Espalier older Williams pear tree

This fall I planted 4 fruit trees (2 pear, 2 apple) against an eastern facing brick wall in our city garden. Although I inquired around quite a lot, I didn’t manage to acquire 1y old cordon trees, which would have been ideal to start as espaliers. Grafting my own would have been an option too, but I was eager to get something in the ground.

So, instead, I got 2(?) year old low-stem trees which are already more established. The ‘Williams’ is the one that 'll need most work:

I’d like to go for a multi-layer horizontal espalier, since I think that would be the easier form to start with and visually most fitting for these 4 trees in a restricted space.
My idea for pruning can be seen from the way the branches are tied: keep the two small twigs tied to the horizontal bamboo for the first layer, the 1 twig tied to the vertical bamboo as a (new) leader, and prune away all the rest just before the start of the growing season. This is a quite drastic measure however (85% of the tree pruned?). Do you think it can be done? Any more advice for an espalier novice? Looking forward to reading your advice!

One more picture for an overview of what got planted :slight_smile: . Order of varieties left to right:

  • :pear:Doyenné du Comice
  • :apple: Reinette De France
  • :apple: Jonathan
  • :pear: Williams


Dont be in a hurry. Take two years to develop the first cordon. Save the two shoots that you have selected. Cut them back to one or two inches leaving an upward facing bud. Cut the main upright about an inch above the wire. Keep it below four inches until your ready to go to the next layer.

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Dont take this as experienced advice… because until a couple summers ago I had no experience with espellar. I had seen a few youtube vids and thought it was interesting.

Two springs ago I bought a Novamac apple on B9. It was a nice long whip… 4.5 ft long. But in shipping the top of the box had been crushed and the top 1.5 ft if the whip broken clean off.

I pruned it just below the break at a nice bud… and it grew well… initially that top bud put out a cluster of blossoms…

Wow… i was not expecting that but it did… i pulled them about a week later and that summer from the top section of that whacked off whip… it sent out 5 or 6 nice branches.

By the end if the first season this is what it looked like.

I summer pruned it late summer that first season and several fruit spurs developed. The next spring 20+ blossom clusters.

I summer pruned it again this year and you should see all the fruit spurs on those branches… it is loaded.

Now i did not follow anyones rules on how to get those branches started down the espellar lines… they were new limber branches and i just bent them and tied them where i wanted them.

It may not look like some might expect an espellar to look… but do I care ? Nope… not at all. It has 20 or more fruit spurs on each of those 4 branches now… cant wait to see it in bloom next spring.

Good luck to you !



Thanks both for these encouragements!

I have already read about the importance of building patiently, layer by layer. However, (strongly) cutting back the side-shoots that are forming the layer I hadn’t heard about yet. Would you like to elaborate on that @Masbustelo ? To encourage vigor and make the new bud grow further/faster than keeping the layer as-is would?
As can seen in the bottom picture, especially the leftmost tree has quite long twigs on the first layer already. They’re only a couple of cm short from their final length. Would you recommend cutting back those too?

I think if your serious about growing espaliers, the best advice is to get a good book about it. Normally i can’t recomend one. Because my favorite one is in Dutch. And most here don’t speak that.

You might actually be an exception? Or are you from the “French” part of Belgium?

This is the book I’d recommend

It’s quite technical and goes into a lot of detail. So it might not feel “super beginner friendly”. But seeing as your jumping straight into making 4 espaliers. You might not be the standard beginner.

I would also think about the espalier form you want.

Because i disagree with this statement.
Multi layer horizontal espaliers are actually quite challenging. They are quite easy and fast to make. And than look quite spectaculair for a year or 2. But quite soon you can run into “vigor problems” usually the bottom cordon (horizontal) almost completely stops growing. While the horizontals on top grow thicker and thicker. And start putting out a lot of vertical growth.

This is why you usually take 2 years per stage or “layer” This gives the lower stages time to make thicker branches that get more “vigor” of the tree. And thus stay balanced with horizontal branches above.

A more beginner friendly form would probably be a fan. That form is a lot more forgiving.

Although a multi layer horizontal espalier looks quite spectacular. But so does a candelabra. Those might be more challenging in some respects but imo are a bit more forgiving balance wise. (candelabra is on the front of the book, click on the link above)

some things to pay attention to on horizontal espaliers.
Branch angle of the horizontals. Steeper is more vigor. more horizontal is less vigor. (so usualy you want higher layers to be more horizontal then lower layers)

branch thickness, thicker branches = more vigor. So lower branches should be thicker than the layer above them. Hence the usual 2 years per layer.

bending the end of a horizontal branch upwards will restore apical dominance. And thus grow a long vertical shoot. that than can easily be bend horizontal end of summer. This is a good way to quickly fill the width of your layer.

You could if you want, start grafting a different variety for each layer. Ideally you’d put more vigorous varieties on the bottom layer and the least vigorous on the top.

