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How to plant a fruit espalier

Helen McKerral

Helen McKerral

July 24, 2013

My grandparents grew several hundred metres of raspberries, boysenberries and loganberries on their hobby farm, and I have fond memories of picking them (one to taste, one for the basket!) and packing them for sale. As well, we cut down old canes, and tied up of new ones. Raspberry canes were renewed every few years, and packages of sticks arrived from interstate every few years, ready for planting.

berry fruit espalier

My grandmother also made wonderful jellies – red currant and raspberry was especially delicious – and for a long time I’ve made the same using my own currants, plus store-bought frozen raspberries. But now at last I have the space to grow my own!

Sturdy 3mm wire ready for fruiting canes

Sturdy 3mm wire ready for fruiting canes

I chose three bramblefruit: raspberries, boysenberries and tayberries. Boysenberries are my favourite : the shiny black fruit taste like tangy, more refreshing blackberries without the muskiness of the latter when they’re fully ripe. The extra acidity also makes them yummier in jams and desserts, where sugar cuts the tartness. I haven’t tasted tayberries, but this hybrid apparently tends more towards the raspberry in flavour.

Raspberries are cut back each winter as they fruit on new season’s wood, but I overwatered the new canes and lost a bunch of them because they’re susceptible to root rots, so only picked a handful this year. It’s also possible the canes were planted too deep; I’ll buy more this winter and try in a different spot. Because raspberries are cut back each year, it’s easy to train them between pairs of parallel wires to stop them sprawling.

tayberries and boysenberries twining on posts and wiresBoysenberries and tayberries are different. They’re much more vigorous for one: canes can grow ten metres in a single season, and my plants, on the site of the old chicken run, each grew eight to twelve canes at least six metres long! Traditionally, the pruning and training regime separates fruiting and new canes which are bent in different directions, so that spent canes can be removed each year after fruiting, and new ones take their place. Of course, some gardeners simply use a whippersnipper to slash down the lot each year, but this creates a dense thicket that can make harvesting berries difficult.

I also wanted my berries to look pretty, prominently sited as they are right at the start of the new area. Nor did I want tall thickets that would shade the area to the southeast. So I decided to try something that Allen Gilbert suggests in his excellent book, “Berry Bountry”.

I hope by spring these canes will be filled with fruit and flowersTraining fruiting plants horizontally generally reduces vegetative growth and increases flower buds. And of course, cutting fruiting plants back hard also stimulates strong vegetative growth. In Europe’s cold winters, bramblefruit canes perish, but here in Australia they survive and can send out laterals the following spring. Allen suggests taking advantage of these growing habits by training bramble canes horizontally to encourage laterals in the second year, which then flower. The horizontal canes can, he says, be maintained for several years.

An additional benefit for my garden is that the tiered growth should form windows through which the garden beyond can be glimpsed, windows that also allow light through to the garden to the southeast. Well, that’s the plan!

Canes were already 7m across the ground by the time the posts were in

Canes were already 7m across the ground by the time the posts were in

I’d intended training the canes along the wires as they grew but, because the cypress pine posts took much longer to arrive than I expected, I was faced with seven-metre long canes sprawling over the ground. I tied them together in bundles so the area was accessible for construction, then carefully separated the canes and wound them up the posts and along the wires. Some snapped but most were fine. This was in late autumn when growth had almost stopped and some of the tips had just begun to root into the ground, so not much more will happen for the next few months. The vines look a bit scrappy now, but hopefully you can imagine the effect next spring when they all sprout small upright laterals with fresh new growth. Or they might be long upright laterals that need judicious trimming! We’ll see, but hopefully the plants won’t produce too much vegetative growth because they haven’t been pruned at all.

boysenberries and tayberries are vigorous growersIf this system works, I might have to cut everything back once in a year or two, then retrain the canes more carefully, so that I can replace just certain sections every couple of years (they canes are all a bit jumbled together at the moment). Whatever happens, boysenberries and tayberries are tough and fast-growing so, if the patch morphs into a triffid jungle, repairs will be effective very quickly. I’ll update you on this patch next summer, when I hope to have many mouth-watering photographs of horizontal tiers of greenery smothered in beautiful flowers and delicious fruit!

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Julie Thomson
10 years ago

That’s a very wonderful achievement, Helen and hope you get loads of great berries fruiting on same. When I hear people speak of picking and eating and making jam from raspberries, boysenberries and other berries,( blackberries?) I am taken back to childhood reading Enid Blyton books when the Famous Five and Secret Seven wandered in the blackberry patch and washed their meal down with “lashings of ginger beer”. I associate most berries with cold weather climes and so have not tried to grow them. Here in the semi tropics, the berry grown with least heartache is mulberries which do very well – if you beat the birds to the crop! I am curious about the tay berry. Must investigate its possibilities. Thanks for the post and pics. Great work!!

Todd Harris
8 years ago

How did you tension your wire in that style, it’s very minimal and pleasing to the eye

Valerie Harrold
Valerie Harrold
7 years ago

Hi Helen, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog. I am retired now and just renewing my love of spending time in the garden. I will follow your blogs with interest.
Valerie Harrold