Espalier plum trees make an attractive addition to home landscapes. Espalier is the technique of training plants to grow in a formal pattern along a flat wall or garden trellis. According to North Carolina State University, successfully training plum trees often requires more effort than other fruit trees to espalier in your garden, because plums only develop on the previous season's growth. However, with proper techniques and dedication, espaliered plum trees make an excellent focal point and provide interest to your landscape.
Originally developed by Romans, the espalier method of growing fruit trees was later perfected in the walled gardens of medieval Europe, according to the University of Saskatchewan. Growing espalier fruit trees was an effective way to conserve space as well as a means of growing cold-sensitive plants, such as plums, in northern climates. Plums and other fruit trees trained to grow along southern walls would receive sunshine throughout the day as well as thermal heat from the wall, protecting them from damage on colder days. These warm microclimates also allowed the trees to produce healthy fruit in seasons when freestanding fruit trees could not.
The espalier growing technique involves training a young plum tree -- in its first or second year of growth -- to a trellis system along a wall. Several trellis designs work well for growing plums, but training the flexible plum tree branches to grow in flat horizontal angles yields best results, according to Western Australia Department of Agriculture and Food. At least three tiers of trellis wires should be constructed to accommodate the first season's growth. Plum trees require a lot of attention and maintenance to remain healthy as espalier plants due to their rapid growth rate.
Choosing the proper location is essential to growing healthy plum trees using the espalier technique. Walls that face south to southeast are best, because they receive ample sunlight during the growing season but are protected from winds and direct winter sun, which can desiccate plum trees.
The soil next to building often contains remnant debris from the construction process. Amend the soil with compost and top soil to improve drainage and ensure that there are adequate nutrients available to support the plum tree. Dig a hole at least 1 foot wider than the root-ball of the young plum tree you are planting. The hole should be 6 to 8 inches away from the wall, according to the University of Florida. Water thoroughly after planting, and place a 3-inch layer of organic mulch around the tree to maintain soil moisture and prevent competition from weeds.
Once planted, cut back the plum tree to the first tier of the trellis. Ensure that there are at least three buds on the tree. These three buds will develop into the first shoots you will train to the trellis. Tie the two horizontal shoots to the first tier of the trellis with twine and allow the central leader to develop vertically. Remove any flower buds that develop, to encourage vegetative growth on the tree and to establish a strong espalier form. Continue to prune all branches that grow vertically, to promote healthy growth laterally along the trellis.
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- North Carolina State University: Espalier
- Government of Western Australia: Department of Agriculture and Food: Espalier Pruning and Trellising of Plums
- University of Saskatchewan: Espalier
- University of Florida: Espaliers
- Oregon State University: Espalier Training of Fruit Trees is Fun, But Demanding