Espalier System

Egyptian fig growers used Espalier Systems to train trees to grow against the wall of the Pharaoh’s garden. They did this by pruning the trees to be on one plane or flat surface. How can you incorporate the same technique into your garden? Look for a perfect blank wall, courtyard or fence area to create a privacy screen or horticultural focal point. This article will present you with the perfect trees and shrubs for the project.


Did you know?

Espalier (ess-pah-lee-AY), is French, originating from the Italian word spalliera, meaning “something to rest the shoulder against.” It is a time-tested system (method) to protect fruit trees from frost. Vineyards have used the technique in the training of grapes for hundreds or perhaps even thousands of years.


If a fruit tree is trained against a south or south-west facing wall, the stones will store heat during sunny days and keep the buds warm during the cold nights. Using the Espalier System allows you to grow fruit and ornamental trees and protect your house from the burning sun (UVR) rays. This, in turn, is environmentally-friendly to your house.

Patience, skill, and creativity are necessary to have a successful project. Continued attention and pruning during the trees’ life span is needed to keep the pattern of the tree. The trees are grown in five different shapes:

Candelabra, triple U (vertical), horizontal cordon, fan shaped (low and high cradle), and Belgian fence.

Take the necessary time to prepare the planting site with good quality soil. The tree or shrub should be planted 15 – 25 centimetres (6 – 10 inches) away from the wall. This is to allow room for air circulation and roots to develop.

We recommend the following trees and shrubs, but the list is dependent upon your plant hardiness zone:


Apple (Morus spp.) Pear (Pyrus spp.) Plum (Prunus domestica)
Crabapple (Malus spp.) Redbud (Cercis spp.) Peking cotoneaster (Cotoneaster acutifolius)
Japanese kerria (Kerria japonica) Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus spp.) (Shrub) Flowering quince (Chaenomeles spp.) (Shrub)
Bristol ruby (Weigelia florida) (Shrub) Arrowwood (Viburnum dendatum) (Shrub)


All the mentioned trees and shrubs are allergy-friendly (below 5: OPALS). When you are using an apple or pear tree, select a cultivar that produces a large number of spurs and is grafted on dwarf or semi-dwarf rootstock. Many vines such as wisteria (Wisteria floribunda), climbing roses, and scarlet runner beans (flowering climber) are also perfect choices.

How to Create an Espalier System:

You can purchase a ready-made wooden structure or build your own according to the area you want to cover. Chicken wire can be used, but remember heat is generated from the sun hitting the brick and metal. The structure must be strong enough to support a plant laden with fruit, if applicable.

If planting a fruit tee, look for one that is young with flexible shoots about 0.9 metres (3 feet) high. The planting hole should be 0.9 metres (3 feet) square and 0.6 (2 feet). Mix using a combination of the dug-up soil and triple mix. The branches should be 15 centimetres (6 inches) from the wall. You want to encourage growth and air flow.

When new growth begins from the main stem, carefully bend the new branches towards the Espalier frame structure. You want to train the plant while branches are still young and flexible. Loosely tie the branches in place as soon as they are 30 centimetres (12 inches) long. Plastic ties, twine, strips of old pantyhose or other suitable material can be used.

Dormant pruning should be done at the end of the first winter (January – March). Fruit trees can be pruned after bud break. Remove any vertical shoots, suckers, and shorten horizontal branches to create a fruiting spur (short branches with flower buds). The fruiting will be the location of future fruits. Patience is required as it may take a few years to grow the entire fruit tree structure in place.

At the end of the fourth growing season, all pruning should be done during the spring and summer month. During spring when the branches are 5 centimetres (2 inches) long, cut them off.

OPALS® is the plant allergy scale that measures the allergen potential of all landscape plants. 1 = allergy-friendly and 10 = high allergenic (avoid).