The espalier fruit tree is a well-trained, deciduous conversation starter. This fruit tree is trained to grow up a trellis, fence or other flat surface just like a fruiting vine. Every fruit tree has the potential for espalier, but not all are ideal. Ideal selections are those that develop their fruit near the main branches. These selections include most apple, pear and plum variations. Espalier fruit trees also require generous amounts of time and pruning, and can take as long as five to 10 years to complete. A large commitment is required for these trees.
Plant the espalier tree in fertile, well-drained soil near a fence, wall or trellis, and ensure that it is exposed to at least eight hours of full sunlight daily. Avoid planting near brick.
Remove grass and weeds from the planting area and loosen compacted soils. Remove the young tree from its bindings and gently spread out the root system. Dig a hole for the root system that has a depth equivalent to the tree's root system with a width that is about twice the spread.
Position the tree in the center of the hole so that the graft line is about 1 inch above the surface. Position the tree approximately 10 inches from the wall or trellis to allow room for root growth and air circulation. Backfill the hole halfway and fill the hole with water. Repeat the process to complete the planting. Press the soil firmly around the young fruit tree to secure its upright position.
Irrigate the fruit tree deeply and regularly, with about 1 inch of water each week. Irrigate slowly to allow the water to reach the underlying roots. Always adjust the irrigation schedule for periods of drought and rainfall.
Prune the espalier fruit tree regularly to develop its shape and position on the trellis. Train the lower, outer branches first, followed by the inner, upper branches. Secure them with 14-gauge, galvanized wire. Complete the process continuously over the years, securing the branches as they become long enough.
Remove dead, dying or wilted branches and stems with sharp, sterile pruning shears. Prune away any unwanted branches to develop the desired shape.
Feed the fruit tree in the early spring, just before bud break, with a well-balanced, slow release fertilizer such as a 10-10-10 or 20-20-20 combination. Distribute the fertilizer evenly around the planting surface. Keep the fertilizer at least 1 foot from the trunk of the fruit tree to prevent root burn. Inspect the espalier fruit tree closely after feedings, as secure branches will sprout and may need adjustments to their wiring. Loosen and tighten wires as needed throughout the growing season.