Selecting rootstocks for espalier

Hi everyone,

I’m planning to start a small home orchard/garden with fruit trees around my house in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts (zone 5b/6a, with sandy loam soil). As I’ve been reading around, I’ve become increasingly intrigued by the idea of using espalier. Some of the things that appeal to me about espalier:

(1) It could help us make the most of our somewhat limited space and sun.
(2) It could make it easier for me to take care of our trees. (I want to keep things as minimally toxic as possible, and I understand that espalier, done well, can help to reduce disease pressure.)
3) From what I’ve seen, I like the way it looks.
4) No less significantly, my wife likes the way it looks. An important point, as I’m sure many of you can appreciate!

Specifically, I’m thinking about attempting either a Belgian fence or en arcure style of espalier along the south-facing side of our porch, which gets pretty much all-day sun. The porch is about 24 feet long, and the espalier would ideally be about six feet high (the height of our porch railing). Depending on the specifics of the design, I’ve been thinking that the project would involve somewhere between five and eleven trees.

My questions today are about the best rootstock(s) for such a project, or maybe more accurately, about the tradeoffs involved in choosing one rootstock over another. Following the suggestions of @alan, @mamuang, @figgrower and others in response to my first post here, I’ve been researching rootstocks, and specifically rootstocks for espalier, and I’ve gotten to the point where I wanted to check in and see what insights you all might have to offer. (Apologies in advance for the length of this post, by the way – I’m partly just sorting things out in my own head, and I appreciate your comments even if you don’t have time to read what follows! @MES111, @fruitnut, @applenut, @tomIL, I’ve learned a lot from your comments on previous espalier threads, and hope you may chime in here. )

I know I’m just scratching the surface, but from what I’ve seen, there seems to be a bit of a divide on the question of rootstocks for espalier. In general, most of the things I’ve read seem to recommend using dwarf rootstocks. (This seems to be especially true of the more basic how-to guides.) According to an article on espalier from, however: “As espaliered trees are subjected to intense pruning and ‘braking’ of growth with training, in general, rootstocks permitting vigorous growth should be used.” Getting a little more specific, the author recommends M 7 or MM 106 for larger espaliers using relatively less vigorous varieties (while suggesting something more in the M9 range for more vigorous types). Going even further, indicates that rootstocks as vigorous as MM 111 and Bud. 118 might be appropriate for larger espaliers (though it does suggest dwarf rootstocks for smaller espaliers).

Of course, the difference here depends partly on whether we are talking about smaller espaliers or larger ones. But there does seem to be an underlying difference in emphasis as well: in choosing a rootstock for espalier, should we be more concerned about limited the vigor of the tree, to avoid “fighting against” the desired form of the espalier, or about ensuring that the tree has sufficient vigor to respond well to intensive training and pruning?

While and seemed to be in the minority, I was inclined to give their recommendations a good deal of weight, both because they seemed to know what they were talking about and because what they were saying seemed to fit, at least in principle, with what I’ve seen Alan and others say here about the value and effect of training techniques such as bending and spreading branches. (Though that was mostly with regard to free-standing trees, I think.)

At the same time, I’m concerned about the danger of motivated thinking on my part. Simply put, if I could use MM111, it would make it easier to find a source for some of the varieties that I’m interested in growing (relatively disease-resistant antiques that would be well-adapted to our region, and especially old New England varieties). Of course, I recognize that this has nothing to do with the question of whether using MM111 in an espalier of the scale I’m proposing is a good idea! That being said, it sounds like MM111 does offer some significant advantages from a growing perspective, at least when dealing with a free-standing tree.

