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Two espalier confusions...

FireFire LondonPosts: 13,941
I have an espalier apple tree, about five years in, against a west facing fence. She's called Anita.

Q1 - have a messed up the pruning?  I have read and re-read espl. pruning guides and thought I was doing ok. But on the left side there is currently hardly any leaf or flower this year and the branches are generally underwhelmed.

I have never got any apple to eat from the tree; the few that develop then fall when small. It planted in a tricky position between two raised planters and under the fence (though about a foot away). No sign (to me) of disease, odd leaves or bark. It's planted next to a small bay bush, which I am going to take out. 

Q2 - I'm not sure what to do when there is no clear leader. As you can see from the pic above, there are two new branches at the tip on the left hand side.

Above, as you can see, there is all sorts going on - four shoots and no clear winner as to which is leading. I left them for some months to see if it would be come obvious, but it hasn't. Which would count as a leader and which as a side shoot?

And above, again, it's not obvious which is leading.

Can one just randomly pick one and lop off the rest - does it work like that? (As I believe climbing roses do).
With an example like the pic above, how do I know if the Y shapes shoots near the tip have decided to lead or will something eventually spring from the very tip of the leader at some point?

As I say, I have waited more than a year to see if things become obvious, thinking I am being impatient (whilst trying to research the answers). I imagine it's about how the plants' hormones 'think'. Can you could choose a leader for them or do they have very clear ideas about who goes first?

Thoughts welcome. Thanks



  • Mr. Vine EyeMr. Vine Eye Posts: 2,055
    Oh gosh - I've read this several times Fire and looked at your photos and now I'm majorly confused!

    Have you got a photo that shows the entire tree? Just to help get my bearings.
  • FireFire LondonPosts: 13,941
    Oh wow. Sorry. The first pic shows the whole tree.
  • Mr. Vine EyeMr. Vine Eye Posts: 2,055
    Oh so it's three tiers and quite narrow? Has it reached the size you intended for it or are you still lengthening the side branches?

    From what I can see in the photographs there are a few things which look odd - this is only from what I've read and watched as I'm only at the initial training stage with mine - first bit of summer pruning will be this year on the first tier.

    It looks like you trained two branches over to the right hand side on your top wire?

    In your 3rd photo, I don't understand why there are what looks like 4 quite long laterals from the main branch. Should these not have been summer pruned to three leaves, and if they were coming from an existing lateral shoot then cut back at one leaf.

    It looks like either you left them to grow and didn't prune them, or you did prune them originally but they then put on additional growth before winter.

    When you're asking about leaders - what leader do you mean? If you've achieved the shape you're after then leaders are irrelevant as you're summer pruning, and if need be winter pruning if there's additional growth after your summer prune, to restrict the tree and encourage fruiting Spurs.

    You only need to think about leaders surely when it's the leading shoot for your central stem or the leaders of the side branches - when you're still growing them out.

    If you mean a leader at the end of a side branch which you want to grow out to extend then just cut to a bud in the right place and use that as the new leader.

    this year for me - the second bud down from the main leader was in the wrong place to form a side branch (facing the wall) so I just pinched it out - now the two below that can be the side branches.

    Hope any of that babble is in some way useful
  • FireFire LondonPosts: 13,941
    edited April 2019
    Ok. Great questions. Thank you for all your detailed thoughts.

    To clarify - yes, my central (unstated) aim is to continue to grow out the tiers. I bought the tree, more or less, as is, with most of the tiers in place. Except the new top two, left and right. I am trying to train the tree at its current height (top of the fence) but have the tiers grow longer.

    It has three tiers on the right and two tiers on the left. The top left and top right tier are new growth.  I'm trying to decide which of the top right pieces to grow out.

    In the third photo nothing is happening at the end of the tier for a year+ (though I want to grow this out). The tip seems to have stopped growing all together and I wondered if one of the other shoots had taken over hormonally.

    You say "just cut to a bud in the right place and use that as the new leader." So, for example, in the below picture, how/where would you cut to create one new tier? Would you cut off three pieces and leave one long and hope it would 'tier itself'? 

  • Mr. Vine EyeMr. Vine Eye Posts: 2,055
    Keep the best positioned/strongest and cut off the others off at the base. Or maybe not the base but take down to the lowest buds - any growth from those could be summer pruned to encourage those to become new fruiting spurs so they're not wasted.
  • FireFire LondonPosts: 13,941
    Thanks. Any idea why the left side of the tree has few leaves and no flowers?
  • Mr. Vine EyeMr. Vine Eye Posts: 2,055
    edited April 2019
    That first branch going left, the one with little growth on it, are there any shoots trying to grow out from around the stump where it was cut at the end of the branch? Because those could potentially be trained as a leader - otherwise you'd have to use one from the short lateral near the end of the branch.

    If you're wanting it to grow - then it might be an idea to pick off the flowers and not let it make any fruit, put all its energy into leafy growth until you've got it where you want it.

    In winter, if the growth is still weak prune the lateral branches back to a downward facing bud - reduce their length by a third and you should get more vigorous regrowth next year. Especially if again you don't let it fruit.

    Pruning back to a bud of your choice should also allow you to have more control over the shaping of the tree.
  • FireFire LondonPosts: 13,941
    Thanks very much.
  • FireFire LondonPosts: 13,941
    edited June 2019
    @Mr. Vine Eye My apple, Anita,  is looking much happier after following your recomms. Although now heavily chomped, by snails, I think. It's all lacy. I don't supposed it will hurt the tree, but there's not that much leaf left. 
  • Mr. Vine EyeMr. Vine Eye Posts: 2,055
    Glad it's doing better. Shame about the snails though!

    Here's mine at the moment.

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