• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic

Am I the only one who thinks espaliering trees is goofy?

 
Marco Banks
Posts: 374
Location: Los Angeles, CA
30
books chicken food preservation forest garden hugelkultur trees urban woodworking
  • Likes 8
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I understand the reason why people would espalier a tree: to save space, to make them more manageable, pickable, etc.  And espaliered tree fits tightly against a wall, for instance, allowing you to get an apple tree into a space where a full sized tree wouldn't fit.

Yeah, yeah.

But it feels tremendously un-permaculture to me.  You wouldn't see this kind of tightly controlled pruning in nature.  

So, with that as a preamble, here are my three reasons why I find espaliered trees goofy.

1.  As Joel Salatin says, let a cow express his cowness.  Let a pig express his pigness.  A happy pig is doing what a pig was intended to do—root, wallow, socially hang out with the other pigs, and scamper around the trees looking for acorns.  A happy tree is one whose branches reach up for the sunlight, whose roots spread widely and reach deeply, and whose leaves drop beneath it to mulch the soil and feed the microorganisms.  It just seems to take the very tree-ness of the tree and turn it into a balloon animal.

2.  I've read (somewhere, I forget) that heavy pruning actually shortens the life of a fruit tree significantly.  A preach tree shouldn't crap out and die after 20 years, should it?  And apple tree should outlive me and then some.  Does anyone know how espaliering a tree impacts the lifespan of said tree?  There has been much written on this site and elsewhere about planting apple trees from seed and never pruning them.  I'm not anti-pruning, but turning it into a right-angled trellis-looking thing . . . that's about 3 steps too far. 

3.  What is it about the tight-ass control thing that bugs me?  Trees are not our bitches.  The tree says, "Hey -- there are some unused photons going to waste over in this area.  I think I'll grow a branch that direction and keep them from going to waste, converting them into fruit."  Along comes the tree-control dude with his little loppers --- thawack -- off goes the wayward unauthorized branch.  Geez . . . if I had someone beating me into submission every time I wanted to sprout a new branch, I'd say, "Screw it" and just die. 

Am I alone in this?  Live and let live.
 
Devin Lavign
pollinator
Posts: 347
Location: Pac Northwest
22
books chicken forest garden goat hunting solar trees wofati woodworking
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
No your not alone, I have had similar thoughts and ideas about the process myself. Ever since being shown the process funny enough by the same person who first mentioned permaculture to me also. I had already been doing something similar to permaculture under a different name, so was a bit surprised at the concept of such tight control of the fruit tree from someone who espoused permaculture conepts.

In my mind it is like bonzi trees. It might float some folks boat, and I can appreciate the art of it, but not my cup of tea personally.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
gardener
Posts: 1898
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
349
bee chicken food preservation fungi greening the desert
  • Likes 15
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Tree pruning seems like a perfectly natural activity to me. Wind prunes trees. Snow prunes trees. Heavy fruit load prunes trees. Deer prune trees. Fire prunes trees.  Insects prune trees.

I am a pragmatic farmer... I prune trees so that I can put a ladder into the center of the tree while picking fruit. I prune trees so that I can mow under them. I prune trees so that they are low enough that I can reach the fruit. I prune trees so that they don't rub against the barn and tear shingles off. I prune to obtain brighter colored and larger fruit which brings higher prices at market. I prune to minimize predation by insects. 

If I knew that I could grow pomegranates or figs in my climate if I kept the branches within 6 inches of a south facing stone wall, and I wanted to grow those fruits, then I would gladly espalier the trees to keep them growing right next to the wall where it is warmer. And if I am pruning anyway, I might as well be aesthetic about it.

One of my neighbors has an apple tree orchard that is kept pruned to about 4 feet tall. The trees resemble a table top. I love the orchard! He is approaching 80 years old, and can still do all the maintenance and picking himself, because he put a system in place 50 years ago that can be maintained by small children, or by an old man. 

 
Alex Ames
Posts: 402
Location: Georgia
5
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
You give yourself good advice,"live and let live". Few people use the method anyway. There are reasons to do it such as allowing sunlight in to grow things beneath and productivity in small spaces. It seems very tedious to me.
 
Michelle Bisson
Posts: 185
Location: Quebec, Canada
15
forest garden hugelkultur trees urban
  • Likes 9
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
If we truly let nature take it's course, and be 100% natural, the mature forest could not feed us on what grows naturally. So then we farm it to grow things that do feed us.  So permaculture is not about doing things 100% natural.  Human intervention is never 100% natural.

