Spring Fling: Espalier

“Fling” – defined as a brief casual relationship (often with sexual connotations). But, the truth of the matter is, that I’ve fallen head over heals… in love… with  espalier (pronounced /ɨˈspælɪər/ or /ɨˈspæli.eɪ/)! There, I admitted it!

photo credit Detroit Garden Works

Think of a topiary form… but, on a MUCH MUCH larger scale! Espalier is the horticultural and ancient agricultural practice of controlling woody plant growth by pruning and tying branches so that they grow into a flat plane, frequently in formal patterns, against a structure such as a wall, fence, or trellis.

photo credit Detroit garden Works

Fruit trees are often ‘trained’ as espaliers, decorative fans, or cordons consisting of a central stem and a number of paired horizontal branches all trained in the same plane. The most important advantage is that of being able to increase the growth of a branch by training it vertically. Later, you can decrease growth while increasing fruit production by training it horizontally.

Espalier, trained into flat two-dimensional forms are ideal not only for decorative purposes, but also for gardens in which space is limited. In a temperate climate, they may be planted next to a wall that can reflect more sunlight and retain heat overnight.  Or, they may be planted so that they absorb maximum sunlight by training them parallel to the equator. These two facts allow the season to be extended so that fruit mature over a longer period.

Whimsical heart-shaped espalier – courtesy Detroit Garden Works

Most fruit trees trained as espaliers need pruning in summer and winter to re-create their shape and yield the best fruit. Winter pruning performed while the tree is dormant, will stimulate lateral growth of the espalier tiers, resulting in vigorous new growth in the following spring. Vertical growth pruned in the summer helps to create fruiting spurs. Pruning must be performed regularly or the ‘espaliered’ form would soon be lost!

Our little sneak get-away the other day (my ‘Big D’ was working from home the past few days) to the Detroit Garden Works in Sylvan Lake, Michigan… always provides home garden inspiration! From Old World charm…fountains, staddle stones, iron-works, statuary…


…to seasonal favorites!

myrtle topiary – Detroit Garden Works

Perhaps not suitable for everyone’s pocketbook… a ‘mature’ espalier specimen will set you back hundreds of dollars!! However, after a bit more research, I plan to purchase a few starter fruit trees from a local nursery – to whittle away – into an espalier of my very own!!!

Happy gardening!


2 thoughts on “Spring Fling: Espalier

  1. Thank you for featuring the article on espalier! LOVE Detroit Garden Works, and I’ve been thinking about starting a row of espaliered Honey Crisp apples in my garden this year, too!

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