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How to Build an Espalier Trellis

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The word espalier is French, but tomb paintings dating back to 1400 B.C. show that the ancient Egyptians sculpted fig trees in the espalier style. This method of training fruit trees, which combines horticulture and art, involves bending and shaping the trees against a trellis so that they grow in unnatural shapes. Anchor espalier trees against a wall, or create free-standing trees to serve as dividers between two garden rooms.

Measure and mark a 45-foot row of your espalier trees by hammering stakes into the ends of the rows and tying string between them. According to the University of Ohio Extension, you can plant between four and six espaliered trees on a two post trellis.

Dig post holes so that they align with the string. Dig the holes 2 feet deep next to the stakes at the ends of the row.

Insert the end of a post into each post hole. Add a layer of rocks to the bottom of each hole to prop the posts upright. Fill in the space around the posts in each hole with soil.

Drill a pilot hole into the inner side of the post for each screw-and-eye lag. Position the bottom pilot hole 24 inches off of the ground. Drill pilot holes up each inner side of the post at 24-inch intervals until you reach the top of the post. There should be three total pilot holes in each post spaced at 2-foot intervals in the post.

Screw a screw-and-eye lag into each pilot hole. Stretch 9-gauge wire between each lag bolt. Thread the ends of the wire into the lag bolts. Cut the ends of the wire with wire cutters so that they trail by several feet. Wrap the trailing end of the wire around the taut ends of wire to secure them.

Dig planting holes for your tree saplings between the two posts. If you are planting four espalier trees, space them every 11 feet. If you are planting six trees, space the planting holes every 7 feet.

Place each tree into the planting hole. Cover the root ball of the tree with soil. Gently bend the branches into the desired shape and tie them with soft cloth ties to the wire trellis. Snip off any branches that cannot be bent with pruning shears.


Dwarf apple trees make good trees for espalier.

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