But what about espalier? does say MM 111 is appropriate for a large espalier, but how large is large? Here are my back-of-the-envelope calculations so far. According to Burford’s Apples of North America, MM 111 produces a tree 12-18 feet high. (Interestingly, to me at least, the low end is the same as M 7, which Burford puts at 12-14, and less than MM 106, which he puts at 14-18. So is there much of a functional difference between these options, in terms of height control?) I’ve seen people claim that trees on MM 111 can be kept at eight feet with diligent summer pruning, which proper espalier management would certainly involve. If that’s true, then I would think that an espalier (which adds rigorous training and potentially significant root competition to the mix) could be kept even lower. Like, maybe about six feet, just to pick a number totally at random…

What do you all think, and if you’ve worked with espaliers, what does your experience suggest? I would be particularly interested to know what people think about the potential effects of different espalier systems (for example, the horizontal cordon, which typically seems to have a single vertical running up through the however-many tiers, vs. the Y-form of the Belgian fence, which has no vertical above the “foot”, but never gets much below 45 degrees, either, vs. the en arcure, which seems to have almost no vertical and quite a lot at or even below horizontal).

Of course, if you think that anything I’m kicking around here is just a really, really bad idea, feel free to say that, too – and perhaps, to suggest alternatives?

Many thanks,



From my experience in zones 4 &5 in maine, slightly different than your climate, espaliers should not be grown on dwarf rootstocks. From my experience, the root system is the most important; you need a root that will be strong and grow deep. The weight of the above ground parts in an espalier is not symetrical or evenly balanced, so the root needs to be strong. The vigor needs to be sufficient so that it doesn’t runt out with all the pruning, and it would be nice if the rootstock was precocious. In my experience, something that had 75% vigor of standard or greater would be best. Ymmv.


I am growing in the Pacific NW, zone 8a, in heavy clay soil. I use Bud 9, or G 41 rootstocks to grow an espalier 6ft tall, and seven and a half ft wide,. I also have the same rootstocks trained as cordons, planted at a 45 degree angle, growing six feet tall. Both rootstocks are resistant to root rot. G41 has good resistance to appIe replant disease. I use M26 for an espalier fifteen feet wide and six feet tall. The downfall of M26, is that it is more susceptible to collar rot. M7, and M111 would require spacing of between 15 to 20 ft. They would also produce vigorous top growth that would not be desirable for a Belgian fence. You will find that the size of the tree is partially decided by the vigor of the variety chosen. For example, I am growing a very vigorous Chehalis apple, on the very dwarfing M27 rootstock, (usually 6-9 ft tall), that would easily reach 15 feet, if I didn’t prune it heavily. Your growing conditions could yield different results. In Nick’s climate zone, his advice makes more sense, because his biggest concern is tree death due to the cold. Maybe someone else has additional information on rootstock hardiness.

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I am not an expert on espaliers and find the suggestion that pruning and training will adequately steer vigorous rootstocks to compact fruitfulness from Orange Pip, etc intriguing. In my experience M26 makes an ideal rootstock here in the NE for the purpose as I’ve had some difficulty getting more vigorous rootstocks, such as M7 to be adequately productive- but this is based on sites I attend only occasionally and only a couple of varieties.

The variety is as important as rootstock- a Goldrush on 111 will be less vegetative than a Fuji on 26, or at least they’d be about equal.


I did same research for same growing area (Worcester, MA). I found some info from a person who tried M111 with no success in fruiting until he let it grow out of espalier. In his opinion M111 is too vigorous to be espaliered and successfully fruit. Unfortunately I do not remember where I read it to show you source link.


For a free-standing semi-dwarf espalier, go with Geneva.935 understock.

For a Belgian fence, go with G.41 or Budagovsky.9.

Here’s a photo of my Goldrush on G.935. It has nice wide “crotch angles” which will allow me to easily train it towards perpendicular branching:

A video you might find interesting, which features our very own @applenut Kevin Hauser. Here, Kevin visits Lee Calhoun’s Belgian fence on B.9:


You might also try Myers’ Royal Limbertwig, which purportedly conforms to espalier pruning without much trouble.

A video on Myers’ Royal Limbertwig from the late Tim Hensley:

I have a good number of espaliers on a 6’ 3 wire trellis. Most of them are on M26 and G41 a few are on M111. I think G41 would be a good choice for Belgian fence.



