Espalier Restoration

Photo 1
Photo 1: First dormant season photo shows an espalier overgrown and crowded

Clients who have established espaliers enjoy the living art.  Espaliers need to be maintained.  There are plenty of good books on pruning.  So, I am not going to explain how or when to prune.  Instead I am going to share a espalier restoration adventure.  The restoration and training process requires pruning restraint with an eye for understanding how each cut works to create a decorative structure.

Photo 2
Photo 2: Wire girdling the tree

When espaliers are neglected or mishandled they lose form and the plant health may decline (Photo 1).    A couple of years ago I was called to restore 3 neglected espaliers.  These espaliers are estimated to be more than 50 years old.  They were over grown, girdled by wire, and unsightly  (Photo 2).

Restoration takes time.  Therefore, pruning restraint is part of the maintenance process.  Time is calculated in seasons. How many seasons?  Depends on the project.  For this client I estimated 3 growing seasons to go from unsightly to revealing a decorative structure.

When I first consulted with the home owners I took pictures of the espaliers.  Using the photos I  discussed the issues and options the client choose restoration.   An example of a serious issue is this photo 2 were heavy gauge wire is girdling the tree.  This particular issue is a common problem that I encounter when I am consulting on other properties.

Photo 3
Photo 3: First season: Dormant pruning shows overcrowding reduction

After the first dormant season pruning was completed overcrowding was reduced (Photo 3).  The second season pruning was completed reducing height and overcrowding (Photo 4).  Compare photo 1, 3 and 4 notice the tree has been cleaned and congestion reduced.  Follow up maintenance is scheduled each season after the trees leaf out.

Photo 4
Photo 4: Second season pruning

Scheduled restoration takes time.  After the first maintenance season some clients will want the schedule to be accelerated.  As long as no safety hazards exist I stick to the restoration schedule.   Sticking to the schedule requires pruning restraint.  Keep in mind the health of the plant, the canopy, and what each cut means to restoring an artful structure.

Restoring neglected espaliers requires a maintenance priority discussion with the client.  The task list includes cleaning, reducing overcrowding, and height, remove girdling wires, and evaluation during scheduled maintenance.  During evaluation you are checking how the trees are compartmentalizing and making canopy reduction decisions.  Having a plan reduces maintenance hours during restoration.  Maintained espaliers are wonderful living garden decorations.

Return to this post February 2017 to get an update on this restoration adventure.