I have seen pruned plants completely happy and productive and very large mature trees that seemed unhappy and not very productive.   Rather than spend our time criticising one method over another, let just encourage more people to simply grow edibles. If one person wants to grow their trees espalier and another want to grow them full size, then the world is a better place because we are so diverse.  We are a polyculture of human beings instead of a monoculture of human beings.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9260
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
157
  • Likes 7
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I don't see espalier as any more unpermacultural or goofy than making swales.  I think it can be a form of art which happens to be productive.

This looks like permaculture to me:

he put a system in place 50 years ago that can be maintained by small children, or by an old man.

 
Michelle Bisson
Posts: 185
Location: Quebec, Canada
15
forest garden hugelkultur trees urban
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
As Joel Salatin says, let a cow express his cowness.  Let a pig express his pigness. 


I do not think that we can compare cows and pigs to fruit trees.

Most big ag farms pack thousands of cows and pigs etc. into very unhealthy conditions and then pump them with all kinds of chemicals.  Espalier or pruned grown fruit trees are usually very lovingly taken care of and do not need chemicals for good health.

Who says that we should allow every fruit tree to reach climax?  Those latter years become very unproductive and waste a lot of space.  They can be pruned and be rejuvenated.

If I had a field to accommodate only a few large fruit trees, but got tired eating only a few fruit varieties, why not keep them pruned and grow three times (or more) varieties?  This is my personal situation.  I have chosen to keep my trees pruned and/or trained so I can accommodate many many varieties of fruit.
 
Casie Becker
pollinator
Posts: 990
Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
64
forest garden urban
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I have espalier in my front yard. They let me grow visual filters from my neighbors where I'm not allowed a fence and yet are not as solid and impenetrable a barrier as a hedge (which would also need pruning). It opens a lot of conversations with neighbors about growing food at home. I am also hoping that as they mature I won't be inundated with more fruit than my family can eat. Especially after the children leave home.

They're certainly as permanent as an annual crop. It doesn't deplete any resource to grow them and when they in time die, there is nothing that prevents another plant (even another espalier) being planting in the same place. I'll concede the possibility that it can be a bit goofy, but that's what people say about a lot of permaculture.
 
Tracy Wandling
gardener
Posts: 748
Location: Cortes Island, British Columbia. Zone: 8ish Lat: 50; Rainfall: 50" ish; sand and rocks; well water
95
bee books chicken forest garden fungi hugelkultur trees
  • Likes 4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I'm rather partial to goofy, myself. Just saying' . . .
 
Willy Walker
Posts: 90
Location: Foot of the Mountain, Front Royal VA
2
chicken fungi hugelkultur
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I was actually just wondering the other day about a tree planted next to a building in this manner.  I think it was 7 years old'ish.    The building will need refinishing, painting or something.  Even sooner now that it has a tree growing within inches of the siding.   I'm sure that not everyone has planted and trained their tree right on the side of a building but in this instance,   I predict issues right about the time the tree is fruiting well.  

I would think like most practices, it has its places.  I would enjoy being able to gather fruit when I am 80 without leaving the ground.   

Thank you in advance if anyone would like to share a pic of their espalier.   
 
Michelle Bisson
Posts: 185
Location: Quebec, Canada
15
forest garden hugelkultur trees urban
  • Likes 5
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Fruit walls were popular in Europe between the 1600s and 20th century.  Thousands and thousands of espalier fruit trees throughout the cities.




See article at bottom of page.
http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2015/12/reinventing-the-greenhouse.html

Our cities would be transformed if fruit trees were espalier on all the concrete and metal commercial buildings and around our homes and property lines.  The walls warm up the space (for us northerners) for enjoying being outdoors and growing fruit that might not otherwise survive. It can provide shade for the southerners.  It is truly stacking functions. Sounds like permaculture to me.



You can feed complete cities this way and never need to import fruit from outside the cities or over long distances.

Why society moved away from this model is hard to understand.  What were we thinking?  Modern society are the "goofy" ones. 

 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 1908
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
139
chicken dog forest garden hugelkultur hunting toxin-ectomy
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Espalier trees were created for the purpose of using all the space available for growing fruit trees, the method originated in France and was developed for growing trees next to walls, space that otherwise would be unproductive.

