Cordon, Espalier and Fan Trained Fruit Trees
Thethat take up the least space are certainly the various rigidly trained and shaped forms: cordons, espaliers, fans, and their variations. They do, however; have to be trained and tied in to wires to keep them in the right shape and in good order They can be grown either against a wall or fence or in the open garden.
All need summer pruning, but are very economical of ground space. They should always be grown on a suitably dwarfing rootstock, however. The simplest shape is the cordon; a single stem without any side shoots at all but furnished with short fruiting spurs on which the fruit is borne. Cordons also have the advantage of coming into cropping sooner than most other tree forms.
They are normally grown as oblique cordons at an angle of forty-five degrees. This makes them less vigorous and more fruitful and also allows each tree to be larger but still reach the same height above the ground. Allow 3ft (1m) between trees, with 6ft (2m) between rows if grown in the open garden.
Apples and are often grown as cordons, but and may be as well (although not ). In their case, however, it is usual to grow them as vertical cordons with two or more upright ‘branches’. Having only one makes it a very expensive job to plant up a row and also means that much of the natural vigour of the bush is wasted, most of the shoots being cut off.
Apple and pear cordons are best pruned only in the summer but the currants and gooseberries need treatment in the winter as well.
An espalier is really a glorified cordon in that, from a vertical central stem, pairs of horizontal branches are trained out at regular intervals, usually 9-12in (23-30cm). These branches are not allowed to form any side-shoots but, like the cordon, the fruit is borne on short fruiting spurs. Espaliers, too, need training wires and may also be grown against a wall or in the open.
Clearly, espaliers take longer than cordons to attain their full size, but far fewer trees are needed for a given length of row. Plant 9-15ft (3-4.5m) apart according to vigour
While apples and pears are the main fruits grown as espaliers, stone fruit (, , etc.) perform better when fan-trained. This is because they are rather susceptible to the disease bacterial canker, which often results in whole branches having to be cut out. Red and and gooseberries may also be grown as fans.
With fan trees, the branches radiate from a short trunk and, as the ‘rays’ get further apart, side-shoots are trained out to fill the gaps.
may be grown in various other more complicated and impressive shapes, but those described are the basic ones and, with a little patience, even the most complicated espalier is well within the capabilities of most gardeners.
There is, however; an abhorrence in the commercial fruit growing world of anything that requires work which is as time consuming and as complicated as summer pruning and training. In gardens we aren’t burdened to quite the same extent as the fruit farmer with regard to our time; in fact, many of us are quite happy to spend hours pruning. We enjoy it. But there is an understandable move on fruit farms towards minimum-upkeep trees and, for those gardeners with less time or enthusiasm, broadly the same methods are quite easily adapted for use in gardens.
There are, of course, many other shapes in which fruit trees can be grown, but those already described cover most eventualities and are well within the ability of any gardener interested enough to find out about them and carry them out.
An unusual form for use with apples is called the ‘compact columnar’. To be accurate, rather than being a system of training it is actually a completely different kind of naturally occurring tree. It started life in Canada as a sport (mutant) on a tree of the variety Macintosh. Instead of developing in the normal way, one particular branch on the tree grew less vigorously than normal; it was also straight and without side-shoots. The branch was propagated and the resulting trees were given the varietal name Wijcik (pronounced wich-ic), after a local town. By UK standards, Wijcik was a pretty poor quaky apple, but the physical characteristics of the trees were so desirable that it was crossed with existing varieties in an effort to produce a new race of . It is this first generation that is now undergoing trials.
The trees look very much like vertical cordons but, of course, they grow like that without any pruning or training. They have few, if any, side-shoots as most of the buds develop into blossom buds instead of growth. Any which do grow into shoots are pinched out as soon as they are seen.
Clearly, a tree which is going to grow slowly, vertically, without side-shoots and with an abundance of fruit buds is what we are all looking for However there is very little point in it if the fruit is uneatable.
Those, then, are the various tree shapes and forms that are suitable for private gardeners. You can often buy partially formed trees at nurseries or garden centres (for example, a three-year-old espalier), but, even if these are hard to come by but you can perfectly well form your own.
Click this link to see more tree forms – Standards, Half Standards and Bush Trees
And this link for Spindle-bush fruit trees