Espaliering plants is considered an art form.

How to Train a Tree to Grow on a Trellis

by Sarah Mason

Trellising is a gardening technique used to improve a tree's growth and production, enhance its attractiveness, increase usable space and -- for fruiting varieties -- to prevent rotting. Specifically, espalier is the method used to grow and shape woody perennials through careful pruning techniques. Espaliered plants can be used to create a focal point in a garden or to add color to a large, blank wall. Though the pruning and training required for espalier is a continuous project, it yields benefits for both tree and gardener.

Plant a 1-year-old tree 8 inches away from the trellis, leaving an additional 4 feet of open trellis on either side. This extra space will give the tree room to grow. It's best to plant in late winter or early spring when the tree is still dormant.

Tie young shoots loosely to the trellis as they begin to develop in spring and early summer, using a soft string or twist tie. Young shoots include all new plant growth, such as stems, flowering stems, flower buds and leaves.

Cut away any new shoots that project away from the trellis and cannot be tied flat. It is best to prune off unwanted shoots while they are young, since young branches are pliable and easy to remove. If your tree is fruit-bearing, remove all fruit in addition to unwanted shoots to encourage tree growth.

Prune outward-growing shoots and fruit again in the second growing season, just like you did in the first. In the third season, allow fruit to grow.

Check the ties twice a year and loosen as needed. As the tree grows, the ties may become too tight and cause a ring of missing bark -- called girdling -- to form.

Items you will need

  • Garden shears
  • String or twist tie


  • It is easier to bend and train young branches in the summer, since they are more flexible during this time.
  • Commonly trellised trees include fig trees (Ficus carica) and Japanese Holly (Ilex crenata), which grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6 to 9 and 6 to 8, respectively.


  • Do not tie wires too tightly around tree limbs, as this can cause girdling.

About the Author

Based in Fort Worth, Sarah Mason has been writing articles since 2009 on topics including nutrition, fitness, women's health and gardening. Her work has appeared in "Flourish" and "Her Campus." Mason holds a Bachelors of Arts in economics from the University of Florida.

Photo Credits

  • Hemera Technologies/ Images