If you are the sort that wants or loves a "Formal" garden, then you are going to use many of the 15-17th century developments in horticulture. One of which was the Green House which also was expanded into a Conservatory.
During this time period, Formal Gardens were everywhere the wealthy, aristocracy dwelled. It was a sign of wealth and they are breath-taking to walk through or see from a high vantage point.
True, that they are not what most would consider permaculture, but they have for centuries provided those who would take their green thumb and use if for making a living, a way to do so in style.

It was also during this period that orchards became ordered rows of trees each equidistant from the others and that is what isn't permaculture to my mind.
Pruning into Espalier provides a tree that otherwise would not be there, a place to thrive.

In France, there are Espalier pear trees that are still producing at the ripe old age of 150, so I doubt that this type of pruning shortens the life span of a tree.

Redhawk
 
Marco Banks
Posts: 374
Location: Los Angeles, CA
30
books chicken food preservation forest garden hugelkultur trees urban woodworking
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Michelle Bisson wrote:
As Joel Salatin says, let a cow express his cowness.  Let a pig express his pigness. 


I do not think that we can compare cows and pigs to fruit trees.

Most big ag farms pack thousands of cows and pigs etc. into very unhealthy conditions and then pump them with all kinds of chemicals.  Espalier or pruned grown fruit trees are usually very lovingly taken care of and do not need chemicals for good health.


It would seem to me that the comparison is even more apt given the conditions you speak of.  Industrially farmed livestock, crammed into confined space, needing ongoing human intervention in order to stay healthy . . . would this not be comparable to orchards or plants that are highly manipulated away from their natural growth patterns and needing regular human intervention?

There are shades of grey here.  There is a distinction between absolutely no pruning (which some people believe is most appropriate in situations like silvopasture systems), regular moderate pruning (which most orchardists practice) and clipping those poor trees into a right-angled submission and wiring them into rigid menorah shapes.  It's the difference between totally feral hogs, pastured pork, and factory confined pork operations.

Pruning = natural and good.  Uber-pruning into poodle trees = goofy (in my very generous opinion).  Please note that goofy does not mean evil, never-to-be-done, or even wrong.  Just goofy.  And just my opinion.
 
Brandon McGinnity
Posts: 12
Location: Winston-Salem, United States
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I thought the main reason to espallier was to keep the tree up against a wall where a microclimate can be had, such that you can grow things like citrus in otherwise colder climates. I seem to remember reading that monks developed it in their walled monastery gardens back in the middle ages. Doing it otherwise seems pointless to me, unless space is a consideration.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
gardener
Posts: 1898
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
349
bee chicken food preservation fungi greening the desert
  • Likes 6
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
While not technically an espalier, I created this "Fence of apple trees" more than 20 years ago. The subsequent owners didn't train it like I would have, but it's still fencing the yard, and offering protection to the house from vehicles running off the road.

After participating in this thread, I'm itching to espalier a fig tree against the south side of the barn.

apple-grid.jpg
[Thumbnail for apple-grid.jpg]
Grafted Fencing.
 
Ghislaine de Lessines
Posts: 198
Location: Vermont, annual average precipitation is 39.87 Inches
8
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I suspect espaliered trees originally started by someone observing an apple tree that had been allowed to grow wild near a stone wall.  The branches nearest the wall were probably strongest and less likely to break from bad weather or people/animals walking by. Perhaps they were intentionally cut to keep a path clear.  The branches nearest the wall were observed to have more/bigger fruit etc.  Monks experiment with what they observed and here we are at the extremes of the regimented shapes that some espalier have. 

I would love to try it for myself in a sheltered corner of my home where the growing space would need to hug the wall, but I am stopped by the concern that it would become difficult to maintain my stained cedar siding.  Oh to have some tall stone walls!
 
Michelle Bisson
Posts: 185
Location: Quebec, Canada
15
forest garden hugelkultur trees urban
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I would love to try it for myself in a sheltered corner of my home where the growing space would need to hug the wall, but I am stopped by the concern that it would become difficult to maintain my stained cedar siding.  Oh to have some tall stone walls!



An alternative to a building wall or a stone wall or fence would be to use posts and to put 3 or 4 sets a wires between them. Then you can train selective branches along these wires.

Who says the tree has to be glued to the building wall or fence?  One could espalier the branches 2 feet away with other support structures so that they have access to maintain the building or fence.  That tree would still benefit from the radiant heat of the building or protected from the wind fence.
 
Michelle Bisson
Posts: 185
Location: Quebec, Canada
15
forest garden hugelkultur trees urban
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

First of all, I want to thank you Marco for opening up the discussion on a technique that is not well known in North America! You have brought value to the discussion from sharing your point of view in the first place.  You will encourage many to grow full size fruit trees as they can bring much value in a permaculture environment.

