Espalier – Growing Flat Trees

In short, Espalier is the name given to a technique of growing trees into a two dimensional flat plane by grafting, pruning and training.

The espalier technique was developed in Europe in the 16th century to help temperate climate fruit grow in cooler climates, by growing them flat against a sunny wall. Gardening Australia has a great Fact Sheet on Espalier.

Any shrub or bush can be espaliered, but popular species include:

  • Olives
  • Citrus (orange, lime, lemon)
  • Camellias
  • Gardenia

You might be surprised, but growing a tree in an espalier fashion is easy to do at home.

Finding the location and setting up is the most challenging part. The tree will need to be grown on some kind of sturdy trellis. If you choose a wall, simply attach some horizontal tensioned wires about 30cm apart, they are going to have to take some weight so ensure they are well secured.
Some kind of clips will be required to hold the branches being trained to the wires, soft spongy plastic ties can be bought at your garden center.

Before you plant your tree, look at it from all angles. It is best to plant it with the most horizontal branches to line up with the wall. The other unwanted branches can be pruned back to keep the tree flat.

It is going to take some care and time to keep your tree under control, especially during the growing season so keep your secateurs handy.

There are a number of different styles of espalier you can try.

Palmette Verrier

Six Grid

Tripler Vertical U Shape

The Fan

Belgian Fence

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8 thoughts on “Espalier – Growing Flat Trees

  1. I want to learn growing Espalier techniques. I do not know anything about Horticulture but Iam planning to learn about it when retired.
    Can you help me?
    Thanks.

  2. Thanks for the images of possible espalier shapes, Ben. I plan on espaliering a meyer lemon, once I get my soil a bit less clay-ey. Since I’ve never done this before I might stick with the slightly less formal fan shape – looks like it might be a bit easier to maintain. Joanna.

  3. Thank you Ben for you clear information on espalier shapes. Most other sites take it for granted you only want to use fruit trees.I have planted Camellias and wish I had read your information first, I would have been more careful in the shape of plants chosen.
    Buffy.

  4. I live in the South End of Boston Ma. I would like to know what kind of tree or bush would do best on
    a NORTH wall that gets about one to two hours of sun in the summer months only?
    Thank you for any information you can give.

  5. HI
    I’M LOOKING AT PLANTING SONE LIME TREES IN THE ESPALIER WAY , AND IF YOU CAN GIVE ME SOME ADVICE ON WHICH TYPE OF LIME AND HOW OLD THEY SHOULD BE, ALSO HOW FAR APART THEY WILL HAVE TO BE .

    MOST GREATFULL
    DENNIS WILKINSON

  6. Where is best resource for epalier shapes? I need step by step instructions for Zone 8 in north Texas and alot of info to help me get started. Any info is greatly appreciated.

    Sincerely,
    PGT

  7. Have a tiny garden like tiny!! I have planted so far 10 trees a mixture of apples, pears, & crab-apples. I have espaliered in the Belgian cordon style 2 years ago this year we ate apples of some these trees. I had never done anything like this before super super easy all you need is a spade..to dig the hole, tape measure to mark out distance between some wire for guiding the branches,bamboo sticks for guidance for the branches on angles,plus tying tape, a man to dig the post hole or bang in the posts ( that helps the man feel useful & wanted) If your really smart you get him to do the lot as you sit back and instruct.
    So pleased with the result of my first fence I am about to put in a quince, 2 cherries more apples.
    Also trying pleaching of some pear trees to block out nosy back neighbours..
    Just have fun torturing trees

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