Es­palier prun­ing has artis­tic and prac­ti­cal ben­e­fits

El Dorado News-Times - - Living -

Es­palier de­sign is an an­cient prun­ing prac­tice that fash­ions fruit trees, vines or flow­er­ing shrubs into artis­tic, two-di­men­sional forms. This lat­eral shap­ing makes it eas­ier to har­vest and mow, max­i­mizes sun­light, and helps trees fit into tight ar­eas.

"It's a great way to uti­lize grow­ing space next to walls and fences while adding or­na­men­tal in­ter­est," said Harold Tay­lor, out­door land­scape man­ager at Long­wood Gar­dens in Ken­nett Square, Penn­syl­va­nia. "It is also used for ef­fi­cient use of gar­den space and as a method for cre­at­ing out­door rooms in the land­scape."

To es­palier (pro­nounced ess-PAL-yay) a tree is to train it to grow flat against a sup­port of some kind — a wall, fence or wires, say. Sup­port it with ties or brack­ets, and prune it to grow side­ways by se­lect­ing sev­eral strong branches from sep­a­rate lev­els and elim­i­nat­ing buds shoot­ing to­ward the front or rear. The hor­i­zon­tal sur­vivors even­tu­ally will be­come the tree's fruit­ing spurs.

A half-dozen or more clas­sic, ar­chi­tec­tural es­palier pro­files have evolved over time. Ex­am­ples in­clude the "Cor­don," with its ver­ti­cal trunk and multi-tiered hor­i­zon­tal branches; the self-de­scrip­tive "Fan," whose branches grow from the trunk at 45 de­gree an­gles; the "Can­de­labra," where ver­ti­cal branches rise from a sin­gle low hor­i­zon­tal limb; and the "Bel­gian" or "English Fence," where es­palier plants are linked in lat­tice-like fash­ion to free­stand­ing trel­lises. The lat­ter often serve as liv­ing fences to screen unattrac­tive ar­eas.

"Have pa­tience, as it will take a cou­ple grow­ing sea­sons or more for your es­palier to start tak­ing shape, and five to 10 years un­til at peak form," said Leonard Perry, a hor­ti­cul­ture pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus at Univer­sity of Ver­mont Ex­ten­sion, in a fact sheet.

Al­most any woody plant can be es­paliered, al­though some, with sturdy yet sup­ple branches, are more ge­net­i­cally suited than oth­ers for this train­ing tech­nique.

"Fruit trees are one of the most widely used," Tay­lor said in an email.

That would in­clude ap­ple and pear trees, along with peaches, pomegranates, figs, cher­ries, plums, nec­tarines and apri­cots.

Or­na­men­tal plants with long, flex­i­ble branch­ing also make good es­palier can­di­dates. Think camel­lias, holly, mag­no­lia, bougainvil­lea, climb­ing roses and a host of oth­ers. Dwarf, semi-dwarf cul­ti­vars and young trees that haven't de­vel­oped thick branch­ing are eas­ier to train than are stan­dard-size, open-canopy va­ri­eties. Young trees also are less ex­pen­sive, while dwarf trees are less likely to out­grow their shape if not pruned ev­ery year.

Es­palier trees often are used in com­mer­cial or­chards to boost yields.

"Grow­ing fruit trees as a fruit­ing wall is be­com­ing com­mon with com­mer­cial or­chards be­cause it takes less la­bor to prune and har­vest," said Re­nae Mo­ran, a fruit-grow­ing spe­cial­ist with Univer­sity of Maine Co­op­er­a­tive Ex­ten­sion. "How­ever, they do not have the look that a home-trained tree would have since com­mer­cial grow­ers do not spend any time fuss­ing with the tree's ap­pear­ance.

"To a hobby grower, the for­mal shape of an es­palier tree may be the pri­mary rea­son for choos­ing the train­ing sys­tem," Mo­ran said.

Es­palier train­ing usu­ally is done in win­ter when plants are dor­mant.

"Once a per­son over­comes the fear of mak­ing prun­ing mis­takes, it's easy," Mo­ran said. "Clean­ing up the prun­ings af­ter­ward is more work than the prun­ing it­self."

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