Espalier Honeycrisp Apple Tree in Landen Bajer's Backyard, Edmonton. Ripe Red Apples on Espalier Fruit Trees

Espalier Fruit Trees

A Leafy Wall of Fruit. Save Space, Increase Yields, and Extend the Growing Season with Espalier Fruit Trees

Espalier fruit trees are a great way to conserve space, grow food, and create a beautiful garden.

Espalier is the ancient practice of training plants against a two-dimensional surface such as a wall or trellis, typically trees, shrubs, or vines. The result is a compact, two-dimensional plant that conserves space and produces consistent and easily managed fruit.

Espalier Fruit Trees. Landen Bajer in his Backyard next to an Espalier Apple Tree and an Espalier Pear Tree
My brother, Landen Bajer, next to his espalier apple and pear trees
Espalier Fruit Trees Save Space

One of the most significant advantages of espalier fruit trees is that they conserve a tonne of space. A fruit tree with a 10-foot radius would have a footprint close to 314 square feet. The same espalier tree, trained to grow 10 feet on either side of its trunk, would only occupy 20 square feet! Yes, espalier trees tend to be smaller, but this technique allows you to fit multiple varieties in a small space.

Incorporating espalier allowed me to plant a dozen fruit trees along my fences without taking up any valuable space within the yard.

Dustin Bajer's Backyard Espalier Fruit Tree Fence Design, SketchUp. Espalier Fruit Trees.
My Initial Backyard Espalier Fruit Tree Fence Design, SketchUp
Easy To Manage

You might imagine picking a two-dimensional fruit tree is more accessible than a standard tree. With a clear view of all the fruit, harvesting the fruit from a well-trained tree takes minutes. When picking fruit, I start on one end and work horizontally down a branch to the other. It’s also relatively easy to maintain the height of a trained tree, so you can keep it as tall or as short as you’d like.

Increased Yield and Quality

Though a smaller espaliered fruit tree may produce less fruit overall, it will produce a manageable amount of high-quality fruit. Training branches to grow horizontally encourages fruiting spurs – especially on apple trees –  and the open-pruning structure ensures that fruit gets plenty of sunlight and ripens fully.

Dustin Bajer holding a Simonet Pear in Edmonton Alberta
Fruit from an Espaliered Simonet Pear Tree, Edmonton
Take Advantage of Microclimates

In a cold climate like mine, the most significant advantage of training, espalier fruit trees, is that you can take advantage of microclimates by training plants against a South or West facing wall. The thermal mass of a wall will often raise the temperature by a few degrees Celcius and can bump your growing conditions up a full USDA growing zones. An article by Low Tech Magazine describes this effect beautifully in an article titled Fruit Wall: Farming in the 1600s.

By planting fruit trees close to a specially built wall with high thermal mass and southern exposure, a microclimate is created that allows the cultivation of Mediterranean fruits in temperate climates, such as those of Northern France, England, Belgium and the Netherlands.

The fruit wall reflects sunlight during the day, improving growing conditions. It also absorbs solar heat, which is slowly released during it at night, preventing frost damage. Consequently, a warmer microclimate is created on the southern side of the wall for 24 hours per day.” – Low Tech Magazine.

Aesthetically Pleasing

Generally, I’m not a fan of well-manicured, formal gardens. I enjoy a mess and highly tolerate “natural” looking spaces. As a permaculture designer, I’m biased towards a “nature knows best approach.” Still, there’s something very satisfying about a well-trained espalier, especially if it doubles as a fence or allows me to grow more food without giving up too much space.

Espalier Honeycrisp Apple Tree in Landen Bajer's Backyard, Edmonton. Ripe Red Apples on Espalier Fruit Trees
An Espaliered Honeycrisp Apple Tree, Edmonton

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