What is Espalier?

Espalier is a horticultural technique that involves training and shaping trees or shrubs to grow flat against a wall, fence, or trellis. This method allows gardeners to maximize space and create beautiful, decorative patterns with their plants. Espalier is not only aesthetically pleasing but also serves practical purposes, such as providing privacy, shading, or acting as a windbreak.

The History of Espalier

Espalier has a long history that dates back to ancient times. The technique was first developed by the Romans and later perfected by the French during the Renaissance period. It became popular in European gardens, particularly in France and Italy, where it was used to create elaborate designs and patterns in palace gardens.

How Does Espalier Work?

Espalier involves carefully pruning and training the branches of a tree or shrub to grow in a specific pattern. The process starts with selecting a suitable plant and a support structure, such as a wall or trellis. The branches are then tied or attached to the support structure using wires or other materials. As the plant grows, new shoots are guided and tied to the structure, while unwanted growth is pruned away.

Benefits of Espalier

Espalier offers several benefits for gardeners and homeowners. Firstly, it allows for efficient use of space, making it ideal for small gardens or urban environments where space is limited. By training plants to grow flat against a wall or fence, gardeners can create a living green screen that provides privacy and blocks unwanted views. Espaliered trees and shrubs also require less maintenance compared to their untrained counterparts, as they are easier to prune, harvest, and protect from pests and diseases.

Types of Espalier Patterns

There are several common espalier patterns that gardeners can choose from, depending on their preferences and the available space. Some popular patterns include:

Fan Espalier:

This pattern involves training the branches to radiate outwards from a central point, resembling a fan shape. It is commonly used for fruit trees, such as apples and pears.

Cordon Espalier:

In this pattern, the branches are trained to grow horizontally in a single line. It is often used for fruit trees and can be extended to create multiple tiers or levels.

Belgian Fence Espalier:

The Belgian fence pattern consists of multiple tiers of branches that are trained to grow at an angle, creating a zigzag or diamond-shaped design. It is commonly used for decorative purposes and can be seen in formal gardens.

Stepover Espalier:

This pattern involves training the branches to grow horizontally close to the ground, creating a low, compact hedge-like structure. It is often used for ornamental plants, such as roses or lavender.

Choosing the Right Plants for Espalier

Not all plants are suitable for espalier. It is important to choose plants that have flexible branches and can tolerate the pruning and training process. Some common plants that are often used for espalier include fruit trees (such as apples, pears, and peaches), ornamental trees (such as magnolias and camellias), and flowering shrubs (such as roses and jasmine).

How to Espalier a Tree or Shrub

While espalier may seem intimidating at first, with proper guidance and patience, anyone can learn how to espalier a tree or shrub. Here are the basic steps involved:

1. Select a suitable plant and a support structure.

2. Prune the plant to remove any unwanted growth and shape it according to the desired pattern.

3. Attach the branches to the support structure using wires or other materials.

4. Guide the new shoots and tie them to the structure as they grow.

5. Regularly prune and maintain the espaliered plant to keep it in shape.


Espalier is a fascinating horticultural technique that allows gardeners to create beautiful and functional designs with their plants. Whether you have a small garden or simply want to add a unique touch to your outdoor space, espalier can be a rewarding and enjoyable endeavor. By following the proper techniques and selecting suitable plants, you can create stunning espalier patterns that will enhance the beauty of your garden for years to come.