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A guide to pleached trees, espaliers & tree standards

Pleached vs espaliers vs standards

Pleached trees, espaliered fruit trees, and tree standards are all beautiful, and look similar, but with subtle differences in purpose, use of space/location, and training technique. It's very easy to get confused!


Different plants also lend themselves to the different techniques. And people are so creative, and often train the same plant in different ways resulting in a different look and harvest eg crabapples can be pleached, espaliered, or grown as standards; lemon trees can be espaliered or standardized ….

This is a bit of an overview of the 3 different techniques, and a general guide to which may work better for you.

Pleached trees

Pleached trees are trained on a framework, which can be free standing or attached to a fence. The framework is often taller than the fence, to give privacy and leafiness above the fence line. The multiple branches are actually woven and twisted along the framework to form a tall, flat screen. They are like a flat hedge on stilts, and they can be tiered or woven solid. They are ideal for narrow, and formal spaces.

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LEFT: Pleached trees by the RHS. RIGHT: Pleached trees in one of our gardens on Hobson St

Fruit espaliers - apples & pears

Fruit trees are traditionally espaliered against a solid, sun facing, heat radiating wall, to help ripen the fruit. And they are “spur” pruned along a single branch line to encourage fruit.

Attach your wires to your wall first, so you know how far apart your branch levels are going to be & where to prune. There’s a particular technique, whereby you grow one level / year for apples & pears. Each year, you basically cut the central leader (just above the wire) to force the side branches (just below the wire) to develop. And you tie the developing sides down gradually over the course of the year to that wire. You can also buy a fruit tree with lots of side branches - but often the branches aren’t in the right place to form the nice formal pattern that you want; and the side branches don’t develop strongly or evenly if the fruit tree has lots of different branches to choose where to send its growing energy. You really need to direct the plant energy to where *you* want it to go, to form a strong formal structure, and it takes a bit of time, 1 layer per year; but patience pays off in the long run. 

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LEFT: Diagram of espaliered fruit by RHS. MIDDLE: Espaliered apples in our Glen garden. RIGHT: Espaliered jasmines on Hobson St. Jasmines are espaliered a different way - see our special guide & tips on how to train Jasmines Espaliers. There's also a different technique for growing cirtus esplaiers.

Tree standards

Tree standards are free standing, with bare trunks, and bushy tops. There’s no flat framework involved, and they are wider/more 3 dimensional on top. You simply prune the tops like you’d trim a hedge. Because they bush out at their tops, you need a bit of depth to grow them. If they are planted too close to a wall then the tops will push them forwards off the wall. You can grow them in a narrow space against a wall, if the tops are fully above the wall and just have air space around them. So if you have a narrow space, you need to train or buy them with stems tall enough to clear the wall height.

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LEFT: Diagram of a standard by RHS. MIDDLE: Developing standardised michelias on Hobson St. RIGHT: Fully formed  Portuguese laurel standards, the stems don't grow taller - but you can grow and prune the hedge tops into different shapes & sizes.
Pleached vs Espalier vs Standards table.
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