Espalier fruit trees used as a divider

How to train a fruit tree

Discover which trained tree shape - a cordon, fan or espalier - is best for which type of fruit.

Trained fruit trees are a fantastic way of incorporating fruit into a small garden, or a wide variety of fruits into a larger garden. Trained against a wall or fence, they take up hardly any room, and provide abundant crops. You can also use them as a screen or divider.

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Watch our video guide to planting an apple tree.

The main tree shapes are espaliers, fans and cordons – but which shape suits which type of fruit? Read on to find out.

Trained fruit trees are a fantastic way of incorporating fruit into a small garden.

Apples and pears

Apples and pears are usually trained as espaliers or cordons, with the tree grafted onto a dwarfing rootstock to restrict its vigour. If training one yourself from scratch, choose a spur-bearing variety (most varieties are spur-bearing), as tip-bearers aren’t keen on the pruning that is an essential part of training. 

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Stone fruit

Stone fruit – cherries, plums, peaches, apricots and nectarines – are traditionally trained as fans, as the shape suits their vigour and the fruit ripens better when given the warmth of a wall. 

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Figs

Figs are often grown as fans, too – as they also like the additional heat radiating from a wall in the summer. As a bonus, the rubble at the base of many walls also restricts their roots, which stops them growing too leafy and promotes fruiting.

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Soft fruits

Gooseberries, redcurrants and whitecurrants crop brilliantly when trained as double or triple cordons. They look great trained against a wall or standing independently as a garden divider.

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Planting bareroot fruit trees

You’ll find the best selection of varieties sold as bareroot trees in winter. This is a cheaper way of buying them, too.