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The Rock Prairie Master Gardener Association, located in Rock County, Wisconsin, is the 42nd association of the Wisconsin Master Gardener Program.

This blog is used to distribute timely information to association members regarding volunteer opportunities, MGV highlights, and other social tid bits.

Horticulture related information is to be directed to the Horticulture Educator or the Plant Health Advisors.

This blog is not for garden related questions.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The fine art of espalier


[ih-spal-yer, -yey] noun

  1. A trellis or framework on which the trunk and branches of fruit trees or shrubs are trained to grow in one plane.
  2. A plant so trained.
A plant, typically a tree or shrub, that has been trained to grow in a flattened pattern with the help of wires, trellis, or a fence.

Espalier is the horticultural technique of training trees through pruning and grafting in order to create formal "two-dimensional" or single plane patterns by the branches of the tree. The technique was popular in the Middle Ages in Europe to decorate solid walls by such trees planted near them, although evidence exists suggesting that the technique dates back much farther, perhaps even to ancient Egypt. The word espalier initially referred to the actual trellis on which the plant was trained to grow, but over time has come to be used to describe the technique.

An espalier collects almost as much sunlight as a regular tree, yet has far less mass. This makes them ideal not only for decorative purposes, but also for gardens in which space is limited. They may also be planted next to a wall, which can reflect more sunlight and retain heat overnight, or be planted so that they are facing south and absorb maximum sunlight. These two facts allow an espalier to succeed in cooler climates, where a non-espaliered tree of the same variety would fail. They also mature fruit more quickly.

The branches of the plant must be long and flexible. Examples of trees that take well to espalier are the Ficus carica, or fig tree, Malus (apples), and Pyrus (pears).

There are several types of espalier, including horizontal (branches grow horizontally out of one central trunk), palmette (branches grow in a fan shaped pattern), and cordon (the tree resembles a menorah). A Belgian fence is a form of espaliering that weaves a string of espaliers into a fence. There is also the Baldassari Palmette, lepage espalier, verrier candelabra, U double, and drapeau marchand.

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