The Peach Tree Espalier

INSPIRATION: A gorgeous fan espalier at Kew Gardens London.

Originally posted on 5/15/2016.

I will be planting two of my peach seedlings along a back fence.  This has been a long forgotten part of the yard. But one that would lend well to small fruit trees. My seedlings are ready for their permanent home and while that part of the yard is not in full use I think it would be fun to train the trees to grow along the fence.

Fruit Tree Shapes

There are a number of shapes a tree can be trained toward. Espalier is a specific type of training. It has one main trunk with branches trained to grow horizontally. This method is great if you intend to grow along side a fence or with multiple trees to use as a hedge.

There are 3 steps to creating an espalier: choosing a site, creating a support structure and then finally pruning.

Choosing a site

It’s recommended to plant trees at least 8 inches from a fence or wall. The trees need full sun (8+ hours) to allow the fruit to ripen. In hot southern climates like Georgia, you will want to choose a north or east facing wall. In Colorado a south or west facing fence/wall will provide enough light. Note: the structure you create can be attached to an existing wall or fence or run between 3 posts.

Peaches like well drained soil. If you have clay be sure to amend the soil with organic material. Till in compost and create a small mound to plant into to help drainage. Top dress each year. Its also not recommended to plant into a lawn as watering needs can vary.

Creating the support structure

Three Tier Cordon Espalier Trees

A three-tiered cordon will require 12 eyebolts and 42 feet of wire to create 3 tiers and a line at ground level. Note a young tree is best for training a three tier cordon as the base horizontal growth will start at 16 inches.

Choose the center line for your tree. Mark a line 4 feet up. Mark a line 16 inches from ground for first cordon, and then two more lines 16 inches up. Place eyebolts at these intersections. Then along each line measure 7 feet out from the center and place eyebolts at the end of each of the line. Then string wire in between and tighten.

Wire strung between posts will support a traditional framework. Full kits like this from Amazon can be purchased. Also see this guide for building a wire support system.

Once your frame is in place you can plant your tree at least 8 inches away from your fence or wall.

Fan Shaped Trees

For shapes like fans you can use bamboo poles to provide the frame. A fan should be made of 7 branches… one in the center and three on each side. The fan is built from the outside in so that the sap doesn’t go all to the center lead.  You take two buds from the base and attach to the outside bamboo rods.  Then the next year you choose two branches from the outside branches to attach to the next row of bamboo rods.  Working your way inwards each year until finally you do the center.

Pruning Espalier

Never prune plums, cherries, apricots, peach and nectarine during the winter months.  The best times for pruning are early spring before sap begins to flow or as soon as you have picked the crop. This helps to avoid disease from developing.

The first year’s pruning

When to prune a peach sapling will depend on its age and current form. 1st year whips are often only sold to wholesale buyers but can be a good way to experiment. Bare root whips come in sizes range 18 – 30 inches. They will have a single lead that can make choosing the central lead easy.

See this for early pruning of a peach tree.

Peaches are stone fruits and produce best on one year old branches (tip fruiting). For the most fruit, a fan type of espalier is best.

3 month old peach seedlings grown from seed in 2015.

West Dean Gardens provides excellent examples of espalier that need no wall or fence to have a great tree. The Stark Bros also provide excellent examples of trees that can be purchased already espaliered. Trees of Antiquity also provide trained specimens.

Search for bare root peaches below.

When trees produce fruit on one year old branches, the wood will usually die back, making it easy to know what to prune if you wait until they fruit. Only cut the dead branches and leave 3 buds for new growth. Branches that are getting too long can also be cut back and will promote fruiting closer to the main branch.

Other Pruning methods: The 4th year pruning of a standard peach tree.

More resources

Want to find this goodie?

See other peaches in my garden.

The Digger’s Club guide to trimming espalier.

An amateur gardener who loves to watch the garden grow.