Help with Belgian Fence Espalier

karoleana(USDA 9a AZ)April 9, 2014

I was not sure which forum would be best to post this in but since I am dealing with apple trees I thought I would try here first. I planted 20 bare root apples this spring and pruned them back to 18". They all seem to have survived but a couple of them put out shoots 5", or so, down from the top, and lower, instead of at the top where I wanted them. Should I pinch these shoots off in hopes that it might force growth closer to the top? On a couple of them there is only one shoot and am worried it would effect the tree adversely if I pinch it off. Ideally, for my Belgian fence, I need one branch on the left and one on the right, emanating from the trunk at 18" from the ground, that I will train at a 45 degree "Y". Also, for the ones that do have shoots where I want them, should I pinch off all the rest of the growth or leave it so that my little apple "sticks" have more leaves for photosynthesis? Thanks in advance for any guidance you might have!

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I'm afraid it often doesn't work that way and you will have to take what you can get for an espalier. Depending upon the caliper of the trunk there may be few vegetative buds left to sprout. Looks nice BTW.

You can try notching ABOVE the buds to see if you can get a branch coming out. I have only about 1 in 3 success and figure that is likely chance more than notching.

Here is a link that might be useful: notching

    Bookmark   April 9, 2014 at 9:41PM
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mes111(5b -Purling NY & 7b -Nassau County NY)


Just let them grow out. Let the branches develop. If watered regularly (needed at least during the first year while they are establishing) you might have 20 to 30 inch branches by the fall.

Don't stress until then. The branches are very flexible and you will have a lot of options.

Also as FN said google notching and scoring for bud growth. Some interesting stuff out there.

For now.... Just let them grow. You'd be surprised how much they can grow in one season.


    Bookmark   April 9, 2014 at 9:58PM
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karoleana(USDA 9a AZ)

Fascist Nation, Thanks for the info on notching!! I will try it and cross my fingers. I had ordered my trees online and was quite surprised at the large caliper of some of them. It is the larger caliper trees that are not cooperating.

Mes111, I have gotten a bit uptight about this. After all the researching, planning, graphing, measuring and hoping (not to mention the cash outlay) I was not prepared for things not to go according to MY plan. Maybe it is only a type A personality that goes in for formal espalier in the first place :). I will take your good advice and try to relax. Even if it isn't "perfect" I think it will be great in the end.

Thank you both so much!

    Bookmark   April 9, 2014 at 11:04PM
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alan haigh

If you maintain a central leader and let it grow for a season you can try again and probably get more precise results. A vigorous tree generally will send out a few vigorous sprouts at the point annual wood is cut- that is buds within a couple inches of the cut quickly sprout and hormonally subdue growth below. Remove the shoots you don't want and let the keepers grow upright for most of the season before positioning them (they only grow with good vigor while vertical).

Use a stake to make a single shoot grow vertically straight, tying the chosen shoot with care.

The trees you got were stressed from the transplant and that is probably why they responded the way they did if you were cutting into last years growth. Once they are established they should be more cooperative.

Notching down the trunk under vigorous growth often fails to produce vigorous sprouts for me. It shouldn't be necessary for developing a young espalier to use this technique and I don't feel it is your best option.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2014 at 6:05AM
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mes111(5b -Purling NY & 7b -Nassau County NY)


Also... Note that a tree wants to grow UP. Each branch "wants" to be a tree and tries to grow UP. The nature of the growth of a branch changes when you force it to the horizontal. Bending it towards the horizontal growth will slow. So let the branch get some height before forcing it more horizontal.

So... once you have achieved the desired length/height of the branch, bend it to the desired angle.

The branch will then start sending out vertical shoots (because it "wants' to grow "up"). Late summer you can prune these to 2-3 inch stubs (3-5 leaves) and they will develop into fruiting spurs.

This is a very simple basic explanation and I am sure the more academically inclined here will be able to add much more.

So... Don't rush. and.... enjoy


    Bookmark   April 10, 2014 at 8:32AM
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karoleana(USDA 9a AZ)

Harvestman, letting a new central leader grow is a great idea. Would it look something like my crude drawing below depicts?

I was under the impression that a 45 degree angel was vertical enough to not reduce vigor too much. The finished height of the espalier will be 7' which will require 8' branches.

Mike, wouldn't the branches be too stiff by that time to train? How much time do I have? Perhaps I have underestimated the pliability.

My plan was to start training the cooperating shoots as soon as they were long enough to reach my structure. How necessary is vertical growing time? Once I tie them down is all the energy going to be directed into vertical growth?

I have done an informal apple fan on a chain link fence and it did not seem too fussy but it was a much more "natural" shape.

Thank you both for letting me learn from your experience!!

