Espalier Fruit Trees

The word Espalier comes from the Italian spalla, meaning shoulder. Although the term Espalier is often used to describe any trained tree, the true form has branches coming out at 90 degrees from the main stem, creating an attractive regimented shape.

Espaliers have been utilized since Ancient Egypt where hieroglyphs of espaliered fig trees have been found in tombs dating back to 1400 B.C. They have also been used in medieval castles and courtyards to save space and in the gardens of Versailles.

Espaliers are mainly used for apples and pear, stone fruit aren’t suitable as they don’t respond well to the hard pruning necessary. However stone fruit can be used for Fan training.

We recommend growing trained trees on a semi-vigorous rootstock, as any form that requires regular pruning needs a more vigorous rootstock or growth habit in order to respond well.

Pear Espalier

How to Espalier a Fruit Tree

If planting against a wall or fence, ensure there is 15-25cm space between the tree and wall.

Start with a 1 year maiden tree. Cut back hard the first spring (before end of March) above three buds at 40-45cm, or if fixed to a lower horizontal wire this should be to the first bud just above this wire. This will encourage side shoots to form.

The following summer before the new shoots become too rigid, train the top shoot vertically up a cane support. Tie the next two side shoots at 45 degrees to the main stem left and right. In late summer lower the side shoots so they are horizontal. Use soft twine to tie the shoots so as not to damage the young growth.

In year two cut the main, vertical stem to about 45cm above the first tier (or to the next wire). Repeat tying in the second horizontal shoots as in year one.

It is important only to start to form one tier a year to maintain strength in the lower tiers. There is always a temptation to cover the wall/fence as quickly as possible, this can produce a weak lower part of the tree.

Annual pruning and aftercare on established espalier trees

Summer spur pruning – The shoots that grow vertically off the horizontal branches need to be pruned back to two buds from late June to late July.

Winter pruning (February to March) – Any vertical re-growth from the summer pruning should be pruned again back to one bud. The leader should be cut back to the next wire and any extension growth on the horizontal branches should be tipped back to a downward facing bud leaving approximately 20-25 cm of last years extension growth.

General tips

On some occasions after tipping back leaders the new growth does not conform to expectations, so it may be necessary to re prune the following winter and start again. Trees are quite forgiving!

When selecting varieties for espalier training it is best to choose spur bearing types, always ask the nursery for guidance. Tip bearing varieties suit fan training better.

It is possible to espalier up 5 or more tiers if covering high walls and trellis. For lower walls and fences a two tier can be quite adequate. Even a single tier (often called a ‘step over’) is possible along borders in open areas of the garden. These are merely single tiered espaliers.

Don’t be too tentative, be bold and prune one year shoots hard both in summer and winter.

Pear Espalier

Frank P Matthews Espalier Trees

Our Espalier trees are grown on semi-vigorous rootstocks: MM106 (Apples), Quince A (Pears).


Pre trained in the field or container for two year’s followed by a third year as a container grown complete with an ‘A’ frame cane support. Reasonably symmetrical in shape, espalier a minimum of 2 tiers with a central leader. Minimum height and width 1m x 1m.

You can purchase direct from our Tree Shop in Worcestershire by clicking here or find your local stockist.