Belgian apple fence

craig_in_ca(Zone 9 - So.CA)December 29, 2007

Last fall when I was trying to figure out how to build a Belgian fence with apples in my south Orange County garden, it took me quite a while to find the right info. So... just in case someone is looking for ideas, I have attached a link to my Webshots album. The link shows the assembly of the fixture & the tree plan for the space I have with 11 varieties of trees spaced 18 inches apart.

They were planted in Jan of 2007. This was the first year in the ground so I have no harvest data, but the project has been interesting.

All summer long, I pinched off the side branches about weekly & the trees grew quite well. The end of November, I pruned all the blades off the leaves leaving the petioles. This was a technique I learned form a bonsai friend who specializes in fruiting bonsai. The idea was also iterated in a handout I saw at Laguna Hills Nursery where they suggested that stripping the leaves in November may help fruiting. We'll see how well this works in a few months.

Happy gardening,


Here is a link that might be useful: Belgian Fence Webshot album

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hopflower(z8/z15 CA Sunset)

Good job, I love Belgian fences for fruit. Tell me, aren't the trees a little close, though? I was under the impression that they needed to be a bit further apart.

It really looks like a good start, I must say. Good luck on the outcome and keep us updated, please.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2007 at 7:28PM
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I think the entire area is way too narrow. I just removed an apple that was in a raised bed about 5 feet wide same height as yours. It was pushing on the wall. The base of the trunk was about 8 inches in diameter and had roots from 4-9 inches. The biggest root went under the wall to the neighbors.
Good luck on keeping them contained.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2007 at 8:18PM
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Nice layout and don't worry about the confined space. I have about 250 feet of apple Belgian Fence spaced 18" apart and it works well (and shilds my view of the neighbor's junk pile). I would recommend that you run drip irrigation on a timer under your mulch, as the trees thrive on it. It will also direct the roots downward instead of surface (and against your wall).

However, the M111 rootstock is not "semi-dwarf" by any means; it is quite vigorous and makes a tree 80% the size of a seedling tree and probably will take 5 years to fruit (longer for the Fuji). You will need to heavily prune in the summer to keep them behaved (but it can be done; I keep three seedling rootstock apple trees espaliered to 5' tall). A better rootstock choice for future plantings is Bud. 9, which makes a perfect-sized tree for espalier and often fruits the second year.

You do not need to concern yourself with planting only low-chill apple varieties, as any apple variety will fruit fine even with our low-chilling hours (yes, even Northern Spy). What you will need to focus on is heat-tolerant varieties, especially being that close to a wall (just because it will grow here doesn't mean it's good in our heat). I recommend that you also paint the trunks and branches white with 50% diluted latex paint to prevent sunscald next spring, or your trees will be borer-bait.

Stripping the leaves is not necessary to get them to fruit, but it is helpful for applying dormant spray, mandatory if you're trying to grow peaches or stonefruit nearby. Spray this in a couple weeks, as Dorsett and Anna will blossom the end of January, closing your window for dormant oil.

I envy your support system and am sure you will enjoy your project.


    Bookmark   December 29, 2007 at 9:02PM
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craig_in_ca(Zone 9 - So.CA)

Thanks for your comments. I did quite a bit of research & concluded that pretty much anything will work with a few basic rules: summer prune to control shape, don't fertilize, don't over water. A few of the references I found are below. Some of them are specific to espalier & other are just group planting sites. Each has its own flavor.

Concerning the heat from the wall, the wall is a west-southwest facing wall which was recommended since the summers can be so hot. Barbara McEwan recommends that "if your summer temperatures often rise into the 90's or beyond... choose a west or southwest exposure." The other side of the wall gets shade all morning. I hope this will be OK but I'm not too worried about it. However, I think I will try the latex paint this year.

The varieties I choose were selected to ensure good pollination, a wide range of ripening periods and a wide variety of color in fruit & blossom. A couple varieties were chosen for low chill (although I understand that most Southern CA growers don't worry about that too much.) (The variety list is viewable in the next to the last image in the album.)

