.

      • Lastly, I’m not sure how tall the tree stands currently, but maybe the lack of a vertical center is actually conducive to your overall espalier design. Maybe it ends up looking something like this: low-tiered espaliered design rather than something like this: 5-tiered espalier design. It’s really up to you!

  35. Ashley permalink

    I want to give espaliering a try, when is the ideal planting time? What fruit tree is the easiest to start with? I’m interested in cherry, apple, pear, and peach trees. I read it takes about 4 years to train the tree, will the tree produce any fruit during this time?

    • The ideal planting time for any tree is fall (if your ground isn’t frozen solid around November) and spring if you have more success planting things in the spring. For the most part, people tend to espalier apple trees and pear trees. I’ve seen an espaliered peach tree (and I pinned it on our Pinterest board here: but they’re less common. I don’t know anyone who has given espaliering cherry trees a try, but I’m sure it can be done. Cherry trees can be particular about getting established, though, so I’d recommend giving espalier a try on any of the first three before trying to espalier a cherry tree.

      Apple trees take 2-5 years to produce fruit, and they tend to need another different apple variety planted nearby to cross-pollinate. Pear trees take 4-6 years to produce fruit, and they also tend to need another different variety pear tree planted nearby to cross-pollinate. Peach trees take 2-4 years to produce fruit, and they tend to be self-pollinating, so you probably won’t need another peach variety planted nearby for fruit production. Sweet cherry trees can take 4-7 years to fruit and they may or may not need a pollinator for fruit production (depends on the variety you choose). Sour cherry trees produce sooner and tend to be a little less finicky than sweet cherries, so that might be the way to go if you want to try espaliering a cherry tree.

  36. Bob Weinberg permalink

    I have a dozen espalier apple trees of various varieties and about eight espalier pear trees, all planted 3-5 years years ago. I have been trying to figure out from going through the various blog messages on this site over the past three years when you advise these trees to be pruned, more specifically, for a location in northern New England, in addition to regular mid-winter pruning of the dormant trees, when should one undertake the often-mentioned “summer pruning” to retain shape and to maximize fruit production? Many thanks, Bob

    • Good news! There really isn’t a hard answer to when you need to summer prune your espaliered apple trees, Bob. The easy answer is to prune in the summer when the vegetative growth (branches, leaves) are growing where you don’t want them to — while the growth is new and small.

      The particulars of “when” depend on 1. your intended layout/espalier design, 2. the trees you use (some varieties are more vigorous than others), and 3. the maturity of the trees.

      As your trees’ limbs grow, and you train them into the intended cordons (branching structure), you’ll notice that vegetative sprouts may develop from the branches you’re training. These tend to develop into new branches, growing perpendicular to your trained branch. If they are growing in places that aren’t suitable to your espalier design, then remove them as they appear. If too much untrained growth is allowed to remain, then your espaliered trees won’t be very open to light (light = future fruit production and quality), so it is ideal to remove unwanted growth as it appears. It often appears during the more favorable part of the growing season (summer).

  37. shaun haney permalink

    hey i was wondering if someone could help me out… i was thinking of using the espalier method on 2 cherry trees. my question is: if the cherry trees im looking at have an estimated size of 15′-18′ wide & tall each, could these each be trimmed into a space thats 9ft wide and 9ft tall? thanks in advance for any help!

    • Certainly! The thing about espaliering your fruit trees is that you have control over how they grow. If you want to redirect that natural growth habit into your design, you can, or if you need to prune to keep things smaller and more manageable, that works too. Just like your trusty pruners, it’s in your hands, Shaun! :)

  38. Leesa Spencer permalink

    I just received the fruit trees that I ordered from Stark Bros. and I have to say that I’m extremely pleased with not only the quality of the trees, but with their prompt delivery and
    Stark’s excellent customer service! We want to espalier these fruit trees, and we’ve never done that before. How far apart should the trees be planted? I understand the basics of espalier, but have just never done it myself, so I’m a bit apprehensive about what to cut off and what to leave. Past comments and your responses have been very helpful. I will definitely order from Stark’s in the future and highly recommend this company to everyone who is looking to buy fruit or nut trees.

    • Thank you for your kind words, Leesa! We’re truly grateful you stopped by to let us know you are satisfied. :)

      I think the biggest reason exact measurements aren’t easy to find for things like espalier is because they’re very specific to the individual design and space.

      If you are espaliering dwarf fruit trees, remember they tend to have a mature 8-10 foot width under normal conditions, so you wouldn’t need more than 8-10 feet between your planting holes. You can always plant them closer to accommodate your space and your espalier design.

