DIY Espalier - Metal by the Metre

Looking for a fun, simple DIY project that gets you outdoors this weekend and also provides you with fresh food? No, we are not hammering on about raised veggies boxes. 

The age old art of espalier is staging a comeback to bring fresh fruit and flowers to our modern gardens and we are here with a few tips on how to make the most of your local hardware and find the right fittings and tools for this DIY job. 

History of Espalier

Espalier is the technique of manipulating trees so that they grow flat against a fence or wall. Historians trace the horticultural art back to small Roman courtyards were space for trees was limited (much like inner city living today). The New York Times suggests that images depicting espalier can be seen in ancient Egyptian tombs

The practice was widely adopted throughout medieval Europe for its practicality in small courtyards but also because they found the trees to be more productive and for longer. What they had discovered was the benefits or creating a micro- climate in their gardens. This meant they could grow trees that otherwise were not suited to their local temperate climate.

How to create your own Espalier trellis

The basic method of espaliering fruit trees is to use wooden or metal posts, turnbuckles, thimbles and wire. The fittings can be nickel plated, galvanised or stainless steel. Materials will vary based on you purpose, your budget and the location. Espaliers can be achieved using high tensile fencing wire and a strainer and are quite durable. But for the added aesthetic (it is an artform after all) most horticulturists will use stainless steel rope wire and fixings. 

Here’s our secret recipe for a perfect DIY espalier system.

Location

First choose a location in your garden that is bounded by a fence or wall. These have thermal properties and will store heat from the sun and release it slowly after the sun goes down. The surface must face the sun (north- facing in the southern hemisphere, and south- facing in the northern hemisphere).

Materials

Espaliers bear the weight of heaving fruiting tree limbs and need to be strong. The materials we use are similar to what you would use for a balustrade or a sail cloth shade – durable, load bearing and weather resistant. The amount of wire rope and fittings will depend on how many branches you will be supporting and the distance they will span. Be careful to plan for the tree’s future growth – both vertically and horizontally.

 What you will need:

  • 316 3.2mm marine grade stainless steel wire rope
  • M8 100mm 304 grade stainless eyebolt kit (includes nuts and washers)
  • M5 stainless Bottlescrew turnbuckle Jaw/Jaw (we use jaw to jaw for its neatness and aesthetic appeal but hook-eye or eye-eye systems also work well)
  • 304 grade stainless wire rope thimbles
  • Nickel plated copper ferrules for swaging of crimping the wire rope
  • Hand wire cutter and swager like this one 

Putting it together:

  1. Fixtures

Timber posts can be fixed to your vertical surface using a variety of anchor screws. We recommend stainless steel hex coach screws or bolts for securing to timber or anchors such as ChemSet or Ramset AnkaScrews if you are fixing your wire directly to a masonry wall or fence. 

Consider here the distance you will plant your tree from the fence or wall. You may need fix some extra timbers as spacers to make sure the eyebolts are inline with you tree placement. (300mm is a good rule of thumb)

  1. Eyebolts

Next you will need to drill pilot holes for your stainless steel eyebolts. Insert eyebolts. Attach washers and nuts and tighten. Lag screw eyes like this could be used if you don’t have enough space behind the uprights for a nut. 

  1. Turnbuckles

Attach bottlescrew turnbuckles to the eyebolts of one post. Tighten to secure.

  1. Loop and Swage Turnbuckles

Loop and swage wire rope through the turnbuckles leaving enough space in the loop so that the thimbles fit snugly inside. Cut the wire rope with the cutter as close to the swag or ferrule as possible to keep it neat. 

  1. Loop and Swage Eyebolts

Firstly, make sure your turnbuckles are loosened so that you can tension them later. Next pull the wire rope through the eyebolt and tension by hand before swaging and inserting thimbles.

  1. Tighten Turnbuckles

Increase the tension on the turnbuckle so there is minimal ‘pluck’ in the rope wire. 

If you haven’t already, now is the time to select your tree. And plant it right in line with the wire. 

Helen at Garden Drum, has documented her DIY espalier in great detail and adds helpful images. Check out her story here.

For advice about training and caring for your tree we will pass you on to the experts and our friends at Gardening Australia

For more advice on all things made of metal to help your DIY projects, be it stainless steel or aluminium, contact us at Metal by the Metre, expert hardware and metal suppliers on the Central Coast of NSW.