Espalier fruit trees are trained to grow against a wall. It makes the tree easier to prune and the fruit easier to pick.
You can buy a ready-trained tree.
Perfect for the small garden, an espalier tree has branches trained horizontally on either side of the stem to make a compact, but productive tree.
Many varieties can be bought as bare rooted trees in the winter.
You can also buy espaliered trees in pots at garden centres which are available all year round. These are perfect for growing where space is limited.
The trees usually have two tiers of branches and will quickly make three or four tiers.
What to do
Make your support
Choose a sunny wall or fence and fit a framework of horizontal wires that match the distance between the arms of espaliers – usually 35-45cm (13-17in) apart.
Most ready-trained trees come with two tiers of branches, but it’s easier to fix three or four supports now than when the tree is growing. If you have a fence, drill holes between two posts and fix wires using eye bolts. Use vine eyes and a tightener on walls.
Dig a planting hole 15cm (6in) from the fence or wall, wide enough for the roots to be spread out and deep enough so the soil mark on the stem sits at the same level as the soil. Fork over the bottom of the hole.
Soak the plant thoroughly and allow to drain.
Place the tree in the centre of the hole and check the level by placing a cane across the gap – add or remove soil as necessary.
Fill the hole with soil, firming gently until you reach the top.
Firm the soil with your heel, drench with water and mulch with well-rotted manure.
Tie side branches with twine in several places to your support wires running along the fence.
If planting a container-grown tree, dig a hole twice the diameter of the pot and deep enough for the rootball to sit at the same level as the surface of the soil.
Water trees well for the first couple of years, especially during periods of drought.
If planting in autumn, allow the central shoot to grow upwards over spring and summer. The following winter, prune to the third wire leaving three healthy buds to produce your third tier of branches. Repeat to make four tiers.
Prune shoots growing from the horizontal branches between July and September leaving three or four leaves, and shoots growing from the main stem shortened to three leaves.
Regularly tie down new growth at the ends of each branch to stop it growing upwards.
When to harvest
To determine if the fruit is ready to be picked, place a cupped hand under the fruit, lift and gently twist. If the apple doesn’t come away easily in your hand, then it’s not ready to harvest.
What to store
- The length of time that apples can be stored varies depending on the variety.
- Apples that ripen later in the year will store for longer than the early varieties.
- Slight insect damage on the skin is harmless, but don’t store any bruised fruit
Where to store
- Apples need a cool, frost-free environment, where they can last for weeks, even months in winter. A garage or garden shed is perfect.
How to store
- Take a good look at each apple and give it a quick clean with a cloth.
- If any are bruised, take them into the kitchen and eat them now. They’ll taste good, but they won’t keep and if stored, may rot and infect other fruits.
- Wrap the apples loosely in newspaper, and sit them on a seed tray or shelf.
- Check them periodically over winter and remove any which show signs of rotting
- Apply a grease band around the trunk of your apple tree to stop female winter moths from climbing the bark and laying their eggs in the tree.
- This small preventative measure will stop this pest from attacking any developing fruit and leaves next spring. Grease bands can be bought from most good garden centres.
Five apples to try
- ‘Discovery’ – a rosy red apple with a sharp taste
- ‘James Grieve’ – an early apple, ready from mid-summer onwards
- ‘Lord Lambourne’ – an older variety that produces delicious, thin-skinned green apples
- ‘Katja’ – a tasty apple that grows vigorously
- ‘Bramley’s Seedling’ – a cooking apple which stores very well