The Q&A Archives: Lateral cherry trees

Question: I would like information on lateral cherry trees.
Where do they grow? how big? are they messy?
A picture if possible.
Thank you
(North Carolina lateral cherry tree

Answer: A lateral cherry tree is simply one that is trained in a technique called espalier. If you want fresh fruit, but your yard is not big enough for a small orchard, use the espalier technique. In espalier, the tree or plant is pruned and trained to create parallel, tiered rows of branches with space between rows. Because of this thinning, the tree's resources go mainly into fruit production. The espalier technique fits a fruit-bearing tree into a small area, produces a high yield of fruit and creates a tree that is easy to harvest.

The ideal area to plant an espalier tree is in full sun. An area against a building or fence that gets some protection from wind is another good choice.

Generally, you can train any tree or plant into espalier. It's best to start with a young, small tree with flexible, evenly shaped branches. Saplings work well. Semi-dwarf and dwarf trees are good choices because they naturally stay small. You can also find an espalier-pruned tree that is already prepared to grow against a flat surface.

Once you've selected the site and the tree, the process is pretty simple. Dig a hole that's large enough to accommodate the root ball. Dawson normally doesn't recommend amending the soil, but for areas with heavy clay, add compost to improve drainage.

Position the tree about six inches from its support. Don't be concerned if the soil of the root ball falls apart when planting.

Decide which lower limbs need to be pruned.

Tie bottom limbs that best follow the shape of the support with jute twine. You may not have a branch for each section of the form. Be patient; a branch may grow out of the tree that will fit the support.

Prune any lower limbs that you don't tie.

Choose upper branches to be tied and prune the rest.

Tie the central leader to the support. New branches will form and can be attached to the support as they grow in.

The secret of espalier is pruning and patience. Trim off the flower buds for the first couple of years so that all of the tree's energy goes into forming a good, solid structure rather than fruit production. You can expect a full harvest within five seasons.

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