How to Espalier

Train plants to create focal points on blank walls in tight spaces.
Espalier

Espalier

One formal espalier design is candlelabra, which is well suited for fruit trees.

One formal espalier design is candlelabra, which is well suited for fruit trees.

In neighborhoods where homes are close together, it’s not unusual for the sides of houses to be windowless, both for privacy and wall space indoors. But what gardener, always hungry for more planting space, wants to stare at a blank wall?

One solution for not only accenting that wall but also providing room for a little vertical gardening is espalier. Don’t be scared off by the fancy-sounding term. Espalier is the horticultural technique of training a plant to grow in a pattern against a wall or on a fence. It also refers to the plant itself that has been nurtured in this manner.

Espalier

Espalier

A diamond motif is another formal design of espalier.

A diamond motif is another formal design of espalier.

When garden space is limited, espaliers are ideal ways to incorporate trees, shrubs and woody vines that otherwise would suck up too much ground space. They’re commonly found in dense, urban neighborhoods, especially courtyards and alleyways. Beyond the practical, espaliers also create a focal point in the garden; the more intricate the pattern, the more they draw the eye. On the down side, they can he high maintenance; if you’re not intro pruning and don’t have a lot of patience, don’t try this at home!

But by choosing the right plant, selecting the best site, and knowing a little about how plants grow, you can create a stunning accent in no time for a garden large or small.

Good Candidates

Fruit trees, such as apples and pears, make great espaliers. So do shrubs like camellias and sasanquas, and vines and vining plants like climbing roses, Boston ivy, and wisteria. Also consider:

  • Chinese redbud
  • Crabapple
  • Winged euonymus
  • Fig
  • Foster holly
  • Japanese holly
  • Winter jasmine
  • Japanese kerria
  • Loropetalum
  • ‘Little Gem’ magnolia
  • Saucer magnolia
  • Sweetbay magnolia
  • Pyracantha
  • Viburnum
  • Yew

Where to Plant

Choose a site based on the plant’s normal growing requirements, though east- and south-facing walls are ideal for providing plenty of sun and warm protection from cold north winds. Plant the plant 8-12 inches from the wall to provide adequate air circulation behind it. Water and mulch as you would in other sites. Give the plant time to establish itself and grow new roots before attempting any pruning.

Choose a Style or Pattern

Depending on your garden style, select between formal and informal espaliers. They can be as formal as the intricate patterns of fans, candelabra, diamonds and basket weave or as informal as simply training the plant to grow flat against the wall, with little or no design at all. 

Create a Support

If space is really limited, you can buy plants already espaliered in garden centers that have been planted on small trellises. But if it’s a wall or fence you’re trying to accent, you will need to provide support with bolts and heavy-gauge wire. 

Training the Branches

From the main trunk of the plant, prune branches that don’t conform to the desired pattern. The best time to do this is in late winter and early spring during the dormant season because pruning stimulates new growth (If it’s a flowering plant, such as a camellia or rose, avoid pruning when the plant is setting buds).

Attach the desired branches to the supports. Continue pruning to form the desired pattern and to stimulate additional growth. Tip: Pruning horizontal branches encourages vertical growth; conversely, pruning vertical branches stimulates horizontal growth.

Keep Reading

Next Up

How to Remove Wallpaper

How do you remove the wallpaper without damaging the wall – or yourself? Use these tips to help you decide which option will work best.

How to Build a Retractable Canopy

Control the shade by making your own retractable canopy. Open it up to create a shady retreat or close it to let the sun in.

How to Distress Furniture

What's old is chic again. Follow these step-by-instructions for achieving a distressed look on furniture.

How to Freeze Spinach

Freeze fresh spinach leaves—homegrown or store-bought—to create your own dark leafy green to flavor hot dishes and smoothies.

How to Care for Poinsettias

Poinsettias bring a splash of festive red and green to a table or windowsill at the holidays. With proper care, you can enjoy these beautiful plants for weeks.

How to Kill Mold

Killing mold is a dirty job, but the right tools can help you wipe it out for good. Check out these tips for using the best cleaners to solve your fungus problem.

How to Remove Black Mold

Learn how to remove black mold safely and effectively.

How to Freeze Broccoli

Garden-fresh broccoli tastes amazing—nothing like its supermarket cousin. Freeze this cool-weather crop in season to savor later.

How to Remove a Popcorn Ceiling

Ready for an updated look in your room? Start with the ceiling.

1,000+ Photos

Browse beautiful photos of our favorite outdoor spaces: decks, patios, porches and more.

On TV

Flea Market Flip

9:30am | 8:30c

Flea Market Flip

10:30am | 9:30c

Flea Market Flip

11:30am | 10:30c

Flea Market Flip

12:30pm | 11:30c

Flea Market Flip

1:30pm | 12:30c

House Hunters

2:30pm | 1:30c

Fixer Upper

3pm | 2c

Fixer Upper

4pm | 3c

Fixer Upper

5pm | 4c

Fixer Upper

6pm | 5c

Fixer Upper

7pm | 6c
On Tonight
On Tonight

Beachfront Bargain Hunt

8pm | 7c

Bahamas Life

9:30pm | 8:30c

Island Life

10pm | 9c

Island Life

10:30pm | 9:30c

Caribbean Life

11pm | 10c

Caribbean Life

11:30pm | 10:30c

Bahamas Life

12am | 11c

Bahamas Life

12:30am | 11:30c

Island Life

1am | 12c

Island Life

1:30am | 12:30c

Caribbean Life

2:30am | 1:30c

Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss HGTV in your favorite social media feeds.