I’m no expert in choosing root stock for espalier apple trees though I have 3 of them in my back yard. One bought already trained and formed from Home Depot and the other two I trained from whip, bought at Wilson Nursery. The Home Depot one fruited twice for the past 6 years but the pair that I’ve trained have not even flowered once for the same time period.

The two that I bought and trained from whip are Hudson’s Golden Gem and Red Fuji. Both were planted 8’ apart against a fence facing south, same pruning treatment, water and sun but their growths are not the same. It seems to me the HGG is exceptionally vigorous from top down. The RF is somewhat limited in growth, especially at the bottom rung. I also have a dwarf Honeycrisp in the front yard with literally all the water and sun that it wants. It’s barely growing much for the past 3+ years in that spot. So it is another slow grower too.

With that said, I think besides your choice root stock, you also want to consider the variety’s growth rate if you want certain look (besides fruits, of course). I’m sure some will give you dense greenery and some with minimal green and more skeleton display…

My experiences is very limited. I’m still learning from the experts on this board…

Good luck with your project.


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Thank you to everyone who’s responded - I really appreciate the insights and suggestions. A few things I’ve taken away:

  1. I’m struck by the wide range of suggestions, from Bud. 9 or G 41 (which appear to be the most popular suggestions - Cummins rates them as 25% and 30% of standard, respectively) to @Nick’s experience that something at or above 75% of standard worked out best in his location. I particularly appreciate Nick’s explanation of his thinking on that point.

  2. Looking at the comments from @Nick and @figgrower, location does seem to matter quite a lot (as one might expect). With this in mind, it was helpful to get the comments from @alan and @galinas, who is probably the closest to my own local conditions. I will definitely keep your cautions with regard to vigorous rootstocks in mind.

  3. Variety matters quite a lot, both in terms of vigor and in terms of trainability. Thank you to @figgrower, @alan, and @tomIL for reinforcing this point, and thanks to @Matt_in_Maryland for mentioning the Limbertwigs in this connection - I had been interested in finding out more about them, given their reputation for disease resistance (wonder how they might do further north).

  4. Reading between the lines, there seems to be some suggestion that the particular form of espalier makes a difference: for example, @Matt_in_Maryland suggests B 9 or G41 (Cummins 25%/30%) for a Belgian fence, and G 935 (40%) for a free-standing espalier. Similarly, @39thparallel seems to indicate that he would tend to use a less vigorous rootstock for a Belgian fence than he would for a tiered espalier, and @figgrower suggests that both M7 and M111 would likely produce excessive top growth in a Belgian fence. (If the problem is specifically top growth from the tips of the Y, I wonder if this could be mitigated to some degree by training the tips to form a horizontal top rail (I think I’ve seen diagrams showing this).

This seems to suggest that a Belgian fence curbs vigor (or would it be more accurate to say vegetative growth?) comparatively less than other espalier forms, which makes a good amount of sense. Doing a little probably sketchy math, a single tree trained as a six-foot-high Belgian fence, with the Y starting two feet off the ground, would have a spread of about eight feet and a total scaffold length of about thirteen feet, with two feet vertical and about eleven feet trained to 45 degrees. By contrast, a tree trained as a three tiered horizontal cordon of the same height and spread would have a total scaffold length of about 30 feet (!), with six feet of vertical and 24 feet (!)
trained to horizontal. That would certainly make a difference, I would expect.

Thank you again for taking the time to reply - once again, you all have given me a lot to think about.


Yes, planting at a 45 degree angle decreases vigor, as does bending branches. Any buds or branches that face upwards will be more vigorous.


I’m three years in with my attempt at an espalier micro-orchard across my back fence with 7 trees, and had the same exact questions about roots when I was looking to get started. My top wire is 2.3 meters up (somewhat higher than your target height), with about 2.2 meters horizontal space allocated per tree. The forms I am shooting for are an alternating pattern of horizontal cordon and chevron with central leader.

