Wire-trained fruit trees - espaliers, fans, stepovers
What are espaliers and fans?
A popular and attractive way of growing a fruit tree other than as the usual trunk and crown is to lay them flat against a wall, a fence, between posts or over a frame. The plant is supported by wires and its growth is controlled by pruning it into a specific shape, so they are often referred to as "restricted" or "trained" fruit trees.
To make either shape, you need to begin with a Maiden sized fruit tree and prune it right after planting. We do not sell ready made fan or espalier trained fruit trees because no two walls are the same and, when they are taken off their supporting wires, they are too fragile to deliver without unreasonable packaging & courier charges!
If you buy a pot-grown, maiden fruit tree in summer, let it settle in and prune it in the winter.
A fan shape has a very short trunk (about 60cms) and all the branches spread upwards and outwards from the top of it. Any fruit tree can be trained as a fan, but it is mainly used for figs, cherries, plums and related trees in the Prunus group, such as bullaces, damsons and so on.
Making a fan
Cut your maiden tree down to about 60cms (2 ft) in late winter or very early spring. Between four and six buds should appear below the cut: these will become your branches. They will be soft and pliable, so as they grow they can be spread out evenly and easily into a fan shape.
If you get less than 4 buds, let the topmost bud grow vertically for the summer. The following winter, cut this stem down to 20-30cms of new growth. More side buds will appear and these can then be trained into branches.
If you are in a hurry to make a fan, buy a bush grown fruit tree and gently, gradually bend its branches into a fan shape.
The espalier shape sees the trunk growing right to the top of the plant and the branches coming off horizontally at regular intervals (known as 'tiers'). This shape is used for apples and pears only as it doesn't suit stoned fruit trees.
Making an espalier
When making an espalier, is best to get all the materials for making the wire supports ready in advance of receiving your plants. Take some measurements from the plants, and you're ready to set up the wires to support them, before planting the trees. This ensures that you put the lowest wire in the perfect place for your plant.
As a first step, you are looking to chop off the top of your maiden so that it is about 40cms / 15 inches tall. The cut needs to be just above a healthy, undamaged bud. This means that the height will vary from plant to plant, but the top bud should be about level with the lowest wire. This is why it's important to get the plants before you start installing the training wires.
The top bud will grow directly upwards to form the central stem. In future years, the tiered side branches will come from this stem. The two buds below it will be used to form the lowest tier. These don't necessarily have to be the two buds immediately below the top bud, but use those if you can.
In their first summer, these side branches should be trained upwards, at a 45 degree angle to the trunk, with bamboo supports. The next winter, they can gradually be lowered into a horizontal position and tied more permanently to the lowest wire.
A stepover is simply an espalier shape that keeps only the lowest tier of branches. Just remove the top bud that appears after pruning your maiden to stop the central, upright stem from growing.