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Espalier like a pro

Espalier like a pro

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Espalier like a pro with Justin Russell's tips and top fruit tree training picks.

Trained trees

One of the issues with growing fruit in small spaces is the footprint the tree occupies at ground level. Most small gardens will have some vertical height available for a tree to fi ll, but ground space might be limited to just half a square metre or less. The solution to this dilemma is to shape trees to grow vertically, while severely restricting their horizontal growth. The most restricted training form available is the cordon. This is just a single stem, with very short side branches that bear fruit. It is best used on apples, pears, currants, gooseberries and other trees that form long-lived fruiting spurs. A more expressive form of training is espalier. Dozens of different patterns can be used, from very small ‘stepover’ apples trained to a 50cm-tall ‘T’ shape, to multiple T espaliers that consist of a series of T shapes stacked on top of each other. Because the branch arms become a permanent part of the tree structure, espalier training ideally suits spur-forming varieties such as apples, pears and plums. Fan (or palmette) training is a technique suited to larger-growing trees and those that don’t produce fruiting spurs. The shape resembles a Japanese rice-paper fan, or a hand with outstretched fi ngers. The palm of the hand represents the trunk of the tree, with each fi nger representing a branch. Fan training works well for fi gs, peaches, cherries, nectarines, quinces, citrus, olives, persimmons, pomegranates, as well as the spurs described above.


1. Apples and pears: Espalier, cordon, fan training and stepover.

2. Apricots: Fan training.

3. Citrus: Fan training.

4. Currants and gooseberries: Espalier, cordon and fan training.

5. Figs: Fan training.

6. Peaches and nectarines: Fan training.

7. Plums: Fan training.

8. Sapote: Fan training and espalier.

9. Sweet and sour cherries: Fan training.

10. Tamarillo: Fan training.