The Green Thumb: Espaliered fruit trees ease harvest, fit into tight spaces
by Joanne Fung / Submitted to the Tracy Press
Mar 22, 2012 | 2102 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Espalier is a French word meaning “something to rest the shoulder against.” In gardening, it’s the technique of training a plant to grow in a flat plane along a wall, fence or trellis and is suitable for today’s yards, where space is at a premium.

Common patterns for an espalier are single vertical; single oblique; single, double and tiered horizontal; single, double and triple U (or candelabra); fan shape; and Belgium fence.

When planning an espalier, select plants that have the same longevity, root stock and fruiting and flowering habits and a planting location that gets at least six hours of sunlight daily.

I chose apple trees for my edible garden espalier. After discussing my project with Neil B. Collins, the owner of Trees of Antiquity, I selected trees for cross-pollination and fruiting at different times, so that a steady supply of fruit would be available throughout the season.

Neil recommended MM111 (semi-dwarf) rootstock, which produces a tree 70 to 80 percent of standard size. Growth tends to be upright with wide crotch angles, perfect for an espalier project. MM111 is well anchored and resistant to drought and high soil temperatures.

A 4-foot-wide by 1-foot-high raised stone bed was built across the length of the backyard and filled with a mixture of the existing clay soil and compost, which was purchased from the Tracy Material Recovery Facility and Transfer Station.

Larry Diggs of Paradise Designs built the support structure: metal posts set in the bed, with holes drilled in the posts 12 inches apart and strung with 9 gauge stainless steel wire, with couplings to tighten the wires in the future.

The trees were planted 24 inches apart, then pruned to two thirds of their height. Two opposing branches on each tree will be allowed to grow and the branches trained in the Belgium fence design.

• The Green Thumb is a column by Tracy’s master gardeners. University of California-certified master gardeners are available to answer gardening questions from 9 a.m. to noon Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 953-6112 or
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