E S P A L I E R spells flowering fruit trees in a cramped space.
Over 250 different species of Spring and Summer birds need insects, fruit, and berries to live, as well as seeds. You can grow for yourself and share a little, even in small yards. (Old timers set a portion aside and protected the rest - from the children….)
Here's how to grow fruit trees, with real fruit, in a limited area, as told by the internationally renowned Missouri Botanical Garden (Bulletin, May/June, 2000, pages 8-9),St. Louis, Missouri:
EVEN IF YOUR GARDEN IS SMALL, you don't have to give up the joys of growing flowering fruit trees and the delights of freshly picked apples and pears. Ever since the ancient Romans began training trees to grow along a flat surface, gardeners have been developing espalier into an art form.
Training a young plant to grow against a wall or along a wire trellis not only saves space - it can create beautiful ornamental effects. Pyracantha is a good choice, but almost any species that tolerates repeated pruning can be used. In Europe, espalier are widely used in orchards for commercial fruit production, and the practice is becoming more common in the United States.
Espalier can be coaxed into many attractive and functional shapes, from a simple fan to an elaborate cordon or palmette. Branches are pruned selectively to create symmetrical shapes as the trees grow. Be warned -- espalier are not good choices for low maintenance gardens.
Choose a sunny location. If you are planting against a wall, an east or west-facing site is best, as a southern exposure can get too hot, and north may not get enough sun. For a trellis, sink solid posts to support the cables. String rust-proof wire or cable between the posts or along a wall horizontally at 12 to 18-inch intervals, to a height of about six feet.
Apple or pear trees are the usual choice to espalier because they bear on fruiting spurs. Stone fruits, such as peaches or cherries are more difficult to train because they bear on new wood, which can hamper pruning.
Regardless of which fruit bearing species you choose, you must use a dwarf specimen. A standard fruit tree will quickly get far too large to train. Dwarf fruit trees are sold a grafted root stock of a true dwarf species which has "bud wood" from a standard species grafted on. It is the root that determines the size of the mature tree. When the tree is planted, the graft union must remain above ground, or the tree will sprout roots above the graft and lose its dwarfing capability.
Training begins immediately. Select the branches that will grow in the desired direction and pinch off others. Tie each branch to a bamboo pole or other light, rigid stake to keep it straight while it grows, using masking tape, sisal rope, or soft twine to avoid injuring the tree. Do not use wire or twist ties that could girdle the branch as it grows.
Allow the straightened branches to grow until they reach the wire where they will be trained. Then start bending the branches to the wire and fasten with tape or soft twine, loosely tied. Once the tree reaches the desired size, keep pruning to limit its growth. This will require lots of summer pruning to remove branches and suckers a needed. Pruning espalier is a continual process. If you wait too long, it will be more difficult to maintain the shape.
To see some fine examples of espalier, visit the demonstration fruit and vegetable gardens at the William T. Kemper Center for Home Gardening at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis.