Espalier is the art of training trees or shrubs to grow flat against a wall or fence so that they take up very little space in the garden. In the Middle Ages, it was used to grow fruit trees within castle yards and can serve the same purpose in the modern garden, gaining a harvest of fruit from a small area. Most often used with apples, espalier techniques can be adapted to cherries, though their limbs are less flexible than those of the apple. Because of this, the fan shape is the most advantageous.
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Things you need
- 1-year-old dwarf or semi-dwarf cherry tree
- Wall or fence
- Pruning shears
- Plant ties made of biodegradable materials or stretchy plastic
Plant your 1-year-old cherry tree at the base of a wall or fence so that the stem is no more than a four inches away from the it. This should be done when the tree is dormant, in February or March. Cut it back to about 15 inches.
Select two of the new shoots that sprout below the cut to be the base of your fan. This should be done in June. Choose strong branches near the tip of the trunk and tie them to your fence or wall using biodegradable or stretchy plastic plant ties that will not strangle the growing branch. Bend these shoots so that they make a 45-degree angle with the trunk. If they do not reach the crosspieces of the fence, use a bamboo pole as an interim support. Tie them down again as they grow. Remove all other shoots.
Cut these two branches back the following February to about a foot in length, or so that there are four buds on each branch. These will sprout into new branches, the foundation of your fan. Tie each of these to the wall, fence or bamboo poles so that they are evenly spaced over the whole half-circle above the main trunk.
Prune back new growth every year to maintain the fan shape. Wait until fruit has set on the spurs, the short flowering shoots, then take off the non-fruiting shoots about once a month until six weeks before first frost is expected.
Tips and warnings
- Be generous with water and add a mulch of compost or bagged steer manure every year. The roots are confined and need a bit of extra care.
- Don't try to espalier a standard-sized cherry tree. They can reach 40 feet in height with substantial upright branches. Even dwarfs can be vigorous trees.
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