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The apple fence idea; this system is quicker and easier than the classic espalier.

A slight twist on the age-old art of espaliering apple trees into living fences makes creating one achievable even for the novice gardener. The simple technique shown here, designated Belgian Doublet, was devised by Santa Barbara landscape architect Isabelle C. Greene and landscape contractor Chole Morgan. The crisscrossing habit resembles that of the classic Belgian fence but is much faster and easier to develop. Traditionally, Belgian fences begin with a row of single trees planted upright against a wire fence. The tedious, step-by-step process of pruning trees into a crisscrossing, V-shaped branch structure takes at least two years. The Belgian Doublet, formed by planting pairs of young trees angled in opposite directions, gives you a fence the first season. Choose a site in full sun The best time to start an apple fence is in winter, when plants are dormant. To be productive, apple fences need a location that gets full sun most of the day. If you want a fence that's lush and attractive from two directions, run the fence from north to south (if practical), so both sides get maximum exposure. Determine how long you want to make your fence. Count on enough trees to set them about 2 to 3 feet apart, then double the number. The last tree on each end is planted straight up. Choose a semidwarf variety that grows well in your climate (consult your nursery); avoid tip-bearing varieties like Granny Smith', Jonathan', and Rome Beauty'. You can plant more than one variety in a fence as long as they have similar growth habits and aren't more or less vigorous than one another. Start with bare-root trees that haven't been top-pruned. If they have many branches, like the ones shown at far left, prune them after planting: remove branches that cross the trunks and ones that stick straight out from the front or back; keep branches that are growing in the same plane as the fence, but prune them back to three buds. You can plant trees from containers as long as they haven't started sprouting leaves. Before planting, knock some soil off the rootballs so you can set the pairs of trees close enough together. Plant trees as shown at far left. For stability during planting, tie the lower trunks together, but be sure to remove the string after filling in the holes, so trunks aren't girdled as they grow. Pack soil around roots (don't cover the graft on the rootstock), and water well. Prune for production Your primary goals are to maintain the shape of the fence during the growing season and to encourage the development of fruiting spurs. When branches growing off the main trunk reach 12 to 14 inches (check plants every three or four weeks), prune them back to three leaf shoots. If they grow out again, prune them back so six shoots remain. Prune off branches that stick straight out from the trunk as well as any excess growth. Once the fence is at a suitable height, trim back top growth when necessary. Keep in mind that if you don't stay on top of pruning, your fence will lose its shape and end up more like a hedge. The dormant season is a good time to evaluate the fence's shape and do corrective pruning. Make sure you don't cut off all the fruiting spurs where flowers form or you won't get fruit (during the dormant season, fruiting spurs are the short, fat buds; leaf buds are thinner and longer). Depending on the variety, it may take at least a couple of years before you get a substantial harvest. Some apples, such as 'Anna' and 'Dorsett Golden', bear heavily at a young age. If fruit production is consistently low, there's a good chance you're not pruning correctly.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Jan 1, 1991
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