How to Build a Living Fence

An espalier is a living fence created by training small trees into decorative patterns. Here's how to create an espalier in your own yard.
Introduction
Espalier plant support with wires in diamond pattern and covered with vine
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Dwarf apple trees trained in a
diamond pattern create a living
fence.

Using standard pruning techniques, you can train dwarf fruit trees to form a living wall that will enhance your yard's privacy and provide beauty and fresh produce. In an espalier (pronounced es-PAL-yay), plants grow along a usually flat, symmetrical framework against a wall, trellis, or freestanding support. Frequent pruning and tying of new growth directs the plants into a decorative pattern such as intersecting diamonds, or horizontal arms or elbows.

 
What You'll Need
Jonafree applies closeup
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Select fruits that are disease-
resistant, like this 'Jonafree'
dwarf apple.

Plan your espalier to meet your needs. If you want fruit, select a dwarf apple, peach, or pear that is rock-solid hardy in your area. For a purely ornamental fence, choose a blooming tree or shrub such as flowering crabapple, magnolia, or doublefile viburnum.

Although creating an espalier isn't particularly difficult, it does take time. Expect to wait three years for fruit, and plan to spend some time each year doing light pruning and training of branches.

Supplies you'll need include:

  • three or more plants (dwarf fruit trees, for example)
  • posthole digger (optional)
  • 4x4 posts (treated for soil contact or rot resistant cedar or similar wood)
  • 2x4 top rail, 8 feet long
  • 14-gauge wire
  • hand pruners
  • cloth-covered wire plant ties

 
Continued on page 2:  Step by Step

 


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