Espalier refers to the training of a plant or tree to grow flat against a wall or trellis.
Espalier has considerable merit in todays garden design. The practice was originally used in the old world to conserve space in small orchards and gardens. Today, espaliers are mostly used for introducing a decorative accent in the landscape.
An espalier becomes a living sculpture in the garden. In the landscape garden, you can use espaliered plants and trees to cover unsightly, boring, or blank, windowless walls or to create visual screen and barriers. Espalier can bring an otherwise boring wall to life.
Espalier plants are often used by landscape designers between widely spaced windows to add height in the foundation planting. They can also be used in tight, confined areas where spreading shrubs or trees cannot be effectively maintained to stay within the confines.
Most espalier plants are trained to grow flat against a blank wall, fence, or other structure. The root ball of a plant should be planted as closely to a wall as is possible while allowing some soil space for roots to grow between the root ball and the foundation of the structure (if applicable). Lean plant towards wall when planting.
TIP: When planting an espalier against a wall of a home or building, where there is an eave or overhang, make sure the hole is dug just outside any eave or overhang so that the plants roots will receive natural water from rainfall.
Supporting Espalier Plants
Many espalier plants or trees require no support at all. When planting these, just lean them to grow up against the wall. In foundation plantings, make sure that the hole is dug just outside any eave or overhang so that the plants roots will receive water naturally from rainfall.
If support is needed or desired, any number of materials can be used as a support. If the wall is constructed of suitable material, the plant can be trained directly on the wall. If not, a tellis or wire structure can be used for support.
There are several hardware items useful for attaching the branches of plants or trees to walls. For masonry walls, u-bolts, eye bolts, and eye screws are helpful. Often, branches can be anchored by using expandable lead shields, or plastic plugs in the mortar joints. Various types of anchoring devices may be available or can be ordered from your local nursery and garden center or hardware store.