How to - Techniques

How to espalier a tree

Stephen Westcott-Gratton
Photography by
Kveta Jelinek (illustrations)

Train fruiting trees, vines and bushes for a bountiful harvest in tight spaces

Over the years, the term “espalier” has come to mean any tree or shrub that has been trained flat against a trellis, wall or other support. The most common form is the double horizontal cordon. It has a single, strong, vertical central stem (called a leader) with horizontal limbs that grow outward from it.


  • Strong wire (plastic-coated clotheslines work well) or 1/4" to 1/2" wooden dowels
  • An assortment of wooden or bamboo plant stakes
  • Ties, such as twist-ties or jute twine

Plants suitable to espalier

Note: Fruit trees should be grafted on a dwarf rootstock; otherwise growth becomes rampant.

  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Vinifera-type grapes
  • Red currants

Year 1

Build or purchase a framework upon which to train the tree, making sure it's large and strong enough to accommodate the plant's mature size, such as a rectangular wooden frame constructed of 2x4s with a central vertical support also made of wood. Starting at 40 centimetres above ground level, space horizontal supports made of strong wire or wooden dowels at 40-centimetre intervals. The frame can be mounted on a fence or wall, or anchored to sunken fence posts.

In late autumn or early spring, plant a single-stemmed whip (a one-year-old tree that hasn't developed branches) 10 to 15 centimetres in front of the central support.

espalier-1.jpgStep 1
Cut back the leader to the first set of horizontal supports (i.e., 40 centimetres above ground level), leaving three good buds at the top, with the two lower ones pointing in opposite directions.

In spring, once the plant has leafed out, tie the shoot growing from the top bud to a small stake affixed vertically to the central support.

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