How To Train a Fruit Tree

Both apple and pear trees lend themselves perfectly to be trained into either an espalier or a fan. The reason for this is that the fruit is produced on spurs as opposed to the tips of the branches. Plums, cherries, figs, nectarines and peaches are not suitable for espalier training but make good candidates for fan training.


There are many benefits gained from either type of training, the most important being that both styles are compact and hence fit nicely into small spaces and gardens. Additionally both styles are easily protected from frost by covering with fleece. However one of the most valued contributions they make to the garden is the ornamental and aesthetic qualities that they bring to any space.



To “espalier” a tree is to the art of training a tree to grow flat against a wall or other upright support, hence making it a perfect choice for any confined space. Traditionally in many Victorian vegetable and fruit gardens the espalier was as used means of edging the plot or borders.


  1. The first task is to erect a training system for the tree against a wall, fence or on the edge of a border, wherever the chosen spot may be. This involves erecting horizontal wires between two posts and deciding how many tiers the intended espalier will have. Make the tiers between 12” to 18” (30cm to 48cm) apart. 


  1. Ideally use a M26 which is a dwarfing rootstock or MM106 is perfect for the job. A one year old maiden whip (this is a tree with no branches) is ideal for the training. This process is best carried out in late autumn or very early spring.


  1. Dig a generous hole for the new tree adding plenty of manure or compost which will enrich the soil and ensure the tree has a good start. Tease out any roots from the root ball and place in the hole. Firm the soil in well around the tree.


  1. Cut back the main stem to 1 ft. (30cm) from the ground. Allow the top three buds to grow up in spring. Train the top one up vertically, this one will grow up to make the second tier. The two side shoots should be tied in at a 45 degree angle. In November lower them carefully tying them into the wires at 90 degrees. If only one tier was required then cut out the vertical shoot. 



  1. In the second year the vertical stem is then cut back to between 12” to 18” (30 to 48cm) and the two new side shoots will then form the next horizontal layer and the top bud to form the new leader. 



  1. In late summer cut back side shoots growing from horizontal arms back to 3” to 4” (7 to 10 cm). Cut back any shoots from the main vertical stem. The fruit will form on these short stumpy spurs. 


  1. Continue with the same process of creating tiers until the required height has been achieved. 




  1. Following steps 1 through to 3 as above, position the tree between 8” to 12” (20 to 30 cm) from the wall, angling the tree towards the wall with the graft union (where the fruit variety joins the rootstock) being on the wall side of the hole.


  1. Once the tree is planted cut down the stem drastically to 12” to 18” (30 to 45 cm) from the ground just above a couple of buds. These buds will go to form the arms of the fan.



  1. Let the buds grow in in the spring and by summer it will be clear which two branches will form the “Y”. Erect two canes at 45 degrees to support the arms and tie them in. Remove any shoots that grow from the trunk.


  1. In the second spring reduce the arms by two thirds. You should now have a tree with two arms in the shape of a Y.


  1. In summer, choose four shoots from each arm to extend the existing arm, one at the tip two down the branch and one lower down. Remove any shoots growing towards the wall. In spring cut back the four shoots by one third to form a strong framework. Tie in shoots from these side shoots. 


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