There has been much written on this site and elsewhere about planting apple trees from seed and never pruning them. 



There is value in this approach.  We discover new varieties this way. if you have pigs to eat the fallen apples then it would be more practical to have a full size tree than an espalier one.  If we were trying to feed the pigs on a few espalier fruit trees, yes, I would consider that "goofy"

If you have the space in your backyard, your kids might have tons of fun climbing the tree(s) for the apples.  If you like apple sauce and apple cider, then seedlings may be just fine for this purpose. but if you want a delicious apple that you can eat out of your hand and do not want to wait 7 years for your seeding to fruit only to discover that you do not like the taste of your apple, you might go with a cultivated grafted variety.

There are so many "it depends" as the deciding factor whether one grows from a seed to a large tree or if one plants grafted trees or espalier fruit trees.  Everyone has to find which of the "it depends" reasons for each tree they plant and take care of that makes sense or works for him or her.

Do we live in the city with a very small plot or on a large farm with lots of wide open spaces? Are we growing for personal consumption or growing to earn our living from our fruit?  -------

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
I just want to bring another perspective about espalier trees and some of the points mentioned.


I've read (somewhere, I forget) that heavy pruning actually shortens the life of a fruit tree significantly.  A preach tree shouldn't crap out and die after 20 years, should it?   And apple tree should outlive me and then some.  Does anyone know how espaliering a tree impacts the lifespan of said tree? 


It is my understanding that cultivated fruit trees last about 30 years because they are grafted and then lose productivity. Pruning on the other hand can give new vigour to a tree that was once unproductive or dying. Is it wrong to plant a grafted tree knowing that it will only last around 30 years, I do not think so, but it would be good to plan it's succession by planting it's replacement when it is 15 years old.


But comparing to the forest, our land has a lot of regrowth forest about 30 or 40 years.  But some of the maples are dying, but we know if we cut these one it will give space for our healthy trees that may last one hundred and fifty years.  So not every tree will become a mature tree.  in fact from about thousands of maple seedling that started to grow only about 40 have reached the canopy in our 1.5 acre land.  There is only so much room in the forest to reach the canopy. So nature does naturally select complete trees or knocking down large branches.





If we review the permaculture principals, we will see that espalier fruit trees can fit very nicely into a "permacultured" landscape.  Several of the principals apply ex. location, edge, small spaces, stacking functions etc....

And the ethics. no issues here.

I have no "espalier trees", but do train my apples trees to grow it's branches horizontally like Permaculture Orchardist Stefan Sobkowiak.  I will need to do less pruning and still have a manageable sized tree when harvesting. Plus I will have much more space for many variety of fruit trees than if I let them grow into just a few fruit trees to full size.



This technique has a few similarities with espalier. In this photo, if you look closely, you will see my green ties that I have used to bend the branches in a horizontal position.  After a few months, they have been removed. A horizontal branch tells the tree to slow down branch and leaf production and puts the energy into fruit production.


I hope one day when we build our house and then have a micro climate on the south wall to espalier some fruit trees.

It will be fun to grow a fruit tree that can be espalier especially a kind that might not grow normally in my very cold climate of zone 3b/4a Quebec Canada.  I am unable to grow many of the fruit trees like peach, paw paw persimmons that will grow in zone 5 a few hundred miles away.

It will draw out some of the "goofiness" in me as it will be fun to experiment. 

--
I do have a regret, before I learnt about permaculture and that it is possible to plant an apple tree and keep it pruned at a certain size.  I had the belief that apples trees should be grown to maturity in size.

Where we live now, our lot is very small so we purchased an ornamental compact siberian crab apple tree to fit the space.

If the nursery man would of told me that I can plant cultivated good eating apple tree but keep it well prune (with minimal effort) to a small size, I would now have lots of apples to eat.  Yes, I now know that I can graft onto it, but we will sell our house and build on our 1.5 acre land.  So all our energies is put trying to make our new land the permaculture paradise that we desire.



So now I am passionate about encouraging others especially those who live in cities to plant fruit trees and as many as can fit in their yards for variety by planting cultivated small varieties or pruning them to keep them small or even espalier them. 

The truth of the matter is that most residential properties do not even have one fruit tree because they imagine that one fruit tree will overtake their small yard (Like I use to believe) and then they have thousands of rotten apples on the ground which they hate picking up in the fall.  So they do not even plant in the first place. 

