Espalier Apple Trees
Malus domestica ‘Spartan’ (espalier, unpruned)
Espalier apple trees are nothing new. However, they are not a common 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 fail to re-create that vision in their own backyards.
Espalier fruits have been grown for centuries in Europe and are an excellent way to grow apples and pears in a formal way with unique forms. They take up little space compared to standard or semi dwarf free-standing fruit trees and can be grown along a fence or wall as the growth is mainly horizontal not vertical.
Espalier fruits are trained to grow in many different forms. Some common forms are cordon (horizontal tiers), fan and candelabra.
Malus domestica ‘Spartan’ (espalier)
Other forms exist. Some are grown free-form and can be trained into any shape imaginable. 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 wood 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.
Here at Johnson’s Nursery we have been besieged over the years with requests for espalier fruits. They are not easy to find nor produce. This year we found some excellent espalier apple trees from a grower who has done all the initial work in shaping the espalier tree into a beautiful art form. These trees are large, potted and already bearing lots of fruit! While offered in many forms, the decision was made to carry them this year in the cordon form (as pictured).
Espalier apples have an extremely high yield for the space they take up compared to most other apple growing systems. Part of the reason for this is the high amount of fruit spurs produced per area on 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 skip dormant pruning and only summer prune which reduces vegetative growth, promotes fruit spur formation and keeps the tree from becoming too overgrown in shape.
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 some branches if too many, and 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.
Malus ‘Hat Trick’ (espalier)
This year we are offering these gorgeous espalier apple trees in several varieties. We have them in ‘Honeycrisp’, ’Spartan’, ’Golden Delicious’, ‘Fuji’ and ‘Hat Trick’. All will require cross-pollination with another apple variety or crabapple variety to bear fruit except for Golden Delicious (which is somewhat self-pollinating) and Hat Trick.
Hat Trick espalier is a neat and very unique introduction as it is an espalier that has 3 different varieties all on one plant! The bottom tier is ‘Honeycrisp’, the middle tier is ‘Sweet 16’ and the top tier is ‘Zestar’.
This ingenious mix solves the cross-pollination issue apples have, allows the grower with little space to get 3 kinds of apples all from one tree and also provides ripe fruit for about a full month. Zestar will ripen first around early- September, Sweet 16 will ripen mid- September and Honeycrisp will ripen around late-September.
For more information on our fruit tree stock, please see our Tree Fruits and Small Fruits.
For availability and pricing please contact your salesperson.
Paul Schwabe is a salesman in our Contractor Sales division. He holds a degree in horticulture and will be writing about some of his favorite and underused plants.