Each month Redawna Kalynchuk draws on her extensive gardening experience to help you Grow Your Own Food in Canada. Today Redawna shares what you need to know about pruning in the garden and discusses how to create stunning structures with fruit trees by espaliering.

Pruning and Espaliering Fruit Trees |  Food Bloggers of Canada

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Growing your own food is one of the most empowering things a person can do. To step out into your yard and harvest fresh vegetables for many months of the year is very rewarding. I know it's something that everyone who gardens appreciates and values. It's an investment of time and effort that pays us back greatly.

How Do I Prune?

Pruning in the garden is something every gardener should learn and do on a regular basis. It's another step in maintaining your gardens and creates numerous benefits.

We prune to:

  • Control plant growth
  • Eliminate disease
  • Remove dead and damaged branches
  • Create and maintain shape
  • Stimulate growth
  • Encourage more flowering, resulting in larger crops
  • Increase air circulation within the plant

Pruning Tools

Pruning and Espaliering Fruit Trees | Food Bloggers of Canada

You only need a few tools for pruning.

  • For simple jobs, a nice pair of hand pruners are perfect. Do invest in a good quality pair. You get what you pay for and the more you pay the easier the task as they'll perform well!
  • For larger jobs you need loppers. They look like large, hand-operated scissors.
  • For big tasks such as mature trees you'll need hand saws.
  • If you have a vast amount of hedges or shrubs, electric hedge trimmers are a must. Loppers will work in smaller situations.

Be sure to keep all pruning tools sharp. Like in the kitchen where a dull knife makes for hard work, the same goes for your outdoor cutting tools. To prevent the spread of disease, clean the blades of your tools with bleach and dry well after each use to prevent rust.

When to Prune

Pruning and Espaliering Fruit Trees | Food Bloggers of Canada

Shrubs and hedges can pruned in early to late spring. If your shrub or hedge flowers, wait until after blooming to prune. Depending on the size of shrub, use large loppers or electric hedge trimmers. Usually pruned to maintain shape, hedges and shrubs can be pruned to encourage growth inside the plant.

Roses should be pruned in late winter or early spring. Remove all dead canes and trim the remaining ones down to healthy wood. You can treat raspberry canes in the same manner. New canes should not be cut back until July.

Trees should also be pruned to maintain health and shape throughout their life. If you're going to prune a mature tree, be sure to do some research for the particular tree you're working with. Larger branches are treated differently to minimize damage to the tree. Different trees should be pruned at different points through the year and, of course, for various reasons.

With the right information and the proper tools, pruning will be a task you'll look forward to as one of the first things to do when the garden season starts.

Growing Fruit Trees

Another investment in time and effort is growing fruit trees. It takes a few years before you can harvest fruit, but the feeling of picking fresh apples or pears grown in your own yard takes that empowerment and joy to a new level.

You can go pick out some apple trees, bring them home and simply plant them. And they'll grow and do great. But what if with a bit of knowledge and a plan you can create stunning structures with your fruit trees?



Pruning and Espaliering Fruit Trees | Food Bloggers of Canada

The practice of espaliering is a method by which you control the growth of fruit trees by pruning and then training them through tying the branches to frames, fences, trellises or walls as they grow. It's a very impressive way to create some beautiful living designs in your garden.

It's a great option if you're growing in limited space. Even fences can be created when growing many trees. If you google "espaliered fruit trees" you'll see some very impressive designs. The most common form of espaliering you may recognize is from vineyards, as grapes have been grown this way for hundreds of years.

Espalier Designs

There are many designs you can create when espaliering trees. Let's take a look at a few of the more common, simpler designs.

The Horizontal Cordon

In this design you're training the trees to grow horizontally — it's the way grapes are trained to grown in vineyards. In the first year the shape is that of an uppercase letter T.

In the second year you train the tree to produce a second T. And again you train it in the third year to form a third T. This is called a triple cordon.

