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Train a tree for free

Train a tree for free: How to make a cordon; espalier; fan; stepover and more!

This is plant-a-tree season. There's no better time to get those roots down into the soil so they can establish while there's still some warmth in the ground. You can buy mature trees if you wish. But if you can be a little patient it's usually better to plant a young specimen. It will establish quickly - what's more, you can train it to the shape you desire.

These Prunus have been grown as tiny saplings and trained around a wire frame to achieve the desired 'tree people'! Minor grafts were used where necessary and these bonded very quickly onto the young wood. Take fruit trees, for example. There's a range of shapes that can be achieved if the tree is trained when young. The resulting tree will fit into even a small space, allowing people with a tiny garden or courtyard to enjoy fruit-bearing stems. A fan shape is suitable for a wide range of fruit trees and even fruit bushes. Apples, pears, plums, peaches, apricots, nectarines, almonds, cherries, figs, gooseberries and redcurrants can be trained against a wall or fence in a fan shape. Easy to harvest, great to look at - what's not to love?

It's simple to train a young fruit tree. The new shoots just need tying into the most appropriate positions such as a fan. It has a flat back and can sit comfortably against a wall or fence.  

You can buy young fruit trees already trained and held into place using a simple frame. This one's a cherry.   The ultimate size depends on the type of tree - but also the rootstock. It's always wise to check what rootstock your fruit tree has been grafted onto. Apples have the widest range of rootstocks available (they normally have a prefix of M or MM, plus a number). The smallest rootstocks are M27 but for a fan shaped apple or pear, for example, the most appropriate is M26 (semi-dwarfing, MM106 or MM111.

Which shape makes the best use of space?

Probably a cordon. What's more, a cordon fruit tree should produce a crop when the tree is still very young - perhaps in the second summer. A cordon tree just needs to have its main stem secured at an angle of around 45 degrees. All its lateral (side) shoots should be pruned to about three buds from the main stem. It is these that will bear fruit. Simple or what?

It's the lateral, or side, shoots on a cordon that will bear the fruit. This is so simple to achieve if you plant a young fruit tree - it is highly suitable for apples and pears.

A double cordon style of pruning, where two stems are trained at 45 degree angles, produces this wonderful diamond shape. A row of pears or apples trained in this way makes a beautiful architectural statement - and it's productive too.  Another useful shape is Espalier. This is probably the most common. it has several horizontal tiers which are spaced at around 45cm apart. Many different fruit trees can be grown as an espalier including apples, pears, medlars, even mulberries.

It's easy to train a young tree into an espalier. Create the initial shape during autumn and winter - just select appropriate lateral (side) shoots and train them into at least a 45 degree angle from the main stem. Prune off any stems that don't fit into the desired shape. As the tree gets used to its position, these side shoots can be lowered to horizontal, and secured. As the tree grows in the spring you will need to repeat the process, selecting appropriate lateral shoots until all tiers (typically four) are completed. At this point the leader can be pruned.

These espalier-trained pear trees take up hardly any space. They can be easily trained against a wall or fence and the fruit can be collected with ease. What's more, with some twice-yearly pruning they are easy to maintain and it's simpler to keep pests at bay. So you get beauty; structure and more fruit.                                

If you want to create a low edge to a bed or even a partial partition in the garden, consider a 'step-over' fruit tree. It is really only suitable for apples which have been grafted onto the most dwarfing rootstock (M27). Space your step-over apples at around 1.5m centres.

Need an edge to a bed? A step-over pruned tree is basically a single tier espalier or you might consider it as a horizontal cordon. Just train the lateral shoots out to each side and tie them to a cane at a 45 degree angle. The central stem can be removed during spring or summer. Then lower the side shoots to horizontal and keep the shape by pruning off the laterals.

Want an apple tree that is unobtrusive? A stepover tree can act as a boundary to a bed, a pathway or even a garden division. It's grafted onto the very smallest dwarfing rootstock and can be very successful.                      

Have some fun with trees!

There's so much you can do with young trees. Willow in particular is highly suitable for forming into living willow structures, using varieties such as Salix alba var. vitellina; Salix daphnoides; Salix alba var. vitellina 'Britzensis', Salix viminalis and more. Living structures for a garden can be formed to create secret dens; archways; an arbour; a dividing screen; a chair or a little house. The only thing you need to bear in mind is that the plant you use must like being pruned!  

There is plenty of fun to be found in training trees! This willow seat (Salix) has been formed by training a young tree against a metal frame. Once the shape has formed, the frame can be taken away. The top of the tree will grow as normal!

Salix, or willow, is one of the easiest of trees to train into shapes. This 'moon hole' makes you want to explore the woods! The young stems of willow are easily bent into shape - but you will need to plant the young whips in late autumn through to early spring so they have a chance to root before the dry weather.                      

A shady seat for two. Living willow makes a great feature and it's relatively easy to keep its shape by pruning regularly.

By Perfect Plants


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