But if some learn that they could even grow fruit trees and keep them at a manageable size through pruning or espalier, then maybe some will now grow small fruit tree and experiment with espalier fruit trees in spaces that they thought would never have the space for a fruit tree.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
gardener
Posts: 1898
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
349
bee chicken food preservation fungi greening the desert
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

My grapes are essentially pruned to an espalier system each spring. I use a fence instead of a wall, but same thing. Grapes are most productive when about 90% of the previous year's growth is removed.

 
Mark Blackburn
Posts: 7
Location: Salem, oregon
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I'd point out an espalier is trained early in life. The pruning cuts are on small branches that grow larger over time.  The goal would be to have the cambrium layer extend over the heart wood, encapsulating the pruning cut.  Encapsulating the cut would actually make espalier BETTER than orthodox tree structures.

Also mentioned here, espalier trees get far more attention than an orphan tree.  Espaliers are more compact.  You can see / get at the entire tree.  All this has to provide more opportunity to intercede in maximizing the tree's health.  Joel has extremely active management of his farm, and a big focus for him is to keep his animals healthy.  He doesn't typically call the vet, gotta do things that keep 'em healthy.  Joel doesn't just let 'em run wild.

Last, look at the root / leaf balance on espalier. Constraining the canopy leads to more roots than leaves.  In a healthy espalier the root system drives vitality into the tree.

I am trained in black pine pruning, think bonsai only landscape size.  In Japan these specially pruned trees have achieved ages two or three times a customary natural age.  I doubt the same results could be achieved with espalier (fruit trees produce lignin too rapidly), but espalier could extend the longevity of a fruit tree.  Much like Joel, the espalier gardener is trading their time & effort to achieve a desired product.  It's a choice.
 
John Saltveit
gardener
Posts: 1987
60
bike books food preservation forest garden fungi trees
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Like Michelle said, it all depends.

I live in a suburban location, so I can grow quite a few trees.  I pack it in tightly, like nature, unlike a traditional orchard.   I usually do it on a semi-dwarf rootstock, so it anchors better and mostly won't need watering eventually.

Many of my friends live in the city.  They get a postage stamp, not a real yard.  Espalier is really their only hope of growing a few different varietes of fruit. They are also easier to mix in with vegies and flowers to make a balanced, biodiverse landscape.

In my location, I agree with you Marco.  The shape and structure of a tree allows nature to do its job. An entomologist once told me that one of the most effective means of fighting orchard pests is to have different levels of height in the yard, so natural predators of pests can do their job, like spiders, helpful insects. hummingbirds, and other small birds.  The tree shades part of the ground so that we don't dry out too much and get blasted by the summer sun, retaining moisture and life in the soil.  A real tree is a much better attractor of pollinators, because the insect recognizes it for what it is, and because it is a large concentration of blooms= lots of food.
John S
PDX OR
 
Roberto pokachinni
pollinator
Posts: 1078
Location: Fraser Headwaters, B.C., Zone3, Latitude 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
71
bike books food preservation forest garden fungi hugelkultur solar trees woodworking
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I do not necessarily like the idea of this sort of manipulation either, and I can definitely relate to it's feeling a bit like bonsai (but more than just art... quite functional), but I do also feel that it has it's place, not only in my French history, but also in certain circumstances which have already been mentioned. 

The thing about espalier and the reason that it is pruned so efficiently and exactly to form is that is the most productive amount of pruning that can be done to maximize large fruit.  Espalier is far more productive by square footage used in a garden than any other fruit tree pattern. 

It may seem highly manipulated, but that, as mentioned, is part of being in the human world.  Manipulation comes from our hands acting on things.  The manipulations of espalier, which might seem onerous to some, are not that great once it is established, and the people who do it usually love it.  That love will be translated directly to the tree and it's produce. 

On top of this, Permaculture is often a highly manipulated state, at least initially.  We try to tip the ecosystem and landscape systems in our favor, often with brute force (see sepp holzer's landscape).  But like in espalier the main manipulation and work is done in the initiating phase, and the rest is just training/pruning. 

Another example is when I pinch off my basil both to harvest and stimulate branching and more growth.  I manipulate that plant severely, and it is only an annual so this heavy manipulation is for a large part of a fairly short lifespan.  

Espalier was proven over time, with exacting 'French' anal retentiveness.  And I can safely say that since I'm 100% French.

Unlike the brutal 'pruning' that a bear can do when climbing a fruit tree, or pulling a branch down, which often seriously harms or kills a tree, proper fruit tree pruning can actually benefit a tree's health by eliminating disease, dead branches, or crossed branches that rub on other branches.  I will likely have to put up a highly manipulative electric fence to keep the bears out!  