I’m in the Netherlands btw. And have spare scions of 50+ apple varieties (and next years probably some pears and others to) each winter after pruning. If you ever need some to graft, let me know. And i can put some in the mail.


i would keep their full length. And bend the last part upwards 45 degrees or even close to vertical. This will make the terminal bud grow a new branch and lengthen those horizontals.

But this is just what i would do. There is no “1 way to make an espalier” multiple different technique’s could lead to very similar results.

If you keep your current 2 horizontals and prune almost all the rest off. (leave a little of the vertical main leader (1-2 buds stump) and summer prune/nip the buds of that vertical regularly.

The tree will likely respond with a lot of vigor and growth. And you run a high risk of getting a lot of strong vertical growing branches on your horizontals. Bending the tips of those horizontals upwards will help a little. But you will likely have to keep pruning the strong vertical growth multiple times next season.

Looking at the picture the wall and spacing seems to be 2 meter wide/high?

What rootstock are those tree’s on?

As a last note. What if seen on my own tree’s. Is that a lot of the branch thickness seems to come from the shoots/leaves that grow from that branch. And little from the fruit that the branch supports.
Some of my horizontal cordons that where kept horizontal made more fruit, and have quite thin branches. Where the ones where i let the end grow more vertical, made less spurs and grew more new twigs/branches and have much thicker horizontals.

Directing to much of the vigor into fruit to early on a horizontal espalier, might make the next stage or layer take a bit longer. Or increase the likelihood of running into vigor difference problems later.

If they are within a couple cm of the desired length, I would leave them. But I definitely would not go to the second level this season. Everyone that does says they regretted it later on. I am a constant pincher of new growth. My thought is that espalier can almost be a type of bonsai where you maintain it as you see fit. Bonsai is never left to it’s own for months at a time. The purpose being to get many many spurs.


Again… yep… breaking the espellar rules… but I only pruned my little Novamac on B9 once late winter collecting scionwood (mostly) and once again late summer for summer pruning to encourage fruit spur development.

Its 4 branches are loaded with fruit spurs now at the end of year 2.

When i summer pruned it both years… I left some nice scionwood to develop and then collected that early Feb for scion.

Minimalistic espellar seems to work well too.

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Thanks so much for this pointer! I’m natively Dutch speaking, although French would work too if you have a specific book to recommend.
I just sent out an e-mail to order “De teelt van Leifruitbomen”. It’s hard to come by such a specific book on one’s own is my impression. There are many high-quality books on pruning out there, but although they almost always have a little chapter dedicated to espalier, those often aren’t of much use once you really get into the practical side of it.

I understand. For now, I think I’ll stick to my original plan of the horizontal ones and give it my best shot with all the advice I’ve gotten (and will get from the book). Won’t rush it! On the other hand this will mainly be a learning experiment no matter what, since we’re currently in a rental property and probably only will stay a couple of years.

So kind to propose, thanks! For reasons mentioned above probably not coming season, but I very much hope I can take you up on that offer one day!

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Sounds like a good way to “channel” the vigor. Bending horizontal the new growth by the end of the season then.
Was definitely planning on pinching intensively as @Masbustelo suggests too in order to keep the vertical shoots back and encourage density instead.

I don’t know :frowning: . They’re all “struiken” (whatever that exactly may mean) from Van Pelt. Since they’re meant to become small trees, I assumed that they’d at least not have the uncontrollable full-size tree vigor.
I originally planned on getting 1 year old cordons from Calle-plant, who do specify rootstocks used, but to my disappointment, they no longer sell these in low volume to private consumers any more. I’ve done some research to find a nursery that sells what I was looking for, but a place that has a nice assortment of young cordons that will sell small volumes I have yet to find. Already-trained (4y old or so) trees are more common, but what’s the fun in that? :wink:

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With apples and pears your usually lucky. Since a lot of growing for the “industry” happens in the Netherlands (and i guess Belgium to?)
So most likely when not specified, a weaker rootstock has been used. (due to their mass production for industry, weaker growing rootstocks are cheaper)

if i had to guess, id say your apples might be on M9 or maybe M26.

Pears likely on quince C or Adams or A (kwee)
Most likely your pears will have a bit more vigor than your apples. Since the likely rootstocks for pears are more vigorous than M9 for apples.

Your soil on the picture looks quite dark (do you have loam or clay soil?). So if i guessed correctly on rootstock. Your spacing seems just about perfect. (although depending on soil, if your apples are on M9, they might lack a bit of vigor to completely fill a multi layer horizontal espalier of 2 meter wide/high. You could let them grow a little less wide. and make the pears a little wider)

I would warn against buying fruit tree’s without knowing the rootstock though. More so for plums/cherries than apples/pears. Since the more commonly used (cheaper) rootstocks for plums/cherries are way more vigorous and tend to make quite large tree’s. You likely want to know how large those get before planting.

Unfortunately it is becoming a bit of a trend here that fruit tree sellers no longer know or specify the used rootstocks. It’s getting harder and harder to find ones who do.

I have no experience with either of the nursery’s you linked.

