The Q&A Archives: What Type Of Apple Tree Makes Best Candidate For Espalier

Question: What type of apple tree would be best for espalier? Space is no object.

Answer: Espalier has a great deal of ornamental value, but it?s also an effective technique for producing an ample crop of fruit in a small space. You don?t need an orchard to grow apple trees. A sunny wall, a special pruning technique and patience are all you need to espalier an apple tree.

To encourage substantial fruit production, prune with two objectives in mind. First, train the tree to the classic flattened, horizontal shape of espalier. Second, encourage the growth of short fruiting stems, or spurs, that will ultimately produce apples.

Popular varieties for espalier include ?Northern Spy?, ?Golden Delicious?, ?Liberty?, ?Redcourt? and ?Holiday?. Others that have shown good disease resistance include ?Honeycrisp?, ?Sweet Sixteen? and ?State Fair?. Some varieties, such as ?Golden Delicious?, are self-fertile, meaning they do not need another apple variety with which to pollinate. Others, however, will require a nearby different apple variety to complete pollination and produce fruit.

Start with a tree that has been grafted onto dwarf rootstock. If you espalier a full-size tree, it will have much thicker, heavier trunks and branches. Two desirable rootstocks to look for are the semi-dwarf M27 or the mini-dwarf MAL27.

You should begin with a 2- to 3-foot sapling, or whip, that is still very pliable and has not yet grown any side branches. It can be planted against a wall, a sturdy trellis or other flat surface. The wall will have an added advantage of absorbing heat to hasten ripening.

A typical espalier is 6 to 8 feet tall, with three to four sets of horizontal branches. Your goal is to keep the tree in bounds. Fruit yields will be proportionately much greater from an espalier than from a full-size tree.

It generally takes five to seven years to create a completed espalier structure and harvest fruit. Until that time, prune out any developing fruit. Your goal in the first few years is to encourage the tree to put all of its energy into growing branches that establish the basic framework. Once that happens, all future pruning is to encourage fruit production. Apples on all trees, whether espalier or not, are borne on short stems called spurs. As buds and new shoots form along a lateral branch, prune them back to a point close to the branch where five leaves cluster around the stem. This encourages the buds on the bottom half of the lateral branch to produce fruit.

Best wishes with your espalier project!

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