How to pleach fruit trees

Written by bonnie grant
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How to pleach fruit trees
A pleached fruit tree hedge will produce a wall of colour in springtime. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

Pleaching is an old landscape art form that involves weaving or braiding the branches of a tree or bush. The process requires the wood to be flexible or to be gradually trained over time. The finished product is sometimes used as an arbor or hedge, and it creates an interesting texture. Pleaching takes a long time, especially on slower growing fruit trees. Even the fast growing fig can take up to four years, and the annual maintenance of pruning and tying in makes it a project that is not for everyone. However, if you like to spend hours in the garden playing with your plants, this is an elegant and interesting way to grow a fruit tree.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Shovel
  • 1-year-old apple trees
  • Pruners
  • 2 posts
  • Mallet
  • Hammer
  • Nails
  • Wire
  • Wire cutters
  • Plant ties

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  1. 1

    Plant the apple trees 4 to 5 feet apart. Turn the trees so the widest, flattest part faces the front of the hedge. Prune off any suckers or volunteer growth on the trunks. The trunks should be free of extra growth at the same level. Sink the posts at either end of the planted apple hedge with a mallet.

  2. 2

    Hammer nails into the posts at 13- to 15-inch intervals. The bottom nail should be at the level you want the foliage to start. String wires across the expanse and wrap them securely around the nails. This forms the structure that the trees will be trained onto.

  3. 3

    Tie any lateral branches that are at the wire level onto the wire with plant ties. Continue to tie in new growth as it gets long enough. Cut off or rub off competing branches that do not grow on the wire lines.

  4. 4

    The next year rub out any new shoots on the trunk and weave together the longer ends of the branches that are already tied in. Weave branches on the same wire so the effect is horizontal layering. Tie in new growth, and prune out anything that keeps the pleach hedge from looking correct.

  5. 5

    Continue good apple tree care, including fertilising, watering, spur pruning and pest control. After approximately five years, or when the apple trees are as tall as the top wire, bend the top of the tree over and secure it to the top line. The plant will soon produce a shoot on the back to cover the wood.

  6. 6

    Prune in winter when you can see the framework of the trees. Remove any skeleton that isn't part of the design. Maintain the weaving and tying in. Prune again in summer when you can see the structure leafed out.

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