You will learn a lot the first couple years, and probably wish you had done some things differently! At least that is my experience :slight_smile:

My location is an urban lot in Somerville, which is a neighboring town to Boston. So less cold in winter than the folks in Maine and even a bit warmer than @mamuang who is further inland, but still New England.

I think trying to match vigor of the rootstock/scion combo to the space available is a good idea. With a tree that wants to grow way bigger than the space, you are going to have to do a ton of pruning and even then it may take a long time to settle into fruiting if it ever does. You will continually be fighting the natural tendencies of the tree, and let’s say you neglect the trees for a year or two or move away. It would be nice if it became a disaster slowly rather than quickly, right? Of course it is tough to match the tree to the space ahead of time given all the factors at play, and undershooting on vigor is also not great. My current approach is to shoot for something likely to have a bit more vigor than needed.

In my tiny orchard even, the trees on the west side of the fence are doing about as expected vigor wise, but the ones on the east side are not. The east side gets more afternoon sun so it is drier and hotter (haven’t hooked up irrigation yet). So far all the scions I have used are fine for espalier, though I am walking through to pinch unwanted growth and tie shoots to the trellis every couple days through the growing season. Some varieties seem to take less wrangling than others. For instance Goldrush is very well behaved and easily does what I want. Sweet Sixteen is growing really thick shoots and twigs, which makes me have to shape new growth sooner than I might like, and makes it maybe a little harder to graft other varieties on. Ashmeads Kernel is growing very slowly; I probably undersized the rootstock.

I have a number of M.111/G.11 interstems, which Cummins was offering at the time I started. In retrospect I think I’d opt for a single mid to small size root. I have a couple G.30 and one G.222, and next spring I’m going to add another Goldrush on G.222 or a Redfield on G.935 to replace an Opalescent on interstem that got completely destroyed by fireblight this summer.

It is still too early to say if I picked the right size roots. But in general for your application I’d say something like G.30, G.202, G.222, or G.935 for average or lower vigor scion, maybe B.9 for high vigor. But take my advice with a spoonful of salt because mostly I am a novice and don’t have much experience. The other limitation is of course what you can find, unless you want to graft your own (which is more do-able than most people would think, but it will add an extra year or so).

Here are some writeups on my blog about my espalier project:

I have not gotten to my year 3 writeup yet, but if I remember I’ll edit this post to include it when I post it.


Thanks to @HollyGates for your account of your own experiences with espalier - I found it particularly helpful because we’re in a pretty similar situation, both scale-wise and climate-wise. Your rationale for the decisions you’ve made makes a lot of sense to me. I’ve also been reading through the write-ups on your blog, and found them really fascinating - I’ll definitely be spending some time going over them as I work out my own plans, and I look forward to the next annual report!

I also wanted to thank @figgrower for the clear and concise explanation and @tomIL for your examples of different growth patterns from your own experience.

@39thparallel: I was meaning to ask you about the (few) espaliers you mentioned on M111 - how are they working out for you?

For the most part, it seems like the sense of the board is that dwarf or semi-dwarf rootstocks are the way to go for a mid-sized espalier, allowing for differences in variety and local conditions.

Actually, given the emphasis that a number of people have put on the importance of variety, it seems like maybe I need to go back to figuring out what varieties I want to try and then try to find rootstocks that would fit their expected growing tendencies. And then do the best I can at actually finding them. Hm - a lot to think about…

Thanks again,


The lower vigor varieties on M111 are runting out and I have planted dwarf trees between them. The high vigor varieties are growing nicely on a 6’ trellis with 20’ spacing in good soil. M111 seems to accentuate the varieties relative vigor. With high density plantings adjustments can be made to account for vigor and rootstock by adjusting spacing or height. Some compensation for over vigorous plantings can be made with pruning.

By all means, research and formulate a plan based on the best information available. At some point, you have to put some skin in the game and plant trees knowing that you have more to learn.


