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Shapes for your fruit tree

We spoke last time about the different shapes that we can consider for our fruit trees.

In summary here are our options:

Bushes – can vary depending upon the type of fruit but they look like you’d imagine – a bush! They crop heavily for their size and the fruit is easy to pick. They look great as freestanding trees in a smaller garden. They don’t crop as heavily as half standards and being closer to the ground they’re more difficult to mow under. Typically, they grow between 8ft and 11ft tall.

Half standard – like bushes, half standards are simply bigger all round. The initial trunk is longer – often 4ft – which means that if you need to you can mow under them more easily. Because of their size they also have a larger head – this is important if you want a tree that will provide you with more fruit! Typically, they’ll grow to between 11ft and 16ft – but you’ll need to bear in mind planting distances as they’ll need a bit more space – 11ft between them.

And then we have the options that do require a little more attention – sometimes a framework to support them, along with some knowledge to train them to grow…..

We touched on cordons, fan trained and espaliers last time but here’s some more information:

Cordon fruit trees

  • They are trees that have been pruned to have as many stubby side branches as possible so that fruit is carried very close to the main trunk.

  • They are grown on horizontal training wires, at an angle of 45 degrees. Cordons rarely exceed 6ft in height and are normally planted very close together - no more than 3ft apart.

  • This makes them attractive. You can have a range of trees in a restricted area that crop heavily and within reason you can have a nice mix of different types of fruit tree next to each other.

Fan-trained fruit trees

  • Most fruit trees can be fan trained. Generally, this is done from a maiden (a one year old grafted plant). The maiden is cut down to about 2ft in late winter or very early spring. It seems a waste to do this but it’s the best way!

  • Then as the sap rises a small number of buds below the pruning cut will grow as branches.

  • These are soft and pliable and so can be trained as the arms of the fan.

  • If there are not enough arms, the topmost bud is encouraged to grow vertically and then cut back to 8 inches the following winter.

  • The buds in the new growth will break as before and more arms to make the fan are produced.

  • They are usually grown against a wall and again allow you to grow a fruit tree where space might be limited.

Espalier fruit trees

  • An espaliered fruit tree carries its fruit on evenly matched horizontal branches.

  • Espaliers are always produced from maidens. A maiden is simply a single stemmed tree that is one year old. The stem is approximately the same thickness as your finger.

  • To create an espalier, you prune your maiden in the late winter to about 4 inches above the height of the lowest supporting wire.

  • Several buds will appear in spring. The topmost of these buds is then trained to grow vertically. Two suitably placed new bud growths below it are selected as the arms of the first tier.

  • Initially, these are grown at 45 degrees (to do this we use canes that we tie to the base of the tree and the wires).

  • Then in the late summer the canes with the new growth on them are brought gradually down to the training wires.

  • Any remaining shoots should be rubbed out once you are sure you have 3 viable shoots that will make the trunk and the 2 arms.

  • And then in the winter the whole process starts again - the vertical leader is cut back to about 4 inches above the next horizontal training wire.

Step over fruit trees

  • A step-over fruit tree is simply an espalier which has had the leading bud from the first cut rubbed out.

  • This means that there’s only one tier and the tree grows closer to the ground.

So there you have it. More details on shapes for your fruit trees. It might sound that the more ornamental options are fiddly but in reality they aren’t too difficult so long as you get a support in place beforehand – posts and wires is all you really need – and then take your time to prune and train them.

We have a few of our own that are growing well. In our rear garden of our Victorian terrace we have a Victoria plum and a Katy apple that are growing as half standards. At the allotment we have 2 types of pear that we've grown from maidens. We also have another Katy and a Bramley there - again on half standards and on a suitable rootstock - despite the allotment rep having her suspicions that they're on an M25 rootstock....

And if you wanted to try that but were nervous about buying a maiden and giving it a go yourself you can always ask us to pay you a visit, or you can buy some types of tree that are already trained!

That's a truly well established espalier - sadly not one of ours (yet!) but one at a nearby National Trust garden. You might end up with one that looks like this!

Please get in touch more either through my facebook page, on 07734 365028 or send us an email at


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