Training an espalier tree
Espaliers can be trained against walls, fences or specially erected posts and wires. An espalier tree has a strong central leader from which branch out horizontal pairs of opposite laterals, each tier parallel to the others. Nurseries usually sell two and three tier espaliers, but these are expensive and if you train your own, you can make it fit exactly into the available space.
Espaliers need wires, whether against walls or in the open, 30 cm (1’) from the ground, and additional wires for each tier at intervals of about 30 cm (1’). A horizontal space of 4.2 m (14’) is best.
To train your own espalier, buy a maiden or two-year-old. Immediately after planting, cut the leader back to a strong bud, about 5 cm (2”) higher than the lowest wire. This bud will produce a vertical shoot. Below this top bud, select two buds, on opposite sides of the stem; these will eventually become the laterals forming the first tier. Notch above the lower bud. Rub out any other buds.
During the first summer, tie the middle shoot to a cane with soft string; attach the cane vertically to the wires. When they become long enough, attach the shoots from the two lower buds to canes as well. Fasten the canes to the wires at an angle of 45 , so that the two lower shoots will be at a 90 angle from each other. Try to keep the two growing equally strongly so they are the same length. If they are growing unequally, lower the cane of the stronger shoot to impede the flow of sap and thus slow it down; raise the cane of the other slightly to encourage growth.
In late autumn or winter, unfasten the two side canes and bring the branches down to the horizontal wires; secure the branches to the bottom wire. However, if they have to be forced down to the horizontal, it is better to leave them and continue to lower them the following summer, finally tying them in when they are two years old, in their second winter. In winter, prune the vertical leader to a strong bud about 5 cm (2”) above the second wire. Proceed as in the first winter, choosing two more buds to fill the second wire. Continue in this way until the required number of tiers has been formed. When forming the final tier, allow only two shoots to form, one on either side of the central leader, and cut the leading growth back to about 2.5 cm (1”) above the highest of the two side- shoots. Prune established espalier branches in summer. Prune the side growths as they mature to the third leaf beyond the basal cluster. Cut shoots from laterals that were pruned previously to one leaf beyond the basal cluster at the twig base. When the main branches of each tier have filled the space available, cut them back in late spring as required.