Living Columns & Blogs

Ask a Gardener: How do I espalier fruit trees?

Espalier apple trees border the pickleball court in John and Karin Morris’ English-inspired garden in Tacoma, Washington.
Espalier apple trees border the pickleball court in John and Karin Morris’ English-inspired garden in Tacoma, Washington. Tacoma News Tribune

To all gardeners:

I’ve mentioned before a program with the Washington State Fish &Wildlife Department called the “Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary Certification” program.

The sanctuary program was implemented to help people appreciate and understand the connectedness of all nature, including wildlife.

The program can make you make a better environment that will attract, feed and house many wild animals, including birds, pollinators, bats, and amphibians. It’s simple to find out what you need to do. It will involve such things as plantings, housing and water features.

With a $5 payment and a completed application you’ll receive a personalized certificate suitable for framing. Put it outside, and it will help inform visitors about your habitat project, and may spur them on to joining in the effort to protect Washington’s wildlife. Many friends have remarked on my framed certificate and been motivated to begin the process themselves.

To join in the effort yourself, go online to WDFW Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary at And believe me, the improvements you make in your yard for wildlife will be improvements you yourself will like.

Question: I’m convinced that espaliering a few apple trees will be a good thing for me, as the space I have to grow large trees is severely limited. But how do I start doing this?

Answer: There are basically two ways to start. One’s super easy and consists of simply finding a nursery that sells espaliered apple trees.

Whether you choose to buy your trees already espaliered or not, you will be able to see how one of these trees will look.

Don’t be shy about asking nursery personnel how they create espaliered trees, though you may find out that experts in the technique are few and far between. However, there are many online and book resources at your disposal to lead you through the process.

Pick your trees carefully. Get dwarf trees to start, and you will have less pruning in the long run. But semi-dwarf trees also work. Steer away from full-size trees. Pick a variety you like. I have a row of 10 honeycrisp espaliered trees. And in case you’re wondering, these trees produce full-size fruit.

Virtually any fruit tree can be made into an espaliered tree. Peaches, apricots, figs and pears all work well.

So have fun, and always do a few more than you think you need!

Q: What should I do about my trees during this drought?

A: No one will contest that it’s been a dry year. All gardeners are hoping that the rains will be plentiful, and next year won’t be so parched.

In the meantime, however, don’t put the hoses away. A quick perusal of your garden will be a clear indicator that many plants are in need of water. Even plants that have fulfilled their yearly offering of fruit. If you want good, sweet and large fruit next year, you best keep watering the plants, even though they’re no longer bearing.

And trees. The common belief is that trees that are established don’t need watering. That’s in normal times. Many street trees around Bellingham likely will not make it, due to complete lack of moisture. If you haven’t watered any of your trees, please do so. And by water, I mean soak. No sprinkling by hand, which does little to get water into the tree roots. You can put a small sprinkler on every tree, and let it run at least a few hours. It’s a lot of work moving it around, but that’s the kind of watering that’s needed.

Trees are a valuable part of your landscape, and actually add dollar value to your investment. Don’t ignore them in these dry times.

Kathleen Bander of Bellingham is a life-long gardener. Her column 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 For more gardening information online, go to