Advice on an espalier

ianb_co(5b)February 2, 2008

Thanks all for your advice a week or two back. Based on the feedback I received, I'm now planning on planting a Belgian fence espalier in my back yard. Technically, it would be a losange espalier, where each tree is planted 3' apart and has two branches on each side (vs a Belgian fence planted closer together with only one branch on each side). The branches grow at 45 degree angles, and cross over the branches of its neighbor, and, to a lesser extent, the branches of the tree two places over. Given the layout of my backyard, the espalier will run east-west. I plan on putting the espalier on wires and posts about 12-18" from the existing wooden fence, to keep air circulating when the temperatures get into the nineties for a couple of weeks in the summer.

I've picked out a dozen trees - five plums, a quince, three pears and three apples - and have three additional slots (prob. for next year) in which I'm thinking of putting in a hybrid persimmon, a sour cherry and another apple. Once things get established, I hope to graft a few more varieties into the espalier.

I'm starting to lay out the order of the trees in the espalier, and I'm looking for your thoughts on how to order them. We have fire blight in this area, though not plum curculio. Here are my questions:

1. Should I try to group the different species together (because of watering, fertilizing, spraying needs), or break them up to keep i.e. fire blight from spreading from one to the next? I'd rather separate them for aesthetic reasons.

2. Do I need to have an air space between the wood fence and the espalier, or can I put the espalier on the fence itself? I'm certainly OK with putting up a separate trellis, but don't want to create needless work.

3. As soon as the ground softens (should be in Feb.) I'm planning on digging the holes for the trees and putting a little compost in each in preparation for planting. I'll probably put up the trellis closer to when the trees arrive in March. Any other things I should be thinking about between now and when the trees arrive?

Thanks again for your help and advice.


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My apple hedge is against a brick wall, and I was advised to allow at least three feet, if not four, between the hedge and the wall, so it would be easier to work with the trees by going behind them. That has turned out to be an excellent idea, because I have rose bushes in front of the hedge, and it would be difficult to weed, summer prune, spray, thin the fruit, if there were not that walk space.
You didn't say which cultivars you picked. I tried to group my apple trees according to pollination needs, mixing the triploid trees that were pollen sterile with those that were good pollinators. It's probably not necessary in a small backyard, and will only mean that I have to thin the fruit more. If you're mixing in other varieties of trees, they would look better separated.
"Constant vigilance!" has worked best for the fire blight on my pear tree. It's controlled by pruning off the diseased branches as soon as they appear, and sterilizing the pruners. The tree is too big for me to spray, but that hasn't been necessary yet. It was fire blight free last year for the first time, and produced the heaviest crop ever of pears like grapes clusters.
Crowding the trees may increase disease and spread as well, but if you work at prevention and responding quickly to an infection, it won't develop into a major problem.
Good luck with it. Let us know how it developes.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2008 at 11:48AM
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Thanks! I'll consider putting room to work behind the espalier, but I have two small boys to fit in the backyard as well, so something may have to give... It sounds like you only have good access on one side, in any case, so that's what I may end up with.

I didn't mention the cultivars to keep my post from dragging on too long, but I'm pretty sure that the apples (Cox's Orange, Ashmead's Kernel, Northern Spy) and pears (Seckel, Comice, Warren) all have fertile pollen. There are also plenty of crabapples nearby for pollenization (and disease vectors).

It looks like the soil will be my biggest problem - pH is high enough to worry about chlorosis. (Samples are off to the lab for testing, but the vinegar test shows free lime). Oh well, there will always be something!


    Bookmark   February 6, 2008 at 12:04PM
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poseyplanter(5A IL)

Hi Ian!

I donÂt post replies often on this forum because my experience is limited, so please take that into consideration. I was attracted to your post because I have a five-year-old Belgium Fence of about 40 apple trees. I also have a vigorous, four-year-old Balaton sour cherry on Mazzard rootstock that I am training in a fan pattern.

I donÂt know anything about the quince & persimmons, so I canÂt advise about mixing those with apples in an espalier hedge. I would not recommend putting a sour cherry in it though because the growth pattern and pruning are different for sour cherry than spur/semi-spur type apples typically used in a Belgium Fence. Of course, if youÂre inclined to experiment, do it. Who knows, it might be fine. IÂve heard that cherry trees can be killed by over watering. It would probably be better to group the trees by type.

I have not yet detected fire blight in my plantings. I spray copper in late winter on the dormant apple trees as a prophylactic for fire blight, but that will not help if the bees bring it with them to the blooms. I spray growing weight oil at petal fall to knock down pest numbers (I have serious problems with Plum Curculio). I continue spraying the oil weekly until I bag (plastic Zip-Lock type baggies) the apples. I take a risk and bag the apples earlier than most folks recommend; otherwise I would not have a decent apple due to bugs. IÂve not had any issues with codling moth for the apples, but I think that I bag the apples before the codling moths are very active in my area (based on temperatures). I have found that bagging the apples helps reduce the diseases on the fruit too. IÂm not an organic gardener, but I donÂt currently use other insecticide besides oil on my trees.

Best wishes!


    Bookmark   February 6, 2008 at 9:20PM
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Thanks Posey! I'll give some more thought to putting in a cherry tree; it's a next-year issue, in any case.


    Bookmark   February 7, 2008 at 8:45AM
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galcho(z8 Northwest)

I see you have Balaton cherry, do you have pollunator for it? Are you getting good crop of cherries? What are you doing for it in spring, fall or now?
I have planted Balaton that is very dear for our family because it remind us about the place where we came from. We had sour cherries that were almost like Balaton and family still missing these cherries. My tree is four years old, blooming great, but only small number of cherries last year and even smaller number this year.

Any advice?

    Bookmark   July 17, 2008 at 11:49AM
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Baby G (Z10, 300?CH, SoCal-LA)(10)

I would love to read updates from all of you who are espalier-ing, especially with photos!

I'm considering espalier myself:a modified belgian fence, a series of archways. The big question is which varieties. I plan four apple varieties which is an obvious espalier varieties. Unfortunately I have already picked up a dozen citrus trees of varying sizes on varying rootstocks...perhaps too late to do something awesome with.
I plan to buy avocados and many DWN pit trees too. Good candidates?

I would seriously love to see your photos and hear from your experiences.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2014 at 11:44PM
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alan haigh

Work from behind the tree!. That's entirely silly, IMO. Espaliers are virtually 2 dimensional and have been tied directly to walls for centuries. Who is this expert- ask them for a sample of their fruit in a few weeks. You don't need the benefit of better air circulation either, because espaliers are so well exposed.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2014 at 11:36AM
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