Prune to train espalier

It’s it to late too prune these 2 Asian pear trees for espalier training?

If not to late, any idea where/how I should prune?

Hi Sheri,

A couple of questions that might help people give useful advice.

First, are these newly planted trees? (Guessing that it is from the look of the tag.)

What kind of espalier are you attempting?

Are any of the branches on the tree at or near the height you want for the scaffolds of the espalier? (I’m having trouble getting a sense of scale from the picture.)

Are there buds on the tree at or near the height you want for the scaffolds of the espalier? (If so, you may be able to promote the desired branching by notching - the search function on the forum may help you find details on this technique, which is a good thing to have in your tool kit for managing an espalier).


Hi, thanks for the questions.

They were planted last spring.

I’m hoping to train a horizontal cordon.

Yes, one or more of the existing branches would be good for the first tier (the larger tree, first branch from bottom is ~16" from ground). But the branch/scaffold lengths are very unbalanced (you see the very long one on the left side).

There are buds all along the tree, so I should be able to choose from them as the scaffolds.

What is that fence behind the tree?

Hi again Sheri,

If the trees have been in the ground a year, that gives you a little more leeway to prune them. (My experience has been that pears can be slow to establish, and that it’s better to let them do that before you try to do too much with them. Others, much more knowledgeable than myself, have suggested the same thing.)

If you do have a branch at the level you want for the first tier, that’s great! I would start training it down. You could probably prune back the tip a bit if you want to do that, but you could also wait until the summer and see how things go before you do that. If you train down the longer branch while letting the shorter one grow more vertically for a while, the shorter one may start to catch up a bit.

If you have buds that you want to promote into branches to start the next tier, you could notch the bark above the buds in question to encourage that. (By “notch,” I mean score the bark through the cambium - green - until you hit the white wood below. This interrupts the flow of sap and encourages branching. Don’t girdle the entire trunk, of course! Just a little above the bud.)

In the big picture, things are probably going to look a little gangly and unbalanced for a while. It’s just the nature of the beast. So, don’t feel like you have to get everything just so at this point in the process. You’ll be able to shape things up and balance things out as you go along. And eventually, it will look awesome.

Best of luck!

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Thank you so much for taking your time writing all this for me. One more question. You see that taller tree, the central leader is super tall, should I head that back to where I want the seconnd tier, or let those buds grow scaffolds and wait till coming late winter to head the central?

How many tiers do you want? If you just want 2, cut it where you want the 2nd. If you want 3+, I like JinMA’s idea of notching where you want the 2nd and letting the central leader grow more.


I’m going for at least 3, preferably 4 tiers. Thank you.

If you’re going for three or four tiers, I would go with Bob’s suggestion: keep growing out the central leader and use notching to encourage branching off that.

Here is one useful thread on notching: How many of you use the "notching" technique to encourage fruiting

I would do a heading cut just below where you want the second tier, then use the first bud for the new leader and the next two as your arms for that tier. Notch above two appropriate lower buds to encourage growth for the first tier. Probably a good idea to get your wires up soon since that will help you envision what you are shooting for more easily, and provide you a place to strap down new growth when needed this season.

At least in my experience if you try to use too much upper growth, your lower tiers may not grow as much as you want them to since the vegetative growth likes to concentrate on the upper part of your plant. Even if you do as I have and only try for one tier per year, I have some lower tiers which are runty. So if you wanted to be more sure about lower tier growth, you could head at the first wire and go from there. But it is tempting to try to get two tiers to start with, I admit.