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Espalier is the horticultural and ancient agricultural practice of controlling woody plant growth originally for the production of fruit, by pruning and tying branches to a frame so that they grow into a flat plane, frequently in formal patterns, against a structure such as a wall, fence, or trellis, and also plants which have been shaped in this way.

Espaliers, trained into flat two-dimensional forms, are ideal not only for decorative purposes, but also for gardens in which space is limited. In a temperate climate, they may be planted next to a wall that can reflect more sunlight and retain heat overnight or planted so that they absorb maximum sunlight by training them parallel to the equator. These two facts allow the season to be extended so that fruit has more time to mature.

A restricted form of training consists of a central stem and a number of paired horizontal branches all trained in the same plane. The most important advantage is that of being able to increase the growth of a branch by training it vertically. Later, one can decrease growth while increasing fruit production by training it horizontally.

A Belgian fence is created by cutting back an unbranched, slender tree to between fifteen and eighteen inches above the ground. The topmost three buds are allowed to form; one in the middle is trained vertically while two others are trained into a V shape. Any other buds are rubbed away. Removing the vertical stem completes the individual V-shaped espalier. By placing many similarly trained trees in a line two feet apart with their branches trained to the same plane, a Belgian fence is created.

The Belgian fence is an intermediary form that can then be used to train onward to many other forms of espalier, including: Step-over where the branches are lowered down to the horizontal in autumn while still flexible enough and tied to a trellis, Fan where the branches are lowered and cut back then trained further, Horizontal T where the branches are trained to horizontal as with step-over but the vertical stem is trained up to another level and cut usually in spring of the second year, where another V shape is created and the resulting branches finally being lowered to another wire in autumn of the second year. Multiple levels of horizontal branching can be trained in this way.

In each case, branches are first trained vertically so they will grow vigorously and then later, after the desired growth is achieved, they are lowered to the horizontal to reduce their vigor while optimizing spur formation.

Espalier training can be used on full-sized trees in order to keep their fruit within reach. As such, it probably predates grafting of trees onto dwarfing root stock. Using dwarf or semi-dwarf plants is still a good idea as it reduces the amount of pruning that is necessary.
Posted By Gremelin Posted on May 8th, 2014
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