Pleached trees bring formal structure and elegance to the garden. Use multiple pleached trees of the same kind to create structural forms that divide and define spaces at height. They can make a formal avenue on a large plot, screen an area that is overlooked, create an enclosed ‘room’ or a shady tunnel. A single pleached tree offers year-round sculptural interest and provides a habitat for birds and invertebrates.
What is a pleached tree?
A pleached tree (sometimes called a plashed tree) has a single clear stem and a crown of branches that have been trained horizontally on a supporting frame. Most often, several pleached trees are planted in a row, their young shoots intertwined to create a continuous narrow screen, like a hedge on stilts. Pleached trees bear their foliage, flowers and fruit as usual, but their growth is restricted.
Pleached trees are not the same as espaliers. Espaliered trees have horizontal branches on a single plane, spaced at regular intervals all the way up the main stem. Instead, pleached trees have a clear stem and the horizontal branches are closer together, often twisted into the branches of the neighbouring tree. Pleached and espalier trees are good ways of bringing trees into smaller gardens without overwhelming them.
How much space do pleached trees need?
If you’re planting more than one, space your trees 1.5m apart. As you’ll be keeping their crowns restricted, they won’t develop large root systems, but they should be planted at least 40cm away from a fence or freestanding wall, and at least a metre from a building.
Size, height and spread
The clear stem of a pleached tree can be various heights, depending on the effect you want to achieve. For example, to create a screen above a standard fencing panel, the stem should be 180cm. The depth of the crown can also vary, and tree nurseries may have a selection of frame sizes, from 120cm by 150cm upwards. If the frames are larger, for example 180cm by 180cm, plant the trees 180cm apart. Keep the trees to the desired height and spread through regular pruning over the years.
More like this
How long do pleached trees take to grow? If your trees that have already been trained – or pleached – in a nursery, it will only take one or two seasons of training for the canopy to merge into a continuous screen. If you’re pleaching the trees yourself, it will take four to five years of pruning and training to achieve the high hedge effect – and what an achievement it’ll be!
When to plant a pleached tree
Like all trees, the ideal time to plant pleached trees is October or November, when the autumn rain has arrived, but the ground is still warm, to give them the chance establish before winter and be ready for spring. However, you can plant bare-root trees between November and March, and pot-grown trees any time of year unless the soil is frozen.
How to plant a pleached tree
A pleached tree should be planted with the same care as any other tree. Trees live for decades, even centuries, so it’s worth investing the time to give them the best possible start in their new home. Choose trees that are suitable for the soil and aspect of your site. Flat or very gently sloping ground is best for a row of pleached trees.
Stand each tree in a bucket of water for ten minutes to give the roots a soak. Dig a square hole that’s slightly wider than the pot your tree is in, but no deeper. Square holes help the roots to spread via the corners. Lightly fork the base and sides of the hole.
Remove the pot from container-grown trees and wrapping from bare-root ones. Tease out and unwind any circling roots and cut off any damaged ones. Stand the tree in the planting hole, then lay a cane across the hole to check that the top of the rootball – or the dark soil mark on bare-root trees – is level with the soil surface.
Backfill around the rootball with the excavated soil, shaking the tree a little to help the soil settle around the roots. Then use your heel to firm gently all around the rootball and ensure there is good contact between the roots and the soil. This is important as roots will die if left sitting in air pockets. You may need to top up the soil again to ground level, then firm it down once more.
Stake your pleached tree to give it stability for the first three to five years. The stake should be about a third of the height of the tree, hammered in at a 45° angle. Attach the trunk to the stake using an adjustable tree tie. Water the tree thoroughly.
Caring for pleached trees
Through the growing season, train young supple shoots by tying them horizontally onto the framework and weaving them into the branches of the adjacent trees. As with all trees, keep watered in dry spells for at least the first year and mulch annually in spring with well-rotted horse manure or compost.
How to prune pleached trees
Keep the trunk or stem clear by pruning or rubbing off new shoots as they appear. During the summer, prune lateral branches that are strongly outward growing and remove any dead, damaged or diseased wood. To maintain the height and the formal appearance of the screen and encourage dense growth, use hedging shears to clip it once or twice a year.
You can pleach trees yourself. Before planting your trees, create the framework on which you’ll train them. Set up a row of stout stakes, one for each tree, driving them into the ground to a depth of 60cm-1m. Attach a frame of bamboo, wooden battens or wires, the lowest part of the frame level with the height you have chosen for the clear stem, the top at the desired overall height. Plant a young tree next to each stake, ideally in autumn or early winter. Tie in the leader and the lateral branches to the frame, pruning out any that interrupt the clear stem. In spring and throughout the growing season, tie the young pliable stems horizontally to the frame and continue to prune out any shoots that can’t be trained sideways. When the leader (or central shoot) is tall enough, train it horizontally along the top batten or wire. In winter, shorten the long shoots to encourage them to produce more stems the following season, and intertwine and tie them in as before. Then follow the annual cycle of pruning. After five years, the pleached trees should be fully established and you can remove the framework.
Pests and diseases
There are no pests and diseases that are particularly associated with pleaching.
Advice on buying pleached trees
- Make sure you know which type of tree is most suitable for the effect you’re trying to achieve
- For instant results, choose mature pleached trees that are fully grown and have an established fully trained canopy
- Many nurseries also offer fresh pleached trees, which are at an earlier stage of development of their structure and will require more training, and therefore cost less
- If you're buying trees to pleach yourself, choose four- or five-year-old trees that are taller than the height you’ve chosen for your clear stem
- Make sure your tree was grown in the UK or has a ‘plant passport’ to prevent the spread of disease
- Always check for signs of damage or disease
Where to buy pleached trees online
Five trees suitable for pleaching
Evergreen pleached trees will create a solid screen all year round, while deciduous trees will lose their leaves in autumn, allowing winter light to filter through their branches. Here are five trees that are good for pleaching and suitable for many different soils and aspects.
- Red-twigged lime (Tilia platyphyllos ‘Rubra’), makes a handsome stately avenue when pleached. It’s a fast-growing tree with large dark green heart-shaped leaves that turn golden brown before falling in autumn, and the young pliable shoots are bright reddish-brown, adding more interest in spring.
- Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) is a fine medium-sized tree that pleaches well, making neat high living screens. The smaller serrated leaves respond well to clipping and are bright green in spring, becoming darker green through the summer, before turning a warm nut brown in autumn. An untrained hornbeam drops its leaves, but a pleached hornbeam retains its autumn leaves through winter, except in really windy weather.
- Crab apple Everest (Malus ‘Everest’) is a deciduous pleached tree that makes the most of every season, with pink and white scented blossom in spring, glossy green leaves that turn golden yellow in autumn and very pretty pink/orange crab apples, that are very popular with thrushes and their relatives in winter. This is a smaller tree, suitable for more restricted spaces.
- Photinia 'Red Robin' (Photinia x fraseri ‘Red Robin’) makes a lovely evergreen screen when pleached, holding on to its large, leathery, elliptical leaves all year round, with brilliant red new growth in spring. It has a looser, less formal effect than trees with smaller leaves but works well in smaller gardens.
- Cherry or common laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) is a vigorous evergreen shrub that can be pleached like a tree. Its large glossy dark green leaves form a lush dense screen that will guarantee privacy.