Could you look at your Williams pear? Does it have 2 grafting spots?
If i am not mistaken, Williams has some compatibility issue’s with quince (kwee) rootstocks. It’s best for pears that aren’t compatibly to have an inter stem. Although not all nursery’s do this or know to do this. If seen more and more pear tree’s without an interstem. It can take a few years to “show symptoms”. And at that point most people don’t know what happend or won’t go back to complain. So business wise i guess it makes financial sense to not take on the extra expense to graft an interstem. I’m not saying your tree lacks an interstem (hard to judge from picture, and i don’t know the nursery) just saying it’s a possibility.(looking at the picture. there seems to be a graft union (bud graft) just below the horizontal. Where the main stem has a slight “bend”. If that’s the williams graft union. Some of the lowest side branches could be of the interstem. You could leave one of those side branches. On the picture they don’t look like quince. But it’s hard to judge from a zoomed in picture online) If you leave some of the bottom most branches (or shorten them) you can see what the leaves look like and than prune in spring. Then you would know more. Or if you can find a clear graft union very low, then it’s highly likely an interstem has been used.

The doyenne is fine. Doyenne is used as an interstem and has good compatibility.

I would not buy tree’s if the seller could not tell me what rootstock was used. And in the case of pears if it had an inter-stem or not. But i might be a bit extreme there. And it gets harder and harder to find sellers who know those things.

I can highly recommend de on line catalogus - boomkwekerij de linde

I always wanted to visit / see his nursery. But just found out he is retiring soon. Although the nursery is still open this year (and hopefully next year to)

I got lucky a few years ago, when he had enough customers in the Netherlands to drive there. And he delivered some plants. The plants where excellent. Although he sometimes delivers (if he comes near you or you don’t live to far away) as far as I’m aware, he doesn’t ship tree’s by post.

He specifies rootstocks. Uses interstems where necessary for pears. And has a large amount of rare and disease resistant varieties. I’m really sad we’re loosing such a good nursery. Although i certainly think he has earned his retirement.

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Thanks for the pointers on possible rootstocks. Going to keep those with my other notes about the trees.
I totally agree on the “don’t buy with unknown rootstocks”, but as you point out yourself, this very much reduces the pool of potential nurseries to buy from. Next time I’m going to ask though. I can only assume that the professional nurseries know, but don’t bother specifying “since most customers don’t care”.

I just checked. It does. One close to the ground, another one clearly visible in the picture. Everything you see below the shoots that I tied to the bamboo is from the interstem. I might leave one shoot to bud for identification as you suggest.

This one will definitely go on my list. I don’t pass by there often, but when I do I’ll remember.

Without knowing the rootstocks, the planting position was a conscious decision. The apples looked the least vigorous, so I planted those in the most sun-exposed spot. Less sun closer to the house and toward the end of the garden where the pears are.
As for the soil: definitely more loam than clay I’d say. Dark gray, well-draining. Quite fertile I think.

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Just read through another channel that Jan Freriks passed away. See this Pomko article

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im really sad to hear that.
Would have loved to speak to him. I read his book more than twice. And had so many questions about things that weren’t discussed in great detail in the book. Not that the book wasn’t detailed. Quite the opposite. But there is so much knowledge, that it could not possible fit in just 1 book.

Thanks for the link to the article. Was a nice read.

I figured that today was going to be the day! :sun_behind_large_cloud: Since the more mature pear trees in the neighborhood have swelling/breaking buds, I decided it was high time to prune my espaliers-to-be.
Since my last post I read up on the subject and followed an espalier (“leifruit”) course at (great watching someone with tons of experience + hands-on feedback!). With what I learned, I understood that the pruning would have to be even more radical than I originally intended. The Williams from the original post now looks like this:

The buds encircled in green are the ones I pruned for. The side twigs I’m quite confident about, for the new central leader however, I’m wondering if I shouldn’t opt for the one encircled in orange. Cutting that back would leave me with 0 backups (on that shoot) though.

I understood that pruning with “stubs” as seen in the picture is quite contested. My teacher swears by them to prevent dieback of the bud, so that’s what I decided to follow for now.

Feedback much appreciated :slight_smile:
Spring is on its way!


i was gonna say, you pruned to far away from buds. (i don’t stub prune pitfruit)
But if that’s what you where taught you did exactly right.

With this much (but correct for espalier) pruning. I’m expecting quite a few latent (almost invisible buds) to start growing.

Personally i would cut the thick main stem back to the top side branch a cm closer or so. Will remove the stub there. This will give better healing of the larger cut surface.

I don’t think you need to prune back to orange buds. Green ones are fine.

However i would pinch out the growing tip of the top (middle) branch a few times this season. to direct vigor to the left and right side branch.

You likely want to spend 2 years on that bottom tier anyways. So you probably don’t need the 0.5-1m of growth that middle branch would get if you don’t pinch it.

I must commend you on daring to prune back this much. If often given it as advice when people want an espalier from a 2+ year old tree. But there is always a reluctance to prune the needed amount. You did great in my opinion :slight_smile: Although keeping the length of the left and right horizontals would also have been fine in my opinion.