Where garden space is limited but appetite is not, one clever idea is to consider a space saving techniques like espalier. What does it mean to espalier you ask?
Definition: (verb) To train a tree or shrub to grow flat against a wall.
Believe it or not you can buy many kinds of fruit trees (apples yes) already trained as espaliers and ready to plant in the ground or a container.
While a single variety apple tree espalier can be an excellent choice for a small garden – and I highly recommend going this route, I have found that a number of my clients are even more excited to try multi-budded ones – especially when I tell them that they can have different types of apples growing on ONE espalier!
The advantage to this is that you get more varieties (think: Fuji, Granny Smith, Gala.) And, you can also expand your harvesting season with the possibility of – early – mid – and – late fruiting varieties. Yum, right?
Where and How to Grow?
The same general planting rules apply to an espaliered apple tree as they do with a standard one. Similar to good real estate… it’s all about location! Choose a location with 6 hours minimum of daily sun (try a south or west facing wall), and make sure you have good drainage. If drainage is poor, you’ll definitely want to correct that or plant in a raised bed or sizable container. You’ll also want to amend your soil if necessary, and top dress with mulch.
San Francisco Apple Trees
Here in San Francisco we have very mild winters so it’s important to choose apple varieties with low winter chill requirements (less than 400 hours). We also don’t have enough summer heat – brrrrr, especially in some neighborhoods, so early ripening varieties are best.
Here is a list of some Low Chill Apple varieties recommended by UCDavis, good for San Francisco:
Anna……………………Early (May – June)
Beverley Hills……….Mid (July – August)
Fuji………………………Late (Sept – Oct)
Gala……………………..Mid (July – August)
Granny Smith…………Late (Sept – Oct)
Gordon…………………Mid-Late (July – Oct)
About Multi-budded Apple Trees
Each limb of a multiple-budded apple tree (aka: all-in-one-tree) is a different variety – there might be up to four, five or even six different kinds of fruit. To maintain growth and balance over the years, regular pruning is key, especially because you’ll probably find a stronger variety shading out a weaker one and if it’s not dealt with you could eventually loose the weaker variety. Yup, these are the risks to bear, but with so much upside it’s worth it! An espaliered multi-budded tree offers a formal structure; and as it grows, each varietal limb is trained into its own well-defined space.
Fruit Trees and Chilling Requirements
For dependable crops in most climates a variety’s chilling requirement should match (approximately) the amount of chilling typically received.
A widely used method for quantifying fruit tree chilling is the Hours Below 45°F model. This equates chilling to the number of hours at temperatures below 45°F occurring during the dormant period which is autumn leaf fall to spring bud break. These hours are termed “chill hours”.
Note: Many apple varieties will set crops with far less chilling than recommended (but fruit color and quality may depend on cool nights in summer and fall).
ps: If you’re looking for the best apple tree varieties to grow in your area I would suggest checking with your local plant nurseries, agricultural universities and/or your county extension office. To learn more about small space gardening you might enjoy this post about how to train vines.