Six summers ago, I went French in my backyard potager (kitchen garden), and I espaliered an apple tree on my 6 foot privacy fence. Patience while I waited for the first fruit has been the only hard part.
Espalier is the French art of pruning, usually a fruit tree, into a decorative shape. Sort of like a French manicure for the garden.
Last season, many blossoms morphed into about five apples, that alas, the squirrels got to before they grew and ripened. Naughty squirrels. You are lucky you are cute with such expressive tails.
This season, I got many blossoms, many apples, and four survived the ravages of the backyard wildlife, and they were large, the size of grapefruits, and incredibly delicious, so a shout-out to the U of M developed ‘Zestar’ apple. It really does have a taste of a caramel apple. Sweet and subtle.
The basic structure of the support for the espaliered tree is rather simple. It consists of, in a nutshell, 3 inch eye-hook bolts screwed into the side of the 6 foot posts. Using 16 gauge galvanized wire, connect the length of wire that will span your fence panel from post to post, with a turn-buckle on each end of the wire. The turn buckles then connect to the two eye-hooks, and allow you to tighten the wire, once it is connected to the eye hooks, and also tighten it in subsequent years.
The first horizontal wire can go about 15 inches above the ground, and then string the next wire a foot above the first, then another, and even another if you like.
I recommend beginning with a dwarf tree, and a “whip” from a seed catalog works wonderfully. Small trees from your garden center will work just fine, but look for dwarf varieties.
The pruning process is more intuitive than persnickety. Look for branches sprouting near the wires and let these grow. Prune away sprouts in-between the wires. And prune away sprouts from your lateral branches as they take hold and grow along the wires. Commit to two or three brief pruning sessions throughout the growing season.
Espaliered fruit trees are a wonderful way to grow fruit in a small space and the apples actually respond wonderfully to the extra dose of sun that this growing method provides them. You do need two apple trees for cross pollination, so find space to do two, or you can also borrow cross pollination from a neighbors tree within 500 feet, even a crabapple tree.