Many plants can be trained to grow as an espalier, which is a plant that has been trained so it grows flat against a wall instead of having a bushy shape. Espalier plants are not only decorative, but they also save space in balcony container gardens.
If you have a wall or space for a large enough trellis, try growing a woody plant as an espalier to save space. You will also be able to maximize your sun with this type of growth habit, as espalier will be able to absorb more sunlight than the plants would if grown regularly. You can create different designs with espalier, including V shapes, T shapes, crossing branches, etc. When establishing an espalier, make sure to plant it 6 to 12 inches away from the wall or trellis that it will be growing against. Use wires secured along the wall or trellis to train the container plant to grow.
If forming an espalier sounds like a lot of work, you can purchase an established espalier at your local garden center and keep it pruned so it continues to grow flat. If you want to form your own, follow the five steps to forming an espalier.
5 Steps to Forming the Espalier Shape
1. Cut back the main stem of the plant down to a bud above the bottom wire.
2. As the buds begin to grow, tie the shoots to straight, sturdy pieces of wood or cane so they grow straight. Train three shoots: one to grow straight upward and two to grow at 45-degree angles to the right and left sides.
3. As the plant grows, cut the plant above the next wire and develop two more shoots at the next tier. Prune the two bottom branches so they stay full and will encourage more growth.
4. Once the buds have started to grow at the second tier, secure them with pieces of straight wood or cane and prune off any shoots not conforming to the desired plant shape. Keep forming more tiers in this way and pruning the sides off the plant so it stays full and will encourage more growth.
5. Once the plant has grown along all of the tiers, maintain the shape by pruning.
For information about plants that can be grown in espalier form, please see “20 Plants for Espalier Growth.”