In France, there are Espalier pear trees that are still producing at the ripe old age of 150, so I doubt that this type of pruning shortens the life span of a tree.
There are other examples.  If done correctly, and at the right time of year, pruning does little physical harm to a tree, and like good coppice techniques can stimulate growth, extend youthfulness, and as a result actually extend the life of a tree.  

I do go back and forth on this subject.  I'm a big fan of Fukuoka, and also of all things wild and allowed to be feral.  I feel that things like hydroponics take the art of gardening into ways that seem a little too artificial for me.  And like with Marco, he is just voicing an opinion, and asking whether we think it's goofy...  I might not choose that word, but it is, indeed a highly manipulated state to place another living being in.  And the deeper inner Buddhist in me has a thing for respecting all living beings.  That pruning to espalier is high end manipulation is without question.  And sometimes my sensitivity to such manipulation (even to my basil) is overwhelming my spirit.  Often I am able to convince myself that all is well in the basil plant's world.  Life is full of compromise in this way. 

While I agree that it is best, if possible to let a tree be a tree and express it's tree-ness, I do actually think that calling a highly productive and efficient gardening technique goofy detracts from it's potential for knowledge/wisdom/health/wellness/beauty(in the eye of the beholder), etc.  

While I'm not really into doing much of this sort of thing to my trees at this time (particularly since I have lots of space), I leave it to others to define what they do, and create their own personal ethics/philosophy/methods that best suit their Spirit/space in the world. 
 
Madeleine Innocent
Posts: 6
Location: Western Australia
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I think there is a similar argument against grafting. Trees don't like it, I'm sure. But I do like the result.
 
Leslie Parsons
Posts: 1
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
When we understand the history of food, we see that the plants that were gathered in ancient times have been altered by the human family, in drastic ways.  Fruit trees are probably one of the best examples.  If you want a tiny crabapple or similar fruit, plant a landrace tree.  It will be completely "natural".  If you want a sweet, juicy apple that fills your hand, you have to take advantage of thousands of years of selective breeding, and the cultivation techniques that these special plants require.  We have more pest and disease issues than they did, which make preventive cultivation systems even more important. 

I have experimented with Permaculture techniques, in my orchard, and I have determined that my results are better, if I use the vast knowledge that has come down from our ancestors.  I get much better results.  Cultivation practices in mainstream chemical agriculture today are not the same as our legacy of past techniques. I want an orchard that is easy to maintain and easy to pick.  I do not want to fight through a thicket of brush and branches to pick fruit that is not maximized for size and quality.  These practices were developed by people who needed food, not by armchair agriculturists, who buy their food at the supermarket.

As far as the welfare of the plants is concerned, they want life.  They are capable of reverting to their original form through dropping seeds.  If you desire a landrace tree, it is easy to cultivate one - just keep planting seeds and let the trees cross pollinate, instead of planting grafted trees.  I love the entire dance of fruit tree cultivation and care.  But, if I don't get food production, that tree does not stay in my orchard.     
 
David Gould
Posts: 17
Location: united kingdom south wales on a hillside
2
  • Likes 5
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Espaliers are good if you're disabled and can't reach high up a normal tree.
I'm crippled in my spine & arms as a result of an industrial accident .
A friend showed me that i can have espalier & cordon apple trees as a low height fence . Being less apples on them they tended to also give larger & better quality fruit once they were established .

So 20 years ago I grew sixteen espalier apple & pear trees  on steel wires as my perimeter fence line & two sets of 10 cordon apple & pear  trees on wires as garden separators  . It took eight years of TLC before they really got going well but after that there was no looking back .

Another advantage besides there not being a large foot print to each tree is that come forecast frosty weather , if there is bud ,flowers or fruit on them I was able to throw a light white garden fleece over them ..something I couldn't do even on a half standard size full grown tree.
 
Gilbert Fritz
Posts: 1156
Location: Denver, CO
15
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Good point David; I'm planning to do extensive espalier to overcome my crazy Colorado weather, with late frosts, sudden cold spells, and hail.
 
Victor Johanson
Posts: 368
Location: Fairbanks, Alaska
13
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Marco Banks wrote:

1.  As Joel Salatin says, let a cow express his cowness.  Let a pig express his pigness.  A happy pig is doing what a pig was intended to do—root, wallow, socially hang out with the other pigs, and scamper around the trees looking for acorns.  A happy tree is one whose branches reach up for the sunlight, whose roots spread widely and reach deeply, and whose leaves drop beneath it to mulch the soil and feed the microorganisms.  It just seems to take the very tree-ness of the tree and turn it into a balloon animal.

