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support systems for cordon and espalier apple trees

Hi all, me again! :-)

In a previous thread I sought your  infinite wisdom on choosing suitable apple varieties and rootstocks for growing a set of cordons and an espalier. I ended up buying five maidens on M26 stock for training as cordons and one on MM106 for training as an espalier. I ordered said trees for Deacon's Nursery (at very reasonable prices, may I add :-) ) and they have arrived and are sat in the back of my garage waiting to plant.

My soil is a thin, 10cm-ish, top soil on top of chalk and then flint. Based on advice from a couple of nursery's I therefore dug a 5m trench with a 2x2ft square section for the cordons and replaced the 'subsoil' with garden compost, partially decomposed turf 'clods' and any other organic matter I could find. Now I need to introduce a suitable support system. My plan was to base it on 3 regular, maybe 3inch, 8ft chestnut stakes. After 'compacting the soil (via walking on wooden planks) I was going to dig 2ft deep holes for the posts and then to place the stakes in the hole and surround them with 20mm gravel - to act as a form of non-permanent concrete.  I'll then run 3 lengths of 2.5mm garden wire across the posts 30cm, 90cm and 150cm above the ground respectively, possibly using turnbuckles if I can't get adequate tension (although I can't imagine needing too much tension?). Does all these sound reasonable? 

Also, I've heard that trusses may be useful, but it sounds like they would be most valuable when some form of concrete base isn't used. Plus I wonder whether my 5m run would necessitate such reinforcement. I found a valuable resource on fitting the trusses but I don't need them, the reduced effort and cost would be welcomed; but then again I don't want to subscribe to a false economy..

When I get my cordons in, I then need to move on to my espalier. I'm planning on digging a hole 3x2x2ft (WxDxH) for this and filling it with similar content. I have plenty of well-rotted manure, so I may use this. My main question regarding this, again, is the nature of the support I need to use. I imagine I only need 2 posts, but how should I bed them in and do I need struts. Your feedback would be appreciated on this.

Lots of questions, I know, but ANY help that anyone can provide would be hugely appreciated!! My body is reeling from the trench digging but I feel I'm on the home straight :-) 

Warmest regards.


  • Pete.8Pete.8 Billericay, EssexPosts: 9,865

    Hi Neil
    Sounds like you've done a lot of hard work.
    I can't really answer your questions, but I've just planted 4 pear cordons against a fence and I used straining wires from here-

    Very easy to use, and reported to support 100Kg (I should be so lucky!) - but if you use it do remember to leave a long loop at the end and not tidy it up by cutting it off as I did - the loop allows you to retension just by pulling. Then there's no need to re-do it all, as I had to....
    I only used it a couple of weeks back, and it was much easier than wires and straining bolts I've used previously.

    When I replaced stakes for a 50ft run of climbing roses i used a hole borer and postcrete - the post was rock solid in 10 minutes and the concrete 'plug' is not so big it couldn't be dug out if needs be - not sure if it would work with your soil situation tho

    Good luck!

    Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit.
    Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
  • Hi Pete,

    Many thanks for taking the time to respond!

    Yeah, there was a fair amount of blood and tears shed; but hopefully the payoff will be worth it :-) Note that, given the hole dimensions, the neighbours are starting to think I'll shortcut the funeral director :-)

    The Gripples sound a great, labour-saving idea. I've heard them mentioned positively before, but though they were beyond the expense of a small job like this. However, having followed your link, I'll definitely look to purchase some.

    Your rose stakes sound very interesting and applicable. When you say a hole borer, do you mean an auger - as I have one of those 'boys toys' in the back of the garage waiting for its first outing :-) To use it, I would have to firm the soil up a bit first, but it does sound a good idea! Could I also what size stakes and hole borer you used?

    Kind regards

  • Pete.8Pete.8 Billericay, EssexPosts: 9,865

    Hi Neil
    For my 4 pear cordons I dug a trench 4m x 1m so I could put a root barrier against the fence to stop all the 'wild plants' coming through from next door - that nearly done me in!

    I was impressed by the simplicity and effectiveness of the gripple system. The straining wire cannot be tied (I did try), so you have to use the tensioners. 

    Yes I did use an auger - 127mm and the stakes were just round treated 50mm posts, but that was for my climbing roses, using traditional wire and straining bolts.

    For the pears against the fence, I used the Gripple system and Wire Anchors for concrete posts supplied by the same firm. They work well. I found the Anchors do bend, but I don't think this will impair performance.
    I'm going to use the same combination to grow a Blackberry against another fence.

    Good luck

    Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit.
    Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
  • josusa47josusa47 Posts: 3,531

    You can tie Gripple "wire" if know your knots.  When I ran short of tensioners, I experimented with using only one.  The end that you attach first can be tied with a bowline.  Or you can start with a tensioner and secure the other end with a round turn and two half-hitches.  Or three to be on the safe side.  I knew those dinghy sailing classes would prove useful one day.

  • Hi Pete,

    4x1m. Okay, I'm well and truly humbled! :-) Good work! Hopefully your wrists have recovered! :-)

    Points noted about the Gripples. I'll definitely be trying some, and I'm sure your hints and tips will prove invaluable. 

    Many thanks, again! You've been a true gent.

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