To "pleach" means to braid. Pleached trees are planted in rows with a framework to support the branches so that they can be woven together, and then pruned and trained to form a wall or archway. Pleaching your trees is one way to ensure a beautifully shaded path for many years to come.
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Choose a tree variety. Many different species of deciduous tree will work, but some are better suited to being pleached than others. Hornbeam, apple, sycamore, beech and linden are some varieties that work well. All the trees to be pleached should be the same age and type.
Plan your pathway. Drive stakes into the ground about 2.1 to 2.7 m (7 to 9 feet) apart along the pathway for whatever length you wish to shade. Do the same on the other side of the path.
Construct a framework. Drive posts into the ground at each end of each of the rows for extra support. Attach thin horizontal rails to the stakes and posts about 60 cm (24 inches) apart, starting at about 90 cm (3 feet) off the ground.
Plant the trees. In late fall, plant one young tree next to each of the stakes. They should be tall enough that some of their branches can be tied onto the framework.
Tie branches. Use a stretchy material designed for tying tree branches so that as the branches grow they won't be choked. Bend the branches gently to tie them on, pruning branches that are sticking out toward the front of the tree. Branches that are below the level of the horizontals should be trimmed back to the main stem.
Train the branches. Continue tying in and trimming new branches, and pruning branches that can't be tied in. As the tree grows, branches of adjacent trees may be woven together and loosely tied. Once your trees reach this stage the framework can be removed. Continue to prune and shape to create your shady canopy of leaves.
Tips and warnings
- When preparing to plant your trees for pleaching, remember that rows extending north to south will receive more even sunlight than those planted east to west.
- The stakes for pleaching should be about 2.4 to 3 m (8 to 10 feet) long. When they are driven into the ground to a depth of 60 to 90 cm (2 to 3 feet), they will still provide sufficient support for the young trees.
- The rows on either side of your pathway can be 90 cm to 3 m (3 feet to 10 feet) apart. The farther apart they are, the taller they will have to grow to form a canopy. This means that pruning will be more difficult.