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Espaliers - questions on pruning

marcos 114marcos 114 Posts: 24
edited April 2018 in Tools and techniques
I asked a separate question about training wires, but I have some more questions specifically on pruning.

I just got the RHS "Pruning & Training Book"; pages 114 & 115 explain how to espalier trees, but unfortunately I still have some questions. 

For reference, here's the tree (pretty much as we bought it a month ago), planted against the wall (pending wiring up):

The tiers are 50cm/20in apart (which seems about average according to the RHS book), with the bottom tier being about 130cm each side. The leader currently extends about 100cm past the third tier.


1) Imagining the tiers burgeoning with Bramleys, 50cm seems a lot of space between tiers. Not that I can change it now, but why is that do you think? Perhaps it's mostly and 'aesthetic' standard?

2) The diagrams seem to use bamboo canes, but I've heard about just tying gently with vine directly. Are the canes really necessary?

3) The tree was supplied with doubled up tiers - the seller mentioned they did that in case one broke (presumably before selling). I assume I cut off one of the doubled up branches? If so, any guidance as to which? (I'm guessing 'the smallest one').

4) When do I cut the leader? From the book I understand I do that with 'an angled cut, just above a bud at the next tier' - but that seems to be in winter - so should I leave it until November now?

5) The wall bends in about 10 cm, just where the next tier should go:

Not sure whether I should extend the vine eyes out a further 10cm at that point, or have the tree curve in with the wall? I'm guessing the former to avoid a strange kink?

6) Is this far enough away from the wall? The trunk is about ~10cm, the left hand 1st tier is only 7cm:

7) The book says 'vigorous root stock' must be used for more than three tiers. I hopes for five or six. Is there any way to tell if the tree meets that requirement (I.e. Do I need to ask the sellers, or are all Bramley trees like that)?


  • pansyfacepansyface PEAK DISTRICT DerbyshirePosts: 17,806
    edited April 2018
    Firstly, I was a bit surprised to see that it is a Bramley, for two reasons.

    Bramley is what is known as a partial tip bearer. In other words, some of the fruit is produced at the tips of the branches. Not ideal if you are training an espalier, which requires tip pruning.

    Also, the fruits are really heavy and the Bramley is a monster plant, even on dwarf rootstocks.

    See this extract from Ashridge Nursery’s (a very well respected company) website:

    This tree is very vigorous and heavy cropping. Although it is a partial tip bear and can theoretically be grown as a wire trained cordon or espalier, this plant is so vigorous that we don't recommend it. It is best grown as a freestanding tree.

    Anyway, assuming that you are content to ignore that, I think the tree is too close to the wall. Walls are very very dry places and the roots can become parched very easily. A gap of nine inches is recommended between a tree and its wall.

    I shall leave others to comment on the decisions to be made regarding which branches to select etc.

    Apophthegm -  a big word for a small thought.
  • @pansyface thanks for the advice. Here's the label on the tree:

    So by 'tip bearing', the advice is it's not good because one can only expect fruits on the ends (and thus nothing along the rest of the tiers)? 

    Hmm - maybe it's back to square one then.

  • pansyfacepansyface PEAK DISTRICT DerbyshirePosts: 17,806
    No, not quite. It’s a partial tip bearer. You do get flowers on spurs along the branches (there’s a flower bud at the bottom of the second photo) but you lose the ones at the ends if you are training the tree into an espalier form.
    Apophthegm -  a big word for a small thought.
  • LiriodendronLiriodendron Scariff, County Clare, IrelandPosts: 6,511
    Hi Marcos.  That's a lovely-looking tree!   :)   Some of this reply is really guesswork, based on having grown apples in this way for a number of years, so here's my "two pennorth".

    1)  I think the 50cm interval between branches is because each branch will produce spurs, on which the apples will form, thus filling in some of the gap.  And a bit of air circulation will help to keep the tree healthy - less opportunity for mildew etc.

    2)  To start with, the bamboo canes will help with the stability of the tree, which is young and a bit bendy.  Tying bendy branchlets just to the wire might not give them the support they need to grow straight.  But once your tree has produced its basic framework you won't need canes any more; don't forget to use biodegradeable string though.  It's a pain to have to replace it because it's rotted, but more of a pain if man-made ties constrict the flow of sap in your swelling branches.

    3)  I've not seen this done before.  It looks like sensible insurance... but yes, I'd prune out the weaker one.

    4)  I'd prune the leader straight away, since the tree isn't yet in leaf.  

    5)  To be honest, I don't think you'd notice a kink once the tree was older.  But you can get vine eyes in different lengths, if that helps.

    6)  Hmm.  Not really... it's recommended you plant it with the base of the main stem at least 20cm from the wall, to allow for expansion of the trunk as it grows.  You can angle the tree towards the wall if that seems sensible.  Has it been planted a long time?  If not, I'd bite the bullet and move it.

    7)  If the seller didn't say what the rootstock was, I'd ask him.  It looks as if it might be pretty vigorous, judging by the length of last year's growth on the main stem, though.

    Hope you get some more answers to compare with mine!!  Good luck.  
    "The one who plants trees, knowing that he will never sit in their shade, has at least started to understand the meaning of life."  Rabindranath Tagore
  • marcos 114marcos 114 Posts: 24
    edited April 2018
    @Liriodendron - amazing answer, thanks!

    We planted it when we got it, but not against the wall (as we had pretty serious ivy removal to sort out first). It's only been in its current position a couple of weeks, so we'll move it now.

    Will also use the canes as you say.

    @pansyface the people we bought the tree from does have a blog post about this it turns out! They claim "Well with some careful pruning you can!" - but as a novice gardener, I'm nervous about the 'careful' bit :smile:

  • LiriodendronLiriodendron Scariff, County Clare, IrelandPosts: 6,511
    Marcos, do you have other apple trees to pollinate your Bramley?  "Triploid" means it won't pollinate itself, but also won't pollinate other trees which flower at the same time.  So if you have 2 apples in the same flowering group, one of which is a Bramley, the Bramley will produce fruit (pollinated by the second tree), but the second tree won't bear fruit.  Which is why you're recommended to plant 2 pollinators with your Bramley, to get fruit on all three trees...
    "The one who plants trees, knowing that he will never sit in their shade, has at least started to understand the meaning of life."  Rabindranath Tagore
  • @Liriodendron - being a nerd I'd read about triploid (and ploidy in general) way before I actually thought about the basics like planting and pruning :smile: Fascinating stuff!

    I read that in urban areas (I live in London) that this isn't generally a problem. I see lots of crab apple trees around even along the streets, and I know some nearby neighbours have apple trees too.

    I guess we'll find out for sure in a five or so months, but I think it'll be my gardening skills rather than pollen that'll we'll have to worry about.
  • LiriodendronLiriodendron Scariff, County Clare, IrelandPosts: 6,511
    Yes, fascinating stuff indeed...  I'm sure you'll be fine in London, as you say.  When I grew a lot of apples I lived in rural Northumberland, so pollination was a bit more of an issue.   :)
    "The one who plants trees, knowing that he will never sit in their shade, has at least started to understand the meaning of life."  Rabindranath Tagore
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