Article - Espalier Fruit Trees

Growing Dwarf Apples on Espaliers By Pete the Permie, Monbulk Vic.  

One of the most asked questions Silvia and I get is about growing small fruit trees in backyards; being old enough I remember growing up with those huge apple trees that almost filled a ¼ acre backyard this was due to the only rootstock available being the “Granny Smith” seedling a byproduct of the juicing industry, these can make an apple want to grow 6m high and 6m wide taking 5-10 years to fruit.

Nowadays we have rootstocks available to keep any variety to a reasonable size and we can select ones suitable for espaliers that you won’t need a chainsaw to prune in ten years.

These also trick the trees into fruiting in 2-3 years and deliver some disease resistance.

RootstockHeightEspalier widthPlant spacing 
M91.8m1.2m0.8-1.2Good single variety tree or spindle
M262.1m2.0m1.2-2.4Good for fitting in multiple trees

Good side branching can be grafted to many varieties to better use space.

MM1063.0-3.63.0-4.03.0Use for arbors and multiple vars

Why espalier apples, these and the pears both behave well, most people get hung up (and afraid) of pruning fruit trees, the espalier reduces these decisions to 2 dimensions as you prune for the shape, as home gardeners you don’t need all the fruiting potential anyway.

Espaliers can use space along the drive that would be too small for a full tree, they provide interest in all seasons with form, flowers, fruit and autumns foliage and most important a good healthy food source.

In my permaculture designs I often use them as screens in backyards to separate the chooks & veggies from the entertainment area don’t be afraid to use the space below them say in a raised bed to grow veggies and other smaller fruit such as currants as the mulching holds in water & keeps them weed free and it brakes down to become food for the tree in time, this is perfect way to care for a new tree.

A fruit tree only need to give you one year’s fruit to pay for itself and any other costs such as netting.


You can begin by planting the more vigorous varieties (T3) such as Granny Smith or Pink Lady these will give you your frame work, then I suggest you add lower vigor varieties (T1) to spread the season they ripen out over 5-6 months and also to grow apples for different uses.

Select spur bearing varieties for maximum fruit, tip bearing vars aren’t as useful as they have most new fruit on long new wood.

Use some structure to guide the branches as you pull them down each year, this does not have to be very strong as the tree will support itself anyway don’t worry if the apples not in full sun they can handle some part shade but good air movement will reduce fungal issues such as black spot. For organic pest control the best method is to allow the chooks to roam underneath periodically over summer to reduce codling moth.

Prune both winter & summer to reduce lateral growth and keep the shape.


We have 1000 fruiting varieties on our property, over 400 apples some are great eating, cookers, dual purpose and cider making ones. We sell over 250 varieties of grafted trees on many rootstock sizes; we run fruit tree and Permaculture courses onsite and make “champagne style” cider, more info

The Heritage Fruits Society inc. is a not for profit group that has an open day the last Sunday in March each year at Petty’s Orchard in Templestowe Victoria, with over 200 vars in our collection grown organically we put on a show of many old varieties and have around 80 to taste & buy on the day. There also other fruit related activities and displays of espalier types used in the demonstration orchard.

As we have found people’s tastes vary this is a great way to try them and place orders for winter grafted trees or scion to add to your existing trees. With over 800 apple varieties on our data base, we also have many other fruits as well. Visit

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