Well, ask ten fruit growers, and you’ll get a whole lot more than ten opinions. Here’s mine: I am a little north of Chicago, Zone 5b-6a. In 1991 I started a Belgian fence grafted on–hold onto your hat!–M27. Two 8-foot panels against a wood fence facing southeast. 2-foot centers, 45 degree split at 2 feet. One panel of 5 trees is Blushing Golden, the other of Empire. This has been both productive and well-behaved all this time. The top of the fence is 6 feet, and very little pruning is needed each year to keep the height at this level, and very little to keep it from getting too much in front, where I put annuals each year that I don’t want to step on.Needless to say, no ladder needed. It may be that varieties of low vigor would be puny on this rootstock, but at least for these two varieties, it couldn’t better.

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Even low vigor varieties should be able to fill a 20 ft wide 6’ high espalier spacing on 111. Pruning also can stimulate growth by reducing spur wood. Trees runt out when they have too much of it, sometimes even when you carefully thin the fruit. Creating flowers the year before they produce fruit is a huge expenditure of energy- it is vegetative shoots that most feed wood and roots.

Of course, nitrogen, soil quality, heat units, length of season all play into relative vigor as well.


Thank you for sharing your experience, Allen - M27 is really pretty far toward the dwarfing end of things, isn’t it? It’s sounding more and more like there’s a pretty wide range of workable possibilities for this kind of project, in terms of rootstock, from very dwarf into semi-dwarf. Your reference to breaking things down into eight-foot panels has also given me a very useful way of tackling some of the layout questions I’ve been working with, so thank you for that, too!

@Alan, you had mentioned being intrigued that Orange Pippin et al were suggesting such vigorous rootstocks. For what it may be worth, I did a little more digging around, and found this on OP’s web page dealing with espaliers and fan-trained trees: “For apples, growers in the UK will probably prefer the MM106 rootstock. M26 can also be used, and will produce a slightly smaller tree. In the USA MM106 is usually considered too vigorous for espaliers (since most US climate zones have a longer growing season than the UK) and semi-dwarf or even dwarf rootstocks are more suitable.”

In a broader way, your response to @39thparallel and on my initial post have helped me get a better sense (at least in theory) of vigor as something that has a lot of moving parts beyond the choice of rootstock - though that’s obviously one of the harder things to go back and change…

In response to 39thparallel: as much as I learn from everyone here, you’re right, the time is coming for me to go find some trees to learn from, too.

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I will admit that when I started my now 90 tree 120 variety espalier playpen, I knew practically nothing nor did I pay attention to precocity, vigor, etc and their connection to rootstock.

At that time I was paying attention only to whether a particular rootstock would work in my clay rich soil.

I picked varieties that sounded like ones I would enjoy eating, then filtered by zone and ripening time.

I wound up with mainly M111 rootstock and it has been working very well. For most part I got apples in the second year in the ground all by the third year.

As I read this thread I wonder if, for a non-commercial home orchard, getting lost in the weeds of rootstock selection is a time effective endeavor. Certainly, I suspect, that most of us harvest (when we get them) more than we can use.

I may be mis-reading the gist of this thread but is yield that important an issue?



A mistake I made years ago in setting up apple espaliers was that I didn’t realize that some varieties have tip-bearing tendencies and don’t lend themselves to the type of close pruning that espaliers require. This has nothing to do with the rootstock. I wasted time and space with Westfield Seek-No-Further, Tomkins County King, and Delcon. (I do have Delcon as a free-standing tree now, and it bears well because I don’t fight its weeping habit. For espaliers, varieties in my hands that bear well are, among others, Winter Banana, Empire, Blushing Golden, Gold Rush. and Esopus Spitzenburg.

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Perhaps your frequent summer pruning is the ticket. Espaliers I manage don’t enjoy the benefit of regular summer appearances from me and often only get one pruning during the growing season.

For espaliers, yield is often important for home growers because many of them opt for espaliers because of limited space.