Espalier Tree: An Experiment

Espaliers are a beautiful addition for: a kitchen garden wall, the side of a house, plopping under window, a privacy screen or employed as yard zone divider. Espaliers take up very little space and are easily accessible for people with limited mobility, and also a fun height for children to harvest. Moreover, espalier fruit trees have surprisingly bountiful fruit production. And interestingly espaliers often live longer than more naturally grown trees/vines, including some very old specimens. These plants have the advantages of sunlight that reaches all the branches, less breakage, and importantly if planted against a wall they have the added protection against a late frost, and so potentially retain more blossoms.



Photo Credit: Le Potager Garden DBG

When we first moved into our house there was a wall in a small garden that I felt needed a pear espalier. I didn’t feel brave enough (or patient probably) to start a bare-root dwarf fruit tree and establish the training from scratch. So a couple of years ticked by as I waited to win the lottery for a nursery grown one (a four tier espalier can cost over a thousand dollars). The more affordable two tier plants, that are more commonly sold, are perfect for planting under a window, but not for a taller height. To add to this, most of the nursery grafted espaliers have a different variety of fruit on each branch, which although theoretically sounds exciting can actually present aesthetic and practical issues, and not surprisingly the rootstock can dominate in time too.

My experiment was – could I take a mature sapling and train it into an espalier. I am writing this blog as I did not find the information I needed on the internet, and so I plunged ahead into the unknown and broke pretty much every gardening rule. This is an experiment that may or may not succeed.  Any input will be gratefully received! The ideas below are not endorsed by any educated gardener.

I did follow one cardinal rule: “Right Plant- Right Place”. I had my heart set on a pear tree.  But at the nursery I chose the European Stanley Plum as the “right plant”.  It is a hardy choice for Denver, and a larger tree (not a dwarf fruit- the regular espalier choice) should be alright for my wall? Moreover, this sapling had the right growth pattern, as it was fairly two dimensional and symmetrical.  This young tree also sported the required flexible branches for training. Then for the location: the eastern wall, which is bathed in sunlight but not unrelating heat was I felt this “right place”.  I followed correct planting rules! CMG How to Plant a TreeIMG_3716Photo: Gauging Spot for Planting

Rules I broke included (but certainly weren’t limited to): hot summer planting of the tree, not optimal pruning time, over aggressive pruning (probably more than one third), and planting near a structure. IMG_3720Photo: After Drastic Pruning General Fruit Tree Pruning Guidelines: CSU Extension

Plus, after all this I took the sapling straight into training (not for the faint-hearted). I bent and attached 3 tiers to horizontal wires (turnbuckles are a good idea in the design). There is a higher young new growth tier that will be ready to train in a month or two, which I will attempt when I tweek the lower tiers into a more disciplined shape. I am allowing the leader to continue too, as I am unsure how the fith layer will form. IMG_3723Photo: Initial Training along Wires

And, so here we are one month later. The young fruit is gone, but that’s probably for the best? The plum tree seems healthy. IMG_3938.jpg Photo: One Month after Planting

The wiring could be a little neater.  And I think the tiers are closer and more inconsistent than the traditionally established espaliers. Moreover, at some point I may underplant to make the first tier appear lower.  But I am feeling fairly optimistic.  Also, I am flexible in my expectations, in that I would accept a two dimensional tree with a dubious espalier structure. I’ll post a picture next year! Meanwhile, if anyone has any help he/she could offer- specifically for the top and underplanting ideas those would be gratefully received?

Anne Beletic: Denver CMG (Gone Rogue)


Tree: Stanley European Plum


-2 Vertical Poles

-16 Gauge wire

-Turnbuckle for each tier

-Soft ties

-Pruning shears

-Bleach solution


-Mulch- and I did put a little compost on the planting surface too.


Useful Links:  Grow a Fruit Tree CSU Extension

Jeffco Gardener Carol King Front range fruit tree recommendations blogspot


One response to “Espalier Tree: An Experiment

  1. Hi Anne,
    Thanks for sharing the details of your experiment! It looks like it’s off to a great start, and I’m looking forward to seeing more updates.