      As an example, a dwarf fruit tree’s mature 8-10 foot width means the branches spread about 4-5 feet on either side of the trunk, so if you are planning for a “Tiered” design that lets the limbs spread out straight, you might want to maintain the 8-10 foot distance between planting holes. If you are planning for a “Fan” design or a “Candelabra” design, where the branches grow out and up, you can move the trees in a little closer to one another. Even without exact numbers, this may help you visualize how to decide the spacing between the trees you’re growing as espalier!

      We have a great book that has a section dedicated to espaliering (called The Fruit Gardener’s Bible which you can find here) that gives you some direction on getting started and pruning.

      We also have a Pinterest board dedicated to espaliered plants and trees that may give you an idea of what you can do with your fruit trees »

  39. Richard goodrich permalink

    w hat is pruning sealer and were do you find it ?

    • Hi Richard — pruning sealer, or tree wound dressings, are used to cover over wounds in a tree that would not likely heal over very well on its own. The idea is to prevent disease from getting into the wound in a tree, which is especially risky when the tree can’t heal itself quickly or properly. People often use products like this when their tree has been damaged, like by the weather, or if regular maintenance pruning hasn’t been done so that large limbs need to be removed for safety reasons.

      You can usually find pruning sealer/tree wound dressings at your local garden supply store.

      Typical pruning cuts will heal themselves without requiring anything more than time — as long as you don’t leave too much of a stump or cut too close to the trunk of the tree (too far beyond the limb “collar”). What were you hoping to use pruning sealer for?

  40. Nicki Modestino permalink

    I just purchased an Asian pear tree that is already espaliered with two
    Horizontal rows. It’s in a rather large pot and didn’t come with any information on planting. I would like to plant it against my chimney which gets the most sun, but would like to know how to plant the root ball. Should I use a fertilizer or mulch and should I score the root ball when transplanting in the ground?

    • If you want to mix in some aged manure or compost when you plant, that should be fine. If you plan to use a water-soluble fertilizer, you can wait until after your tree is planted to do that and just water it on.

      I would definitely recommend scoring the root ball when you plant. When a tree is grown in a pot, its roots will continue to think they’re in a pot even if they’re in the ground. This results in a tree that doesn’t grow much taller and it may even have nutrient issues because it doesn’t know it now has room to spread its roots.

      When planting the tree, make sure it is at least 6-10 inches from the wall/chimney. Other than that, make sure that its planting hole is able to accommodate the current root system so that it is as deep in the ground as it was when it was in the pot. Then, water the tree in well and place a 2-3 inch thick layer of mulch over the area around the tree to protect the roots and you should be set. Happy planting!

  41. Harvey Silberstein permalink

    I have a question regarding encouraging blossom formation on Espaliered Honeycrisp trees. I planted two 5year old trees about 3 years ago and they have only produced a couple of blossoms on each tree each spring. They seem to have lots of growth and are doing well. An espaliered Liberty apple of similar age was planted right next to them and is loaded with flowers each spring. Any comments or suggestions how I might encourage blossoms for next year?

    • The good thing about the espaliered form and pruning to maintain it is that it is generally conducive to keeping trees open to light — this aids in the development of fruit buds, which become blossoms and eventually fruit.

      Two things may be at work here. The Honeycrisp apple variety will always be a bit different from your Liberty apple variety, so it’s difficult to fairly compare the two. Honeycrisp is not a vigorous or precocious tree, so it may just seem slow to come into bearing, and that is why it’s not blooming as impressively as your Liberty apple tree.

      Another thing to know about Honeycrisp is that it tends to require a lot more calcium to grow properly and have a quality fruit crop. Calcium is something I definitely recommend providing for your Honeycrisp apple tree. We have a liquid calcium product (called Nutri-Cal®) that we recommend to provide a convenient source of calcium that they need. This, and a little more time, should work in favor of your Honeycrisp apple tree blooming and bearing good fruit for you! :)

      If you’d ever like to share photos of your espaliered trees, we’d love to see them! We’re on Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter, so feel free to share your photos with us in any one of these places if you’re there too.

  42. Eric permalink

    I live in Denver, Colorado have two espalier tress on a south fence, one Granny Smith and one Braeburn. We may have lost the Granny Smith this spring. It showed one set of leaves on the right horizontal early (when the Braeburn leafed out), however after a cold snap the Granny Smith leaves dried up and wilted, whereas the Braeburn continued to leaf. The Braeburn has leafed out on some branches, and not on others. The Braeburn has not leafed out on the vertical above the second tier, or on the right side horizontal at the second tier.

