Sunset Apple – 4 tier espalier

This article details the planting and development of my 4-tier apple espalier, from 2006 when it wa planted, until the present day. The article is updated every few years to keep it up-to-date.

Sunset‘ is an early 20th century apple variety, which is ready to eat in late September. The apples are medium-sized, with a red speckled blush over a yellow-green background. In good years it has an excellent Cox flavour straight from the tree, but does not store well, so we keep spares in the fridge and try to eat them within ten days. (See more here)

Training History

2006

I purchased this tree as a pre-trained two-tier espalier in late Winter 2005/6. The picture below shows it in May 2006, soon after planting on the end of our woodshed, which we had just finished building.

My first attempt at training fruit: apple ‘Sunset’ (far left) being trained on the end of the newly constructed wood shed (2006)

I set the wires to match the spacing of its two horizontal tiers (~18in apart) and tied them in. As you can see several new shoots have emerged from the central leader. In the summer two of the best-placed shoots were bent down and tied to the horizontal wires to create the third tier.

Espaliers are an easy form suitable for apples and pears.  The central leader is trained up and side branches trained out at appropriate levels. All other shoots are pruned back to the basal cluster of leaves as part of summer pruning to encourage fruiting spurs to form.

2010

In just 4 years the tree has reached 4 tiers and now covers the whole 6′ x 6′ end panel of the woodshed.

You can see how well it flowered a couple of weeks later (below) — it is really rather beautiful for several weeks with its pink buds and petal. As it is by the entrance to our property we pass it every time we go out and it is there to welcome us when we come home.

2012

Main Form Complete

Apple ‘Sunset’ April, 2012

A couple of years later, and the top tier has been trained out to the full width. This photo shows the full form of the espalier just before the buds broke in spring. 4 tiers is about as high as an espalier can go. Any higher and the bottom branches are likely to become unproductive. So from now on it’s just a case of pruning it to keep it this shape.

201516

Winter and summer pruning ensures the espalier retains its overall form, as you can see here in these two photos taken 18 months apart.

201718

Eleven year’s after planting: you can see that the tree has pretty much the same shape since 2012 when the final 4-tier form was completed. It has hardly increased in girth at all. I give it a summer prune each year and a bit of thinning in the winter. This is a mature and productive espalier. It’s very pretty in the spring.

summer pruning

Here is a before and after shot of the summer pruning I undertook in the first week of August 2017:

Before and after summer pruning.

I also made a video of the process:

April 2018 – Darling buds of May April

I couldn’t believe how bright cerise the buds were this year! Below you can see the fruiting spurs bursting into bloom along the trained branches. The abundance of blooms (but probably not the wonderful colour) is down to the wonderful summer pruning carried out last summer.

202021

The main change was the refurbishing of the woodshed. To achieve the repairs, new cladding and painting, the wire supports for the espalier had to be removed. Fortunately, the tree was mature enough to hold itself up throughout the refurbishment.

Sep 2020

The tree looks very handsome against the black clapboards, don’t you think?

May 2021

202324

During winter pruning 2022/23, I undertook significant spur pruning, partly because there were many spurs that were over 1ft (30cm) long and were shading the lower/more compact spurs, but also due to discovering that there was some die back in one of the main branches — specifically, the left end of the third-tier. I cut this back a bit, hoping to hit living wood and stimulate regrowth, but I didn’t go far enough it seems.

Compare the May 2023 picture to the May 2021, and you can see that the third-tier, left hand branch has lost about 50% of its growth.

[to be continued]

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