Espalier plants are a different way of growing ornamental or fruiting trees and shrubs. It’s a challenge if you haven’t done it before and will improve your pruning skills.
Espalier (pronounced “es-PAL-ye”) is any plant trained to grow in a flat plane against a wall, fence, or trellis.
This practice was used in the old world to conserve space in small orchards and gardens. Espaliered fruit trees were also placed against a south facing wall so that they would receive a small degree of cold protection from winds and the cold. Using this growing method you could grow fruits and shrubs in a cooler than normal climate or protect crops and more delicate plants.
They are very decorative and artistic in form and make great accent plantings in formal gardens. Many people see espaliers as a living sculpture in the garden. They can relieve the monotony of bare walls.
Another positive attribute of the espaliers are if you are working with limited space such as in towns and cities their flat growth will fit in narrow areas where other plants would not.
Almost any plant can be espaliered. However, some plants are better suited for espaliers than others. For example plants that produce many flexible lateral branches and attractive flowers or fruit and foliage are excellent choices. In the Tucson area fruit trees such as apple, fig, loquat, pear, peach and plum make excellent espaliers.
Fruit trees should be espaliered against an east-facing wall or on a freestanding trellis. Special care must be taken in desert areas. The heat will cook fruit on a south or west-facing wall. One advantage to espaliered fruit trees si that the fruit will get more sunlight and ripe quickly.
Crape myrtle, flowering plum, Japanese privet, yew podocarpus, photinia, and pyracantha are a few of the ornamantal plants that make beautiful espaliers.
There are many patterns of formal espalier but the most popular is the multiple tiered cordon. Tiers of horizontal branches are formed starting 18 inches off the ground, and each proceeding tier is 18 inches above the previous one. Apple, pear, fig, podocarpus and pyracantha are good candidates for this style.
One precaution you must be aware of is using pesticides on espaliers. It is very easy to get too much and injure the tree or shrub, I would recommend using natural pest controls only.
Once shaped, espaliers are relatively easy to maintain and add beauty to any garden.