Espalier Apple Trees

Espalier apple trees are an exciting style of growing fruit trees that allows homeowners with smaller spaces or urban lots to grow apple trees. Unfortunately, they are a rare site in most home fruit orchards and backyards. Most fruit growers think they are ‘neat’ looking and drool over the choice espalier specimens when found at arboretums, but too often they fail to re-create that vision in their backyards.

Espalier fruits have been grown for centuries in Europe and are an excellent way to grow apples and pears in a formal, unique way. They take up little space compared to standard or semi-dwarf free-standing fruit trees. They can be grown along a fence or wall as the growth is mainly horizontal/flat not vertical/wide.

Espalier fruits are trained to grow in many different forms. Some common forms are cordon, fan, and candelabra. Johnson’s Nursery usually only carries espalier apple trees in the cordon form (as pictured).

Espalier apple trees an exciting style of growing fruit trees that allows homeowners with smaller spaces or urban lots to grow apple trees. Unfortunat…

Left: Unpruned espalier Malus domestica ‘Spartan’ | Right: Pruned espalier Malus ‘Hat Trick’

Other forms exist. Some are grown free-form and can be trained into fund shapes. The key is to start with a very small apple tree (preferably a small whip) which can be pruned low to the ground to start the tree with low branches. The form is created by pruning and tying the branches initially to a wire or wooden framework.

All of this shaping and pruning takes time. It will take several years to get the tree into a beautiful form and have it start bearing fruit. This process can be a bit daunting and time-consuming for the average home fruit grower. Because of this, espalier fruits remain primarily a dream for the average home grower. Johnson’s Nursery often stocks espalier apple trees, which allows clients to knock a couple of years off the time it takes to fully train an apple tree.

Here at Johnson’s Nursery, we have been besieged over the years with requests for espalier fruits. They are not easy to find or produce. We find only high-quality espalier apple trees from growers who have done all the initial work in shaping the plant into a beautiful work of art. These trees are large, potted, and already bearing fruit.

Espalier apples have an extremely high yield for their minimal space compared to many other apple-growing systems. Part of the reason for this is the high amount of fruit spurs produced per area in this form of training. Initially, dormant pruning is done in the early stages of shape development. Dormant pruning will promote vegetative growth. Once the form desired is attained, then we only summer prune which reduces vegetative growth, promotes fruit spur formation, and keeps the tree from becoming overgrown.

Once we have reached the desired shape/size of our tree, then summer pruning is done once or twice a summer. It is best to prune in late June and again before August 1st (if a second flush of unwanted growth occurs). We want to prune off all unwanted new growth that is vertical. All vertical new growth should be pruned back to the first 3-5 leaves to promote fruit spur formation.