Yesterday, I spent the whole day on an Espalier Pruning day at Painswick Rococo garden. It was great fun and I learned a ton about how Apples grow and how to maintain an espalier.
It was also a gorgeous setting in which to learn, with a central kitchen garden surrounded by hundreds of espalier Apples and Pear and a separate orchard including Medlers and Yellow Plums (which I had a sneaky taste of).
Thanks to Chris Hitchcock (the head gardener, on the right) and Bill Whitehead (an Apple and Pear expert, on the left) I now feel super confident about summer pruning my own espalier apple tree. Thanks also to Paul Hervey-Brookes for being the perfect host. Lastly, thanks to my wonderful under-gardener for buying the course for me and looking after Jackson for the whole day so that I could go!
So what did I learn?
Now is the time to start summer pruning Apple an Pear espaliers. Aim for the end of July to mid August. The reason you Summer prune is to restrict growth (after all an espalier is a restricted form) and to let in light to help the fruit ripen. The light also encourages buds for the following season, so everyone’s a winner!
Here are Four Steps to Summer Pruning Espaliers
1.Chop Down All Top Growth
Before you start pruning your espalier might look like this. Lots of long wippy shoots growing upwards. You should cut all the top growth down by about half so that you can see more clearly what you’re doing. Leave two long shoots unpruned, that are growing from the central stem. The reason you do this is to draw the sap upwards through the central part of the tree which reduces the amount of regrowth at the ends of the branches.
It should start to look a bit like this.
2. Prune Each Branch Three Leaves Up From the Basal Leaves
Inspect each of the branches that you’ve cut down by half. Find the basal leaf cluster (these are the clutch of leaves that are around the base of this year’s growth. In the photo below, the basal leaves are the three leaves coming from the base of the branch. Then the real leaves are the three after that (one is pointing backwards). You would make your cut above the third.
Angle your cut so that it slants away from the leaf – but ideally points away from the tree (so that the water runs away from the leaf and the tree). Don’t make your cut too angled and also not too close to the bottom of the leaf (as below).
Continue to work through the tree doing the same for each branch.
5. Dead, Diseased, Dying, Weak and Wayward
Next inspect the tree and take out all branches that fit the following description – DDDWW (Dead, Diseased, Dying, Weak and Wayward). Quite a few of the trees that I was pruning had Canker, which was rotting away various branches. I was told to just cut them off (since they don’t spray fungicide at Painswick).
4. The Finished Espalier
When you’re finished you should have a perfectly trimmed espalier, with lots of light getting in and with two wippy stems protruding from the top.
Sorry this ended up being so long but I needed to get all that I had learned down in one place. Hope it helps you out when you come to Summer prune your espalier Apples or Pears.