2.  I've read (somewhere, I forget) that heavy pruning actually shortens the life of a fruit tree significantly.  A preach tree shouldn't crap out and die after 20 years, should it?  And apple tree should outlive me and then some.  Does anyone know how espaliering a tree impacts the lifespan of said tree?  There has been much written on this site and elsewhere about planting apple trees from seed and never pruning them.  I'm not anti-pruning, but turning it into a right-angled trellis-looking thing . . . that's about 3 steps too far. 

3.  What is it about the tight-ass control thing that bugs me?  Trees are not our bitches.  The tree says, "Hey -- there are some unused photons going to waste over in this area.  I think I'll grow a branch that direction and keep them from going to waste, converting them into fruit."  Along comes the tree-control dude with his little loppers --- thawack -- off goes the wayward unauthorized branch.  Geez . . . if I had someone beating me into submission every time I wanted to sprout a new branch, I'd say, "Screw it" and just die. 

Am I alone in this?  Live and let live.



I used to also regard pruning as a form of objectionable interference with a tree's "treeness," until I started reading the work of notable tree guru Alex Shigo. He makes the valid point that trees are community organisms, so that when we remove them from their communities, we assume the responsibility of insuring their welfare. Trees in a forest cooperate in many ways--sheltering one another from wind and interlocking their roots to resist deracination, for example. They also exhibit a strikingly different growth habit from those growing individually. Forest trees compete with each other for light and grow taller and straighter, with narrower crowns. But trees spaced apart spread their branches, and can eventually overgrow their mechanical support capabilities. Thus, without intelligent intervention (pruning), they will usually be subject to catastrophic failure and potential death at some point.

Pruning can drastically increase a tree's lifespan, if you include coppicing and PROPER pollarding (not the topping of mature trees, a harmful and unfortunate practice which today is often erroneously labeled as such). These practices keep a tree in its juvenile growth stage and can prolong its life nearly indefinitely. According to Forestry Commission England, most of the biggest and oldest trees in the New Forest are pollards, some having survived more than 1,000 years. A small-leaved lime tree in Gloucestershire, one of Britain's oldest trees, was recently coppiced to continue its longevity.

It's not as straightforward as it seems--read Shigo and you will be amazed at the things you never knew about trees. In his longstanding role as chief scientist for the US Forest Service, he dissected more than 15,000 trees, discovering many previously unknown facts about how trees function. Trees don't heal, for example. Animals are regenerative organisms that heal, replacing damaged tissue in the same location with new cells. Trees, as generative organisms, don't have this capacity; they compartmentalize injuries by growing new tissue around them, leaving the damage intact. He also dispels common misconceptions about "feeding" trees. Food is an energy source, and trees don't take up energy through their roots, but from the sun and atmosphere. Shigo refers to what most people call "feeder roots" as "absorbing roots."

Seriously, check out Alex Shigo. He's dead now, but his knowledge revolutionized arboriculture:

https://shigoandtrees.com/
 
John Saltveit
gardener
Posts: 1987
60
bike books food preservation forest garden fungi trees
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Yes, actually many trees prune themselves.  I have seen many interior branches that weren't getting much sunlight. I thought, "Oh no, they won't help. They'll just clog up and attract fungus in our wet springs."  Sure enough, they dried up and fell off the tree.

This might only occur on trees that are adapted well to your climate, as this tree was.
John S
PDX OR
 
Devin Lavign
pollinator
Posts: 347
Location: Pac Northwest
22
books chicken forest garden goat hunting solar trees wofati woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I keep noticing responses that seem to think Marco is anti pruning. He specifically stated he is not.

Marco Banks wrote:I'm not anti-pruning, but turning it into a right-angled trellis-looking thing . . . that's about 3 steps too far.


Marco Banks wrote:Pruning = natural and good.  Uber-pruning into poodle trees = goofy (in my very generous opinion).  Please note that goofy does not mean evil, never-to-be-done, or even wrong.  Just goofy.  And just my opinion.


He seemed to only want to question the practice of excessive pruning and control of a tree's growth in techniques like espailering. Personally I agree with him. I do some pruning myself, but really don't understand excessive control of plants. Maybe it is Paul's permiculture philosophy of being lazy, and letting nature work for you rather than working to control nature. But for me training trees into latices just tends to be too much effort in my opinion.

