For artful cover, try an espalier

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 9, 2012

By Sue Davis
Extension Master Gardener Volunteer
SALISBURY — When the Rowan County Master Gardeners began their “Pocket Garden” beautification project of the county property at 2727 Old Concord Road, one technique they wanted to incorporate was an espalier plant.
Espalier refers to the training of a plant or tree to grow flat against a wall or trellis. An espalier becomes a living sculpture in the garden. In their landscape design, the Extension Master Gardener volunteers decided to use a winter blooming espaliered Camellia sasanqua to cover a boring, windowless wall at the entrance to the auditorium and Rowan County Extension Office.
The area gets very little light and lacks color but is one of the first things a visitor to the building sees. Espalier brings an otherwise boring wall to life. To enhance the area, a Japanese maple was added, along with decorative planters which are used for year-round plantings.
On March 16 at 10 a.m., Darrell Blackwelder, county extension director, will demonstrate how to prune espalier camellias. Discussions will include what espalier is; what plants work best and how to prune them; and a question and answer session. Work is ongoing in the raised vegetable beds and the Sloop Memorial Garden. You are invited to stay and learn more about those projects, as well.
A camellia requires a hardware structure, like a trellis, to attach smaller branches to a surface or support structure. Most plants being trained to enhance a wall require a structure of some kind for artistic effect. There are numerous espalier techniques to employ — from the very simple, free flowing natural and informal designs to complicated formal patterns. There are several hardware items useful for attaching the branches of plants or trees to walls. A trellis to support the camellia at the Agriculture Center will be part of the demonstration.
Other solutions are available at hardware stores and nursery or garden centers. Most espalier plants are trained against a solid wall or trellis. The root ball of a plant should be planted 6-10 inches or more away from a wall to allow room for roots to grow and to provide adequate air circulation. It is best to lean the plant toward the wall when planting and make sure that the hole is dug just outside any eave or overhang so that the plants’ roots will receive the benefit of natural rain water.
A typical espalier is 6 to 8 feet tall, with three to four sets of horizontal branches. Your goal is to keep the tree in bounds. It generally takes five to seven years to create a completed espalier structure.
Until that time, your goal in the first few years is to encourage the tree to put all of its energy into growing branches that establish the basic framework. To accomplish this, you can put the skills you learn on March 17 to work.
The Rowan County Master Gardener Volunteers undertook the Pocket Garden education project in 2011 using contributions from the Woodson Foundation, Ritchie Foundation, contributions from the community and proceeds from plant sales. The labor has been donated by the Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Association in Rowan County.
North Carolina Cooperative Extension, 704-216-8970