    Bookmark   April 10, 2014 at 2:10PM
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alan haigh

Yes, that is what will likely be possible- at first there will likely be several shoots to choose from.

Uprights can always easily be bent after a single seasons growth. I often graft watersprouts on established trees to change over varieties and usually wait 2 years to take my grafts to a more horizontal position.

Espaliers are not grown horizontally- they are trained that way by pulling down vertical growth. For a Belgian fence you obviously aren't going for horizontal but you should choose two equally vigorous shoots and eliminate the others and let them grow upright for as long as they are in vigorous growth. Remove some leaves from one if it becomes more vigorous than the other to slow it down.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2014 at 5:39PM
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karoleana(USDA 9a AZ)

Oh! It seems I have missed some key concepts when I researched this. Are there any books that you could recommend that might help fill the holes, in my understanding of the process, that I am starting to see emerge?

Thanks again for all your help!

    Bookmark   April 10, 2014 at 6:08PM
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alan haigh

You probably don't need a book. What you are doing is simply growing a group of bi-leader trees and training each into a V shape that criss-cross the nearby branches- right?

I have not tended any Belgian Fence espaliers and ones I manage are all about training scaffolds to horizontal against a wall.

Whether you tie the growing leaders to the frame several times or only once during the growing season will probably be of little importance when growing at that angle- at horizontal it would slow the development much more if you tied town leading growth more than once a season.

On another subject, what you have to do to develop spur wood from the scaffolds will depend quite a bit on the varieties or variety you are growing. Did you do any research on best varieties to use for an espalier? What is the variety and the rootstock of the trees?

    Bookmark   April 10, 2014 at 8:31PM
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karoleana(USDA 9a AZ)

Harvestman, Yes, you are exactly right, bi-leader trees trained into a v that criss-cross.

I am not sure what you mean about tying it once or several times.

I think I was able to find out if some of the varieties were tip bearing, which I read was not favorable for espalier, but I could not find that information on some of the varieties. I was honestly more concerned with finding low chill varieties that would do well in my difficult climate. I have the following varieties on m111: Dorset Golden, Anna, Gravenstein, Gala, Empire, Ashmead's Kernal, Yellow Bellflower, Winter Banana, White winter Pearmain, Fuji, Tydeman's late Orange, Red Fuji, & Sierra Beauty. I have Pink Lady and Granny Smith on m106 and Sundowner on m7. My goal was to have successive ripening from early to late season. I chose the rootstock based on what was available to me from online sources and because those stocks seemed best adapted for my climate and growing conditions. My research seemed to indicate that growing condition was a more important determining factor when it came to rootstock selection than the need for dwarfing as pruning would keep size in check.


    Bookmark   April 11, 2014 at 12:56AM
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alan haigh

I would not want to try to keep a Fuji the size you are intending if I was aiming on getting fruit, but I don't live in AZ. I have to withdraw as any kind of authority of managing apples in the dessert.

I would think you'd need to keep those roots restricted in pots to get them to be fruitful in so little space- traditionally you would not use anything more vigorous than M26 and that wouldn't work so well for highly vigorous varieties like Fuji.

Pruning to keep the size in check with prevent the trees from maturing to fruitfulness- you will likely have your fence but no fruit unless you figure out the perfect balance of deficit irrigation. I don't even know if that's possible, but as I said, I know nothing of growing apples in the dessert.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2014 at 6:30AM
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karoleana(USDA 9a AZ)

Hmm, me thinks this is much more complicated than I thought! I will look into deficit irrigation. Any sources you would recommend I look at? I moved from WA a year ago and so I am still learning desert gardening. One "advantage?" of the desert is that, with the exception of the monsoons, I am very much in control of the water they receive.

Unfortunately I can't afford to start over so I am going to just have to try to make the best of what I have. If you can think of anything else that I might do to increase my chances of success dealing with the hand I have dealt myself I would be grateful to know.
It would be disappointing to, in the end, have grown a very expensive leafy lattice but it will still look super cool ;)

You had mentioned stripping leaves off of a shoot that was more vigorous. A couple of trees had branches right where I wanted them and so I did not prune them off when I planted. They are now, obviously, much bigger than the new shoots. Do I need to strip leaves to slow them down? Is this important overall or only if I am concerned with it growing symmetrically from the start?
Also I had tied those longer branches to my structure but snipped them loose yesterday. They kind of just stayed like I had them tied so I'm not sure if snipping them loose will have much benefit.

Thanks for all your generous time and help!!

    Bookmark   April 11, 2014 at 10:02AM
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alan haigh

The thing is, unless you buy twice as many trees you should probably straighten the shoots to vertical and then choose 2 buds to form your V even if they are the least vigorous at the base- remove the branch above and they will become vigorous.

Fruitnut knows about deficit irrigation- make a post addressed to him.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2014 at 12:38PM
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