It is apple season again and this year I have had a bumper crop.
I have five apple trees espaliered along a fence and I have picked 130 kgs of fruit off them!
The five trees take up 20 meters of length, about ½ meter in width and 1.3 meters tall. Not a lot of space.
So I thought I would share with you how I established the espaliers and what I do to get such a great crop, as just about anyone could have these growing, even in the smallest of backyards, and get this level of production.
I started out with growing normal apple trees and I had always been told that apple trees don’t need pruning so after initial framework pruning I left them alone, but they just keep growing till it got to the point where I was unable to net them and the birds got all the crop.
I had always been fascinated with the process of espalier so read up on how to do it and thought growing some fruit trees on a low fence that would be easier to net and would be the answer to protecting my crop.
The fence I selected is 1.3 meters high and runs east–west and get sun all day, which is why the fruit ripen so early in the season. I have other apples in areas where they do not get the amount of sun these trees get and they will not be ready to harvest for another month.
I purchased a couple of different fruit trees each year over several years- apples, pears, peaches and nectarines but eventually ended up with five apple varieties two Pink ladies, two Granny Smiths and a Delicious. The pears never set fruit and the stone fruit were just too vigorous to train well.
I chose trees that had two lower side branches at about the same level and these I secured with flexible tie to the first support wire on the fence. Any other branches that where not on the same plane I removed. Depending on the height of the main stem I often tip pruned the main stem to encourage further side shoots which I then secure to other support wires further up the fence. Over a number of years I trained them until I had three or four arms, 2 meters in length, either side of the main trunk.
It is important to check your trees regularly when they are at the training stage. The new growth will always be vertical so you are constantly tying down the side arms and removing any unwanted growth to encourage the horizontal growth you want.
Go to Flemings They have a really great guide to espalier on their web site which is worth looking at to give you both ideas as well as step by step instruction on how to do your training and pruning to produce productive trees.
Now my tress are established (between 5 and 10 years old) it only takes about 5 hours a year to maintain.
To carry the netting I have constructed a frame from steel posts and PVC pipe. This I leave in place all year. Not a great decorator item but it cuts down the time it takes to do the netting.
All I do each year is:
Late spring (November here)
About two to three hours work.
Prune any long vertical growth that is higher than the frame work and any other growth that is leggy and not conforming to the espalier shape I have developed.
Fertilise -with an organic low nitrogen fertiliser- high nitrogen fertiliser will encourage lots of growth at the expense of fruit.
Mulch – usually I use a mixed mulch purchased from tree pruning company.
Net – I use 10meter wide netting and secure the sides to the ground with paves or lengths of old wood. This takes two people about ½ an hour.
Water- if the season is extremely dry I will supplementary irrigate a couple of times during summer
Early autumn (March here)
Again about two hours work.
Prune – all grow outside of the net.
Remove net – roll up, label and store for use next year. Again easiest with two people.
Pick the crop
Prune – I do a quick tidy up prune removing any long stems and those that are growing outwards etc to keep the arms of the espalier defined and encourage spur production. Again Flemings have a great guide to pruning on their website.
So all up for five hours of work you can produce over 100 kgs of fruit and you only need 20 meters of fence (or frame) and about ½ in width.
Now 130 kgs of fruit is a lot at one time, which may not be what everyone wants, so I would suggest trying just one tree of each variety, then you only need an area 12 meters x 0.5 meter x 1.3- not a lot of space.
I like to buy my trees in winter when you can purchase good quality trees bare rooted. I find they establish quickly and will bare fruit a little sooner than containerised plants.
A couple of things to remember:
Apples have a chilling requirement to produce fruit, so if you are in a coastal region try and find “low chill” varieties.
Apples require cross pollination by a different variety, so make sure the varieties you select will cross pollinate each other.
Again Flemings have a chart that gives you all this information.
So why not start looking for a spot where you could espalier a few apple trees.
A landscape feature that looks great in any setting and is productive!
Happy Gardening Kathy.