University of Florida

Espaliers

The practice of training a plant to grow in a flat plane against a solid surface is called the art of "espalier." Originally conceived by the ancient Romans to conserve space, espaliers can lend a charming, old-world touch to gardens of any size.

They are commonly grown against such surfaces as walls, fences, and trellises. This technique restricts growth of branches in only the desired direction.

There are generally two approaches to espalier designs which include formal and informal patterns. Informal patterns are free-form to appear more natural, whereas formal patterns have a specific layout that the plant is trained to follow. Common formal patterns include:

  • Lateral – trained to grow vertically
  • Cordon – a tree trained to grow as a single stem
  • U-shaped – branches are trained to grow vertically in a U shape
  • Palmette – tiered cordon with lateral branches
  • Fence patterns – lattice pattern, combining three or more trees

Plant trees used for espaliers at least 6-8 inches from the wall or framework. Branches should be carefully bent and tied into the desired place. Prune all unwanted branches and laterals that grow towards the flat surface and branches that grow outside the desired pattern. Espalier plants should be regularly fertilized and inspected for diseases and insects.

For more instructions on how to train, grow, and maintain espaliers, as well as a list of ideal plants, read the EDIS publication MG273 Espaliers.

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