Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
December, 2010
Regional Report

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Grow your favorite fruit tree the espalier way.

Harvest Organic Fruit in your Own Backyard

Growing different fruit trees is a passion of mine, but as yards and gardens shrink, many gardeners are reluctant to plant a fruit tree or two. You can grow your own orchard even if you have the smallest of gardens, and be sure to try growing several different kinds. The way to do it is to grow dwarf trees and if you are patient, train your own espaliers.

Dwarf trees will bear fruit of normal size but on trees that grow just 8 to 12 feet tall. Though they won't bear heavy crops like standard and semi-dwarf trees, they will provide a good harvest of fresh, organic fruit. You control the growing conditions and don't have to worry about chemical applications since you can prevent pests and diseases by employing cultural controls.

Espaliers (es-POL-yers) will require some dedication, taking from three to four years to train. The method of espalier means to grow a plant flat against a wall, fence or trellis. In this manner you can grow a variety of fruit trees in a limited space.

If you are the impatient type, you can get a head start on espalier fruit trees by purchasing trees that have already been trained for a season or two by a grower. Check with mail-order fruit specialty catalogs for young seedlings with only the first branches trained, or as two or three year-old espaliers. Mature specimens may be available, but will cost much more. Your budget will determine your decision.

While it may be appealing to get an instant, finished espalier that needs minimal training, you will have missed out on creating one of your own. I find it more satisfying to start with a seedling tree of my choice and bring it along each season myself. A book entitled Pruning and Training- A Fully Illustrated Plant-by-Plant Manual by Christopher Brickell and David Joyce (DK Publishing, Inc., New York) is a great resource with a step-by-step instructional guide to help you train your own espaliers.

Before you take the plunge into growing your own backyard orchard, be sure to ask your fruit tree supplier whether the variety you want to grow needs a pollinator. Otherwise you will end up with pretty flowers in the spring but no fruit.

Some of my favorite fruit trees for espalier include apples, pears and peaches. If you're into antique apples like me, but don't have enough space, try growing them with the espalier method.

The basic care for successful fruit trees includes good soil drainage, at least six hours of direct sun to produce a worthwhile and colorful crop, and good air circulation. Dwarf fruit trees need a properly sized container with drainage, insulated for winter protection, a sunny location, and air circulation.

Now is a good time to plan a small fruit orchard. Cuddle up by a warm fire with some good fruit mail-order catalogs and plan your strategy. You may discover that fruit trees are in your future.

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