Train an evergreen to grow against a wall with these easy steps.
Evergreen Espalier
Credit: Ralph Anderson

Here's a great idea for adding seasonal color and texture to a bare wall without taking up much space: Shape an evergreen to grow flat against it. The technique is called espalier (pronounced ess-PAL-yay), and even though the word is French, you don't have to wear a beret to master it. All you have to do is this.

Step 1: Insert a grid of equally spaced nails over the area of wall you want the plant to cover. Use hot-dipped galvanized nails that won't rust. If it's a masonry wall, use masonry nails.

Step 2: Run thin galvanized-steel wire (or copper wire if you want to show off) between the nails, linking each nail
to the one beside it and the ones above and below it.

Step 3: As the shrub grows, use twist ties or small pieces of string to tie the branches to the wire grid, shaping the plant the way you want it to grow. Small, flexible branches can also be tucked behind the wires to hold them. Train your plant into a formal pattern (such as a candelabra or fan) or an informal pattern (such as the one shown above), which is easier.

Step 4: Prune a couple of times a year to maintain the shape. Keep in mind that winter and spring pruning stimulate growth, while summer pruning usually restricts it. If you want a tidy plant with flowers and/or berries, prune in midsummer, trimming only new, soft growth. Flowerbuds will have already set on older, firm growth.
Don't grow an espalier right up against a wall with wood siding, as moisture will eventually cause rot. Grow it on a trellis set several inches in front of the wall.

Try These Shrubs and Trees
Brightbead cotoneaster (Cotoneaster lacteus, also sold as C. parneyi) is shown above. It's suitable for everywhere but the Tropical South. Also consider using these other evergreens in espaliers.

  • Blue Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca')―US, MS, LS
  • Chinese fringe (Loropetalum chinense)―MS, LS, CS
  • Firethorn (Pyracantha sp.)―US, MS, LS, CS
  • Lemon bottlebrush (Callistemon citrinus)―LS, CS, TS
  • ‘Little Gem' Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem')―US, MS, LS, CS
  • Sasanqua camellia (Camellia sasanqua)―MS, LS, CS

US = Upper South, MS = Middle South, LS = Lower South, CS = Coastal South, TS = Tropical South