Espalier spacing: dwarf vs semi-dwarf apples

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Espalier spacing: dwarf vs semi-dwarf apples

Postby Brewer » Thu Aug 21, 2014 10:00 am

Hi everyone, any experienced espalier orchardists here that can check my work?!

I'm planting out a decent-sized (for home / market use) espalier orchard, currently I have only a handful of trees but I have another 50 trees arriving any day now and I'll add more over the next few years, so it's getting serious enough to start panicking!

I have prepared furrows 3m (10') apart, and I'm using treated pine posts spaced at 6m (20') intervals with horizontal wires at 650mm, 1100mm, 1550mm and 2m (2'0", 3'6", 5'0", 6'6"). There is also a top wire for netting and a bottom wire for suspended irrigation.

My initial plan was to space 3 trees between posts, giving each tree 2m (6'6") of horizontal space ( x 4 wires = 8m (26') total horizontal limb per tree). This seems more or less in keeping with most of the espalier info I've found, however I'm wondering whether most folks are working with dwarfing stock, and the fact that most of the trees I've ordered are cider varieties on M111 semi-dwarfing rootstock means I should re-think my approach? Obviously the easiest change would be to simply increase the horizontal spacing if necessary, to say 3 or 4m between trees. Changing the posts would be much more of a pain and expense, although better to do it now while there are just a few in the ground!

Perhaps I'm overthinking it and it really doesn't make that much difference, but obviously I'm very keen to hear from anyone that can comment.
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Re: Espalier spacing: dwarf vs semi-dwarf apples

Postby greg.l » Thu Aug 21, 2014 3:15 pm

Hi, I grow cider apples, good to hear of someone getting serious with cider cultivars. I haven't grown espaliers but it isn't much different from high density plantings, just more work pruning and training. A big difference between cider apples and normal fruit is you aren't worried about colour, so sun exposure isn't so necessary. In fact in a hot climate you might want more shading to protect against the fruit getting sunburned. I would go for wider spacing if you have room, it will give you a bigger crop in the long run. The main thing you are looking for with cider apples is a high brix, so make sure you have a refractometer. Planning for netting is good, if you have frost trouble you can put frost sprinklers on the top wire as well.
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Re: Espalier spacing: dwarf vs semi-dwarf apples

Postby Brewer » Sat Aug 23, 2014 10:55 pm

Hi Greg, yep, looking forward to making real cider from real cider apples!

I'm in a tough spot, very exposed, roos, rabbits, birds, a neighbour's camel that gets out from time to time. Not to mention 50 degree days in summer. Espalier just seems to make sense - easy to protect, water and mow etc, hopefully even harvest! I'll have bird netting over the whole thing to try and keep the beasts out. Pruning should be pretty simple - only 2 dimensions to think about!

I've decided to go with the wider spacing, it's all an experiment anyway but it seems better to start with more room and see how they go. I suspect that your average semi-dwarf should easily sustain 12m of fruiting limbs?!

I'm planting out all the varieties I can get my hands on, to see which ones do best here then I'll focus on growing more of them. Have you had any notable successes or failures?
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Re: Espalier spacing: dwarf vs semi-dwarf apples

Postby greg.l » Sun Aug 24, 2014 8:10 am

My original plantings only had one cider variety, sweet alford. I wish I had planted high tannin varieties. Egremont russet produces good cider, I think the russet skin protects it from the sun a bit. Jez Howat from 146 cider in England uses it in his cider. In 2013 we had a hot summer and the egremont russet fruit got very dehydrated, the fruit was gnarly and looked terrible but the juice was very good, around 25 brix, the resulting cider was the best I ever made.

I also have some crabapple seedlings from John Downie, the fruit is small but very tannic and makes good cider, the small fruit doesn't sunburn very badly. larger soft fruit like sweet alford sunburns very easily, you would need to encourage healthy foliage and keep the fruit well shaded in your climate. If you want scion wood from my seedlings I could send you some, you would need to get some rootstocks and try your hand at grafting. The wood is dormant at the moment and should stay dormant if you put it in the fridge.

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Re: Espalier spacing: dwarf vs semi-dwarf apples

Postby Brewer » Tue Sep 09, 2014 11:39 pm

Hi Greg, sorry for the late reply, it's been pretty hectic here. Since my last post I've planted 50 more trees, not to mention put around 30 poles into my hard clay for the espalier wires. Future plantings should be easier, as I can work the furrows ahead of me and get them softening and mixed (and hopefully nice and wormy) before I get there.

After some further discussion / research / headscratching, I decided to reinstate my initial spacing plan of 2m per tree. The guy at Woodbridge felt this should be appropriate, but he's a bit concerned that some of the trees might prove too vigorous for a true espalier. I may end up with some kind of pseudo-espalier arrangement, where I try to encourage lateral growth along the wires but permit some outward bushiness too, depending on the nature of the tree.

Thanks for the tip re Egremont Russett for cider, I'll try and get a couple of those next year. I haven't seen Sweet Alford, but I'm certainly keen to trial as many cider varieties as I can get my hands on. I'd definitely like to try grafting, but I reckon I will need to leave that for next year - I'm feeling like I've already bitten off a bit more than I can chew this year!
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