Espalier apples in urban Boston area garden - 7 year checkup

I started my espalier project with some very small grafted trees from Cummins in spring of 2014, so most of my 7 trees have been through 7 seasons at my place. Some of them have died and been replaced, but in general the project is coming along ok.

This last season was tough. The trees grew pretty well and no major disease problems, but the squirrels were out of control and took or destroyed 90% of the fruit before it was ripe, despite me trapping them vigorously which has in previous years been enough to save most of the apples. What was left was riddled with bug damage - not sure what kind but it left those small and numerous brown spots just under the skin. So pretty disappointing from a fruit perspective. Not sure what to do about the squirrels, but I’ll try spraying Surround next season to see if I can make some headway on the bugs.

Here is Roxbury Russet on G11/M111 interstem, spring 2020 and winter 2021. The top two rungs are grafted to a found variety from Maine my friend Ben and his parents call Indian Point Russet. This tree is well behaved and fruits reliably. One issue I have with it is that it doesn’t have very many leaves and shows little inclination to put off new shoots from the laterals. That makes it easy to prune and keep in bounds but it seems to lack the vigor and sheer photosynthetic power to ripen many apples. I tried inarching a piece of rootstock to add more vigor but it didn’t take.

Next is Goldrush on G11/M111 with a piece of G935 inarched to add vigor. Top two rungs are grafted to Centennial, which has a much different type of leaf; quite weepy looking. Goldrush is fantastic - this tree has grown at a reasonable rate and been easy to train, and fruits reliably. The apples do take until the bitter end of the season to ripen, so it is hard to keep the squirrels off. I have not had any fruit yet from the Centennial part; there were a couple this year but they got taken by squirrels (you can see a couple flowers on the left of the top rung).

Next is Sweet Sixteen on G30. This is the one tree in my lineup that has too much vigor - it wants to grow wood and not apples. It is certainly the most burly and well developed of the trees, trunk is probably 60mm diameter. Middle rung is Bramley’s Seedling and the top two rungs are Reine des Reinettes. In spring I tried scoring the trunk with my grafting knife and putting some notches below branches to help convince it to fruit more. There were a couple apples on it but they got taken by squirrels.

Next is a King David on G222, but grafted over to Wickson above the second rung. This tree was originally a Wickson but I killed it by painting straight neem oil on the G11 interstem in August some years back. So this one is younger than the three previous. I want to form a heart shape in the middle of this tree. I was living overseas for almost a year during the forming of the heart so it really got away from me. Should have just cut it back and started over but instead I tried to shape the hardened limbs last spring using saw cuts, etc. It certainly helped but it still looks wonky. The Wickson part of the tree had quite a few apples but they were mostly shot with bug damage. You can also see the lower left lateral is too weak and underdeveloped. I tried to notch above it in spring but it didn’t seem to make a lot of difference. The Wickson is much more vigorous than the King David part, so it would have been better to have their positions inverted.

Here is some healing saw cuts in a place I tried to bend more. The cambium ended up dying in between the cuts in this and other similar places, but more than half is still alive so it will probably heal over eventually.

Next we have a Redfield on G935, grafted to Hoople’s above the first rung. This tree replaced an Opalescent which got absolutely destroyed by fireblight. It is growing slowly and doesn’t look like much yet but I guess it will eventually get there. It is hard to be patient :slight_smile: Lower left lateral needs some help - this is another one where the variety on top seems more vigorous than the one on the bottom and thus exacerbates the existing tendency in this direction from apical dominance.

Next is an Ashmead’s on G11/M111 interstem which has been there since the beginning but had slowed down to a standstill. So I inarched a piece of G30 to see if that would juice it. It has grown more since then, though I also added drip line for watering. Third rung up is supposed to be Pitmaston Pineapple, but there were some apples last season and they really looked like Calville. I’ll have to ask the squirrels how they tasted. Above that is Chestnut. The left side lateral fifth up from the bottom is not really formed; I think I’ll cut back to that point and let it try again this year.

Last up is a Goldrush on G222, so far unmodified by grafting. I planted this to replace a Tydeman’s which was severely damaged by fireblight and had nearly runted out anyhow. Given the excellent qualities of fruit and tree I observed on my other Goldrush, I wanted more of that action. I’d may graft the top, we’ll see. I do want to try Rubinette someday.



I’d say that your project is coming along a heck of a lot better than “OK”



Thanks for the support Mike. Your trees are an inspiration to those of us who aspire to espalier.


Looking great! I forget without pulling up your other thread- what are the wire heights and spacing? I might put a couple apple into espalier at the front of the yard.


Bottom wire at 90cm, wire spacing 32.5cm.


Thanks for the very informative report! Since you have tried many I am interested in your opinions of the performance of the root stocks, particularly the inter-stems. I am curious about how and when you grafted them. I have a lot of clay in my soil and spring can sometimes be quite wet. I am planning on trying to make some bud9/mm111 interstems, to try to get something with robust roots that has the size ~10-12 ft.

Well, I feel like it is still somewhat early and I have a very small sample size. The year I planted the first trees, Cummins was selling on interstems. I certainly see the attraction and I feel like there is not a lot of options in the sub M111 range until you get pretty small.

But having done it I feel like at least for me it has been a bit of a headache. The G11 tends to get way bigger than the M111 or the top stock and sheds bark in a concerning way. In the pic below you can see where I tried to inarch some bigger size range rootstock on the right to see if I could get this tree to grow bigger. Looks like a real mess, right?

I think the G11 is too dwarfing for the sizes I wanted to fill. I had one tree on B9/M111 interstem but it died before I had many years to evaluate it. My inclination is that it might make your trees a bit smaller than 12’ but I don’t really know.