As I mentioned in my first response, I see the art of it, and even admire what can be done with it. But it just doesn't float my boat. It does surprise me how many folks I see who are into permiculture who espouse very heavy control methods like espailering. To me it just seems so counter to the ideas of permiculture so yes I agreed with him that it seems goofy. But I, and I don't think he, was trying to say you can't do it or that pruning in itself is wrong.

Just a little heads up for future additions to this thread.
 
Kyrt Ryder
Posts: 745
Location: Graham, Washington [Zone 7b, 47.041 Latitude] 41inches average annual rainfall, cool summer drought
11
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Imo something like espalier is appropriate as part of a nature hacking strategy.

Small spaces can grow more human food with an espalier fence around the edges [including against the walls.]

Sometimes espalier is a valuable tool in climate hacking, such as citrus or avocado or fuzzy kiwi against a fruit wall in my clime here.

But it's a lot of work, so it has to be 'worth it' to make sense to me.
 
John Saltveit
gardener
Posts: 1987
60
bike books food preservation forest garden fungi trees
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Part of pruning is about adapting the plants to your climate.

I grow quince, which is from dry, middle eastern places.

When it grows in the rainy PNW, it creates too many branches, has poor air circulation and gets fungal disease.  I prune it to adapt it to my climate. 

Of course, I could refuse to grow quince or peaches, but I like eating them and they are healthy.  The prunings can turn into new plants, onto which I can graft pears, or provide food for the soil microbiome.

If I thought peaches or quince were mediocre, it wouldn't be worth it.

Hence, I don't grow jujube.
John S
PDX OR
 
Kyrt Ryder
Posts: 745
Location: Graham, Washington [Zone 7b, 47.041 Latitude] 41inches average annual rainfall, cool summer drought
11
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
John Saltveit wrote:Of course, I could refuse to grow quince or peaches, but I like eating them and they are healthy.  The prunings can turn into new plants, onto which I can graft pears, or provide food for the soil microbiome.

If I thought peaches or quince were mediocre, it wouldn't be worth it.

Hence, I don't grow jujube.

Is there something I should know about 'pruning needs' for Peaches and Jujube on the wet side of the PNW?
 
John Saltveit
gardener
Posts: 1987
60
bike books food preservation forest garden fungi trees
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I don't know how long you've been growing peaches, but they tend to get quite a few fungal diseases over time.  They hate our early, wet springs.  They end up not setting fruit every year, and the trees don't live long even in climates they like, such as Eastern WA or OR.  I prune them to adapt them to our wet climate.
John S
PDX OR
 
Merodean LaRose
Posts: 8
  • Likes 5
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I planted four fruit trees 5 years ago. First I planted in the middle of the lawn and got so frustrated mowing around them that I moved them along the fence and decided to learn espaulier. I have not regretted it for a minute. I have Plum, Peach, Asian Pear, and Apricot. This year I harvested 7 plums, 3 peaches, 0 Apricots, and about 5 paper grocery bags of Asian Pear! I love that I can protect my fruit from the hordes of Starlings. I do leave some for the birds. There's not so much fruit that it's wasted and I'm really enjoying learming the process . In between the trees are grapes being grown by the kniffen method. Its all very neat and tidy and fun. Sorry, can't get my picture to post. Think the ((old) maid on the raisen box ; )  I highly recommend the Espaulier method!

Oh, cool the picture posted. Tiny Asian pears this year. I got the 5 bags from the little tree at my elbow.
Screenshot_2016-12-18-20-45-01.png
[Thumbnail for Screenshot_2016-12-18-20-45-01.png]
 
Peter Ellis
Posts: 1394
Location: Central New Jersey
39
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
When I think of permaculture, I think of the three ethics as the first test - care for the earth, care for people, return the surplus. I see nothing about espalier that does not fit within these ethics. So, nothing to suggest to me that espalier is "not permaculture".

The challenge with permaculture design is in choosing appropriate elements for the given circumstances. Putting an espaliered tree against the south face of a stone wall to allow growing a plant in an area normally too cold for it is an entirely reasonable technique. Regarding the whole "making nature your bitch" thing - we choose guilds, grouping together plants of our selection, to our purposes for our benefit, instead of letting nature fill in itself  - are we making nature our bitch with those choices? Or are we just practicing permaculture?

Espalier is just one more technique to be applied when and where it is appropriate to maximize yields.
 
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
Boost this thread!