    We are now two weeks past the average last frost for our area. Any advice on where to go from here would be greatly appreciated. My thoughts are as follows:

    Granny Smith:
    1) Do nothing until fall and see if anything transpires between now and then. Replace if nothing happens.
    2) Crop the trunk below the split and above a bud knot and see if the trunk produces a new shoot that can be trained as a new vertical.

    1) Do nothing and see if the rest of the tree leafs out.
    2) Crop the existing vertical below the second tier above a bud knot and see if we can get a new vertical to establish loosing the already leafing left horizontal.
    3) Crop the non-leafing second tier right horizontal and the vertical in hopes that a new shoot would form at that location.

    I have posted pictures on pintrest at the following link:

    Thank you in advance – Eric

    • Thank you also sharing photos, Eric! Your thoughts/options are solid, so I’ll give you some advice to supplement them and you can figure out which option(s) you should to try.

      This past winter and spring have been hard ones, especially on young plants and trees. I’m dealing with two peach trees that leafed and bloomed earlier in the spring, but were hit by a late cold snap and are in their 6th/7th week without leaves — but, when I checked for life in the trunks, they’re still living!

      So, the first thing I’d recommend is trying the “scratch test” on the Granny Smith tree’s trunk to see if it still has life in it. This will help you decide what to do from here. We describe how to do a ‘scratch test’ here. You can tip back, little by little, the two horizontal limbs to determine if there is life in them. Prune back to the nearest bud each time and stop when you find wet, greenish living tissue. This will give you direction on waiting to see if they’re still going to do something this growing season (option #1, as you mentioned in your comment above, in lieu of option #2).

      For the Braeburn tree, I would recommend tipping back the vertical leader from the dead top down (to the nearest bud) until you find wet, greenish living tissue — this will remove the dead wood and also stimulate growth in the bud below your cut once you find healthy living tissue. You can also try this on the non-leafing right horizontal limb and train the growth that is stimulated from any remaining living buds. If you find that the non-leafing vertical or horizontal limbs have no signs of life in them, then you can try option #2 or #3 (as you mentioned in your comment above) as needed.

  43. Fran permalink

    I was happy to see the photo of the Espaliered Pear. It is the one at the Cloisters Museum, NYC. I know, because I contract to care for the Trees there. I prune their Medieval collection. Don’t be daunted by experimenting with pruning styles. Trees are very forgiving, fruit trees are resilient, the results will be inspiring. Stark trees are high Quality, I recommend my clients buy them for small orchards and experiment with unusual styles of pruning. Have Fun!

  44. Michael permalink

    This has been really helpful. Not sure if this blog is being monitored anymore but had some questions. I have an apprx 6 ft wall which is prob about 25 feet long. I was thinking of using stone fruit (apricots, peaches and plums). Was thinking of making a bit of a belgian fence by planting 4 dwarf trees about 6 feet apart and 10 inches away from the wall. With the outer 2 acting as the border of the Belg Fence and the inner two fanning.

    I guess my questions are these. Do the above dimensions/idea make sense and seem doable? and I am in a Zone 8a climate and we have really hot (above 100 Jul-Aug) summers. The wall is west facing so I think that will alleviate some heat. Of the stone fruits I mentioned above (apri, peaches, plums), would any ones in particular do better in high heat? Ideally, I wanted to do 2 pairs of different types of fruit for this.


    • Hi Michael — it sounds like your design idea should work just fine along your wall. I wish I had such a nice space to try to develop a living, fruit-bearing fence! :)

      As for the fruit trees you use: apricots, peaches, and plums tend to fair about the same in regard to heat. This can vary by variety (some varieties of apricot, peach, and plum may even promote their heat-tolerance). Be sure that, when you’re shopping for the trees, you check their recommended hardiness zones so that they at least include your zone, and look to see if they have any mention of heat-tolerance.

      For example, most of our peach trees are recommended for zones 5-8, but some varieties like Desertgold Peach, Sun Haven Peach, and Burbank™ July Elberta Peach are heat-tolerant — up to zone 9!

      Another thing to keep in mind, especially for fruit production, is pollination. Most apricot and peach trees are self-pollinating, so you’ll get fruit without needing a compatible pollinator nearby. There are some self-pollinating plum trees, but many require another different variety of compatible plum for cross-pollination and fruit production to occur. Keep in mind, there are European plum trees (bears the oblong fruit that is usually dried into prunes) and Japanese plum trees (bears the round fruit you find in most grocery stores). European plum trees tend to be self-pollinating, but Japanese plum trees are more likely to be heat-tolerant, so you might prefer going that route. I hope this helps!

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