RELATED:  Grow Your Own Food: Fertilizer and Compost

The Candelabra

In this design you're training the tree to grow similar to the horizontal cordon. The difference is that you'll be training the ends of the branches to stop growing horizontally at a certain point and then to grow vertically to form the candelabra shape.

Belgian Fence

This design requires numerous trees to form the fence. The trees are pruned into the shape of a Y and the branches criss-cross over each other to form a lattice design. With a large number of trees you can effectively create a fence.

The Fan

As the name states, this design creates a traditional fan shape.

Tools Needed for Espaliering

Pruning and Espaliering Fruit Trees | Food Bloggers of Canada

No matter which design you want to create there are some basic tools you need for espaliering an apple or pear tree.

  • Shovel
  • Compost
  • Pruning shears
  • Ties, you can use anything to tie the branches to the wires, ribbon, Velcro plant ties, cut up nylons, etc
  • 12-gauge wire
  • Wire cutters
  • Drill
  • Eye bolts, also called eyelets (screws with closed loops on the end)
  • Measuring tape
  • Pencil or chalk

Planting the Tree

Choose a sunny location for your planting spot. You have some options when it comes to support for your espalier design. You can plant against a wall, fence, well-supported lattice, or freestanding posts with the wires running horizontally between them.

You need to dig the hole twice as wide as the root ball but only to the same depth as the container. The top of the soil around the root ball has to be the same as the level of the soil in the ground. Add some compost to the bottom of the hole and place the root ball. Fill the hole with soil, tamping well to ensure there are no voids in the outside edge of planting hole. Water well.

Create the Design

Use the eyelets and wire to create the design on your support. Using chalk, draw the shape you want to create on the surface of the wall, trellis or fence where tree will be growing. It will help you know where to place the eyelets.

This is where you get to design the future shape of your tree. Though we talked about some of the more traditional forms above, you can really explore your creativity and create any number of designs.

Visualize how you want the tree to look five years down the road and place the eyelets accordingly. The wire is your form of the design. Pre-drill the holes where you'll screw in the eyelets, then simply run the wire through each loop to create the design. Once the wires are run, gently tie the branches of the tree to them and prune any stray branches the don't fit into the shape.

As the tree grows, continue to tie the branches to the wires and prune out any that don't fit into the design.


Pruning and Espaliering Fruit Trees | Food Bloggers of Canada

Do regular pruning a few times during the season. You need to remove any vertical branches and maintain the shape of the espalier design.

In the second year it's advisable to remove the fruit to give all the energy into the young growing tree. Continue to tie the branches to the guide wires, pruning where necessary.

In the third year you can start to harvest the fruit from your tree.

Depending on how large you want your espaliered tree to be, you can maintain its shape by yearly pruning. You're only limited by your growing space.


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Grow Your Own Food is written by Redawna Kalynchuk. Redawna is the writer, photographer and content creator at Nutmeg Disrupted. She has over 20 years of gardening experience and has gardened from indoors under high-powered lights to frosty zone 2b gardens in northern Alberta. She enjoys pushing the boundaries of traditional gardening and loves empowering others to grow their own food. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

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Dorothy, I am so glad you found this helpful. I wish we could share images here, I would love to see your tree. Please feel free to tag myself and Food Bloggers of Canada if you do share any pictures of it on social media. Any small branches that are growing out of the shape you are wanting can be trimmed back with a sharp pair of pruning sheers. If it is a mature tree I would go ahead and give it a good all around fertilizer in the spring to encourage good growth for the season. A 20-20-20 fertilizer is a great choice when looking at fertilizers. A nice deep watering will set you up for great year. Thank you for your comments and if you ever have any questions feel free to ask! Happy Growing


Could you please advise on where to place the plant food for an espaliered tree? Thanks.


Hi Lena,
When you plant your new tree it is a good idea to place compost in the planting hole before setting the tree in place. One the tree is actively growing you can water it with an all purpose fertilizer for general health. You can fertilize every two weeks, focusing on the root area. I also like to finely mist the leaves of any newly planted plant. Or if you have a supply of compost you can top feed the tree by adding compost to the soil around the roots.

Happy growing!

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