Ask a Master Gardener: How do I grow fruit trees in a small yard?


Question: Though I can't really pronounce it, I want to espalier some fruit trees in my too-small yard. I've heard it's a good way to save space.

Answer: You heard right. Espaliering can be done with almost any kind of fruit tree. It's done to train the trees into a shape best suited to the grower. It puts pruning, thinning, inspecting and picking well within reach of a human. No ladders are necessary!

What you are setting out to do is to grow these fruit trees in a manner similar to vines or grapes, so the branches grow along a wall or trellis.

All trees to be grown espalier fashion need to be on dwarf stock, and they will bear fruit within three years of planting. Apples, pears, peaches, plums, nectarines and cherries are fruits suitable for espaliering.

As the virtues of espaliering have spread in the U.S., many nurseries now carry plants that already have been grown and pruned into espaliered trees. This is the easiest way to get them. Or you can do your own. Rely on trained and knowledgeable nursery employees to help you choose your tree and show you how to prune it.

It is a joy to behold when my row of 15 Honeycrisp espaliered apple trees are in bloom, followed in good time by a bumper crop of delicious apples. I highly recommend trying your hand with espaliering.

Q: I want a plant that will soften the fence line I have around my yard, but I don't want trees. I would love something that was dense enough but that grew something edible. Any ideas?

A: Every gardener has felt the intense satisfaction of finding the exact right plant that looks, grows and performs just as you wanted.

Such a plant (well, 30 of them) can be found in my garden. It's called aronia, a deciduous shrub also known as chokecherry. It's intensely green, quite polite about staying about 4-6 feet tall, and though it suckers sometimes, that's nothing that can't be taken care of with a sharp shovel.

Aronia turns a stunning red in the fall and requires little attention once established. The masses of flowers in the spring make the bees happy, and the masses of shiny, black berries are chock full of antioxidants. Though the berries are tart, I have found that they make a perfect marriage when paired with our overly sweet apple juice.

So productive are aronia plants that if you can't use all the berries, they are relished by our local birds, which finish any I leave on the plants.

Seldom do you find a plant that is as valuable both as an attractive landscape specimen and as an edible food producer. What aronia doesn't have is disease or insect-susceptibility. Commercial growers in the U.S. are trying to develop markets for aronia juice and are even working on crossing aronia plants with pear plants to sweeten the berries. The plant is much better known and used in Europe and China.

My guess is that if you plant one or two aronia plants, you'll want more ... and so will everyone who sees them in bloom or fruit!

Q: How do I banish Bambi?

A: I recently received a message from a gardener who has been having severe deer problems in her garden. She had heard of this solution, tried it and says it really works. She mixes one whole egg to a gallon of water and then sprays it on all plants. It does no harm to vegetation, even the edible type, but she says the deer have stopped munching on her garden. Spray on a rainless day, and future rain won't wash away the good effects, though you will have to spray periodically throughout the growing season. Sounds almost too good to be true, but I as I don't have deer problems, I can't try it out myself. If you do, and you're willing to give it a try, let me know what the outcome is. Deer in the garden are some of the most intractable problems there are!


Master Gardener Kathleen Bander is a resident of Bellingham and life-long gardener. For more information on Whatcom County Master Gardeners, go to

Ask a Master Gardener will appear in The Bellingham Herald weekly through the summer growing season. If you have a gardening question you'd like answered in the column, please email it to

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