Concerning the root stock, I chose the M111 because that was available in all the varieties I could find. The concern about using different root stocks is that some may overtake the neighbors. The downside to using the M111 is that I will have to prune pretty stringently for the first 3 to 5 years. From what I have read, by maintaining close control, I limit the amount of energy stored in the root system by limiting the amount of leaves on the tree through summer pinch pruning. This is supposed to help keep the root system small.

The trees my garden were not watered except when I planted them & a couple times during the heat of summer. I got this advice from my friends at Laguna Hills Nursery. Looking at how much they grew in 1 year, I am afraid if I water them any more, I will have difficulty controlling their size.

Do most people use dormant spray in OC?

Thanks again for the comments,


    Bookmark   January 1, 2008 at 8:01PM
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I have an apple hedge started, also, although not as formal as a Belgian one. Tom Spellman suggested that the trees be planted at least three feet from the brick wall, to make it easier to get behind them and tend to them. It's been helpful advice so far, since there are roses planted in front. I've used M111 rootstock also, because we have strong Santa Anas here, that blew over my last apple tree, ever a tornado once. The M111 is supposed to be deeper rooted than other rootstocks.
Your trees look like they have a great start. Good luck with them.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2008 at 12:33AM
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Thanks for posting the Belgian Fence. It'll be super helpful this winter when I put mine in. What program did you use to make your plans? They're so well planned out and I'd love to be able to do the same.


    Bookmark   September 7, 2008 at 2:46PM
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An excellent article on espalier patterns, methods, and applications has been produced by The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) at the University of Florida. Their publication can be downloaded here:

Here is a link that might be useful: Espaliers

    Bookmark   January 25, 2009 at 3:59PM
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Hey Craig,
It's been about 2 years since your original post. Any updates? Or updated pictures?
I'm also curious about your Honey Crisp.


    Bookmark   January 28, 2009 at 7:18PM
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craig_in_ca(Zone 9 - So.CA)

Hi Rick,

I have not been too good about checking in but I thought I would give a quick update.

The fence is doing nicely. During the summer it still takes staying on top of it or the little side branches want to take over.

The Anna had about a dozen apples early spring. I thinned all but 3 apples. One of those was picked by my grand daughter in late June. It was a bit early but very tasty. She was quite proud of it. Unfortunately, the neighborhood raccoon enjoyed the other two a couple weeks later just as they were turning nice and red.

The Pink Lady had a few blooms later in the season but never set fruit.

The Pink pearl has pushed out 5 or 6 blossoms at a time for about 6 weeks. Last week I noticed one apple on it up on the tip of the branch. (Hopefully too high for the raccoon.) It was about half an inch across.

The Honey Crisp is struggling a bit. I have all but quit pruning it as it has little vigor. (Too sad.)

Last summer there was little growth as I avoided watering them. This year I have decided that I will water them & they are growing much better (even the Honey Crisp.) I installed a Dig 12 line drip head irrigation to water them. I think they need the water since they are in the planter (& since it has not rained since ???. We are in southern California) If they had been in the ground, they would have had plenty of lawn irrigation water.

So far loving the fence. If I had it to do again I would do it the same way. However, the trees may be a bit close together for ideal conditions. I like the potential look of the fence.

I still keep the pictures updated on occasion on the website.

Happy gardening,


Here is a link that might be useful: My Belgian Fence

    Bookmark   July 25, 2009 at 2:31AM
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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA

I happened across your lovely Belgian espaliered apple tree fence. I just bought several apple trees and I'm in a close zone as you (10a/Sunset zone 23 in Vista, CA). I'am wondering how your espaliered fence is doing now. Can you give us an update? I'm considering espaliering my apple trees (Anna, Dorsett Golden, Pink Lady and Red Fuji). I'd love to see how yours are doing, and where you are in S. Calif.

Patty S.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2011 at 12:56AM
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Hello across time and space.

The links to photos of the fences grown by others no longer work. Might you be able to update them?


Raro (just planted 15 apple trees in NC)

    Bookmark   December 3, 2012 at 10:58PM
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