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Winter pruning of an espaliered apple tree.

By Kevin Mankey – Espalier tree pruning July 2015.

I remember reading in a gardening book years ago a quote saying that eventually every serious gardener will attempt to espalier a fruit tree. Put simply, espalier is the discipline of training and pruning a tree into a single-planed shape such as a fence line or similar structure.

This year I have attempted to document the winter pruning of my espaliered apple to help explain some of the pruning techniques involved. This apple is a Gala variety, and I have been training it as an espalier for about eight years. The techniques explained here would be the same for any variety of pomme fruit ie. apples, pears, quinces etc.

Picture No. 1 shows the tree prior to pruning. Note the upright growing “whips” which are the current seasons’ growth. The objective is to reduce the length of these whips to just a few centimetres so that growth can continue in a controlled manner and the tree can re-direct its energy into fruit production.

Pictures 2 and 3 show a busy cluster of whips before and after pruning, showing a simplified version with the strongest upright leader retained.

Picture No. 4 below shows the ideal spacing between fruiting spurs. This is generally about 10cm or approximately a hands’ width.

Fruiting spurs are different from normal growth branches and appear to have a swollen claw-like appearance as seen in picture No 5 below. We want to encourage the development of fruiting spurs while controlling the vigorous upright whip growths.

Picture No. 6 below shows how we prune a whip at about three centimetres in length. The pruning cuts are done about 1cm above a bud on a 45 degree angle sloping back away from the bud. This is to direct rainwater droplets away from the developing bud like the slope of a roof sheds water. Picture No 7 below shows the finished job. The shortened whips will sprout from the top-most buds during their spring growth spurt whilst the fruiting spurs will blossom in spring and carry clusters of fruit over the summer months. One of the benefits of espaliered fruit trees is that they can easily be netted to protect fruit from birds and possums.

As you can see, this espaliered apple will create a living dividing wall between my vegetable garden and my outdoor living area. I will post some pictures of the results as the season progresses.

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