My feeling was that life would be less complicated just using one rootstock. For the size range I am shooting for it seemed like G935 or G222 would be good, but check back with me in 10 years.


Beautiful :scream:

Espaliers have always fascinated me. I may try one someday :+1:

Thank you for all the info. I am hoping to start my first espalier this spring and have been trying to decide which variety and which rootstock to use. Big help!

Those trees look wonderful! Pruned super nice.

You mentioned this year’s fruit had brown corky tissue under the skin? Wondering if you have the brown marmorated stinkbugs in your area? We just
got them in my area two years ago. Just a few two autumns ago and this past year they were everywhere. All over my house in Autumn and some got inside. My wife hates them! So far no damage on my apples but I suppose it will be one more problem for me to prevent. Normally I am done spraying insecticides by late August. Stinkbugs may force me to have to spray later in the season. I use Imidan but heard that is not so effective on them. Not sure what I will try if it becomes a problem on my apples.

Spartan I haven’t tried it yet, but diatomaceous earth should be effective against the stink bugs. I use it against aphids. It is inexpensive and a non chemical solution.

Yes, less complicated has its appeal. I have also planted some trees on other rootstocks (M7 and G935) to try them out in my situation. In addtion the few bud9/mm111 interstems, I plan to plant a G30 and a G969. I have zero experience with espaliers. Do they require a more vigorous rootstock than what usually seems to be prescribed for a tree of that height? If you are having trouble getting the necessary vigor from rootstock/stem system that seems to be on a 5 foot ish trellis, I am definitely wondering if they will make a 10-12 ft modified central leader.

A couple of questions about the in arch graft… It was it a sucker of the original rootstock or find you plant another right next to it? What kind of graft was it?


The space I’m trying to fill with each tree is about 7.5’ tall by a little over 7’ wide. 6 out of 7 have been smaller than I expected and may eventually fill the space but may stall out before that. The one tree that is a little too big (but I hope to tame eventually) is on G30 - that is probably a better match for a 10’ tree.

I’m not sure about espalier in general as far as growth vs. regular pruned trees. I feel like I’ve seen lots of commercial orchard trees on M111 that are in the 12’ range. I have very little direct experience planting and tending apples, other than these espalier trees. Over the years I’ve helped my friend Ben plant a small orchard in Maine but most of those trees were on Antonovka. More recently we planted some M111 and interstems but it has not been long enough to see their ultimate size.

The arch grafts were from little rootstocks I bought. For my slowest growing tree (ashmeads on G11/M111) I put in a chunk of G30. The goldrush on G11/M111 got a piece of G935. I don’t know what you would call the graft and I wasn’t sure it would work. Basically I cut the end of the new rootstock to a bevel like I was going to do a whip and tongue graft, then I sort of planted it next to the existing tree. I bent the rootstock over to hit the trunk and then in that spot on the trunk I carved away a scallop of bark. I tried to match up cambium on one side and lashed it together with rubber tape. One of these eventually failed but two others seem to be staying attached. Between the interstem and this auxiliary rootstock, it is a real rootstock frankenstein down below on these trees.

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Yes, smallish (2-6mm) spots of brown, corky, flesh just under the skin. Plus some deformation of the surface of the apples, like light catfacing (may or may not be the same issue). I have not noticed BMS bugs at my house, but I have seen them at my office in the last year which isn’t too far away. So that could be it.

Does anyone know if Surround works for BMS?

I have not really had any bug problems on the small amount of apples I had prior to last season, so I didn’t pay that much attention to it.

Oh, one other note on wire height and spacing. I can’t easily reach the top wire for pruning, etc. And given that this is right behind an uneven rock retaining wall, it isn’t great to put a stepstool or anything down, especially if I don’t want to crush the understory plants I have in there. I should make a custom step that accommodates the uneven profile here but I have not done that yet.

Anyway if I were to start over again I would perhaps do only four wires, have the top wire somewhat lower, and have a little more space between wires.

A little more on trying to figure out my apple problems. Some of the pictures I see on the internet of Bitter Pit look a lot like what I had, but there are notes in various places about how BP and stink bug damage look pretty similar. One thing I saw about BP was that it mainly affects the bottom side of fruits - I don’t think that was the case for me. There was also relatively more disfiguration of the surface of fruits around bites, though this may have been from a different bug or issue. I don’t think the bites looked like PC bites. Here are some of my apples with some bites circled. The major divots and scratches are from squirrels, but the lumpiness and circular holes are not.

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One member posted this a while back. I have found it very helpful.

Fruit Injury Types Recognized in Annual New Hampshire Apple Harvest Evaluations [fact sheet] | UNH Extension.

Your fruit may have been damaged by more than one thing.

BTW, very impressed with how your espaliered trees have turned out. Great job.


Thanks for sharing this! I am a growing fruit newbie in NH and love the resources I find from the UNH Extension, but I missed this one!


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The trees look fantastic. Very cool!

I see that you’re growing Bramley’s. I’ve heard different things about how well that variety works in espaliers (due to tip-bearing tendency). I grafted it last year and have been trying to decide whether to espalier it, fan-train it, or grow it as a freestanding tree. What has your experience been so far?

Thank you J. As for Bramley’s, it is on the tree that wants to grow too much and is having a hard time settling down to fruiting. So far only a couple apples have grown on it and none on the rung grafted to Bramley’s. The scion is quite vigorous and grew well as a graft. It wants to grow too much wood, just like the rest of the tree, but probably that is down to the rootstock maybe being too big for the space I want to keep it in (G30). If I ever get any apples from it I’ll try to remember to send you an update.

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