Trained Fruit Trees: A Comprehensive Guide To Forms

Trained trees are among the most captivating sights in the world of horticulture. They are a blend of horticultural expertise and master craftsmanship. Here at Frank P Matthews, we are proud to be one of the only British tree nurseries offering trained trees. The key to growing exceptional trained trees is a fine balance of time and patience. The key phrase among espalier enthusiasts is “a tier a year’. Our trained trees are often over 5 years old before they are ready for sale. In that time they may be fettled, pruned and adjusted over 200 times by our highly skilled trained tree team.

Types of Trained Tree

There are many forms that a trained tree can take and the tree variety often dictates this. Here at Frank P Matthews we offer a number of forms such as espalier, fan, candelabra, cordon and informal l’arcure lepage. It can seem daunting to decipher what each of these forms is but we have produced a comprehensive guide to make it all a little clearer.


An espalier tree is trained to grow flat against a support, such as a wall, fence, or trellis, creating a two-dimensional form. This technique dates back to ancient times and is heralded for its aesthetic appeal and space-saving benefits, making it ideal for small spaces. Espalier trees are pruned and tied to develop specific shapes and patterns, such as horizontal, vertical, or fan designs. Various fruit tree varieties lend themselves well to espaliering, with apples and pears being the most common due to their flexible branches and compatibility with this training method. Other suitable varieties include figs, peaches, and citrus trees, which can all be trained effectively to produce ornamental and fruitful displays.


A cordon-trained tree is where the tree is pruned and shaped to grow a single main stem or trunk, with fruiting spurs or short lateral branches. This technique optimises space and enhances fruit production by focusing the tree’s energy on a limited number of fruit-bearing branches. Cordon training is often used in commercial orchards and home gardens to facilitate easy harvesting, pest management, and maintenance. Apple and pear trees are particularly well-suited for cordon training due to their natural growth habits and ability to produce abundant fruit on short spurs. Other suitable varieties include cherries, plums, and certain types of grapes, all can be trained effectively to maximise yield and maintain a compact growth form. This method is beneficial in creating high-density planting systems, improving sunlight exposure, and ensuring efficient use of garden space.


A fan-trained tree is where a tree is pruned and shaped to grow in a fan-like pattern against a support structure, such as a wall or trellis. This method involves training the tree’s branches to spread horizontally from a central trunk, creating a visually appealing and space-efficient form. Fan training is particularly effective for stone fruits, which naturally produce strong lateral branches and benefit from increased sunlight and air circulation. Varieties that work well with fan training include Prunus persica (peach), Prunus domestica (plum), Prunus armeniaca (apricot), and Prunus avium (cherry). This training method is also suitable for certain pome fruits, such as Pyrus communis (pear) and Malus domestica (apple), although they are more commonly trained as espaliers or cordons. Fan training allows for easy maintenance and harvesting, reduces disease incidence by improving airflow, and maximises fruit production in limited spaces, making it an excellent choice for ornamental and productive gardening.


A candelabra-trained tree is a tree that is pruned and trained to grow with multiple vertical branches emanating from a single main trunk, resembling the shape of a traditional candelabrum. This method enhances the aesthetic appeal and productivity of the tree by optimising light exposure and air circulation to each branch. Candelabra training is particularly effective for fruit trees, as it promotes balanced growth and maximises fruiting potential. Suitable varieties for candelabra training include Malus domestica (apple) and Pyrus communis (pear), which respond well to this form due to their growth habits and fruiting capabilities. Stone fruits like Prunus persica (peach) and Prunus domestica (plum) can also be trained successfully into a candelabra shape. This method is beneficial in creating high-density planting systems, facilitating easy harvesting and maintenance, and providing a striking visual element in ornamental and productive gardens.


A step-over trained tree is a low-growing form of espalier where the tree is pruned to grow horizontally at a height of about 12-18 inches (30-45 cm) above the ground, typically along a single wire or support. This technique creates a “living fence” that is both decorative and functional, ideal for edging garden beds or pathways. Step-over training is particularly suited for apple (Malus domestica) and pear (Pyrus communis) varieties, as these species readily produce fruiting spurs along horizontal branches. Dwarf or semi-dwarf rootstocks are typically used to maintain the small size and manageability of the trees. Other suitable varieties include certain stone fruits like Prunus domestica (plum) and Prunus armeniaca (apricot), although they require more diligent care and pruning. Step-over trees are easy to maintain and harvest, making them an excellent choice for small gardens, where they provide an attractive landscape feature and a productive fruiting element.

Informal L’arcure Lepage

The Informal l’arcure lepage trained tree is a unique and visually striking horticultural form where a tree is pruned and shaped into an arching structure with gracefully curving branches. Named after its creator, this method involves training the tree to grow in a series of soft, sweeping arcs, providing an organic and natural appearance that blends seamlessly into garden landscapes. This technique enhances the aesthetic appeal and the functional use of space, making it ideal for ornamental purposes and fruit production. Varieties that respond well to Informal l’arcure lepage training include Malus domestica (apple) and Pyrus communis (pear), known for their flexible branches and prolific fruiting capabilities. Other suitable species include Prunus domestica (plum) and Prunus persica (peach), which can also be trained effectively to achieve the desired arching form. This training method promotes good air circulation and sunlight penetration, reducing disease risk and improving fruit quality while creating a captivating garden feature.

Trained Trees are a captivating variation on standard growing techniques. At Frank P Matthews we pride ourselves on growing exceptional British trees and our trained range is a celebration of our commitment to this mission. We offer trees in all the forms listed above. If you would like to purchase a trained tree or learn more about them get in touch at or call us on 01584 812800.