CORDONS (from The Complete Guide to Pruning and Training Plants, by David Joyce and Christopher Brickell, 1992, Simon & Schuster)


The cordon is a restricted form consisting in essence of a main stem furnished with short growing fruiting spurs. Apples are normally grown on dwarfing or semi-dwarfing rootstocks (vigorous rootstocks are only suitable on poor soils). Pears are usually grafted on to Quince A or Quince C rootstocks.


The cordon can be grown vertically or at an angle and as a single stem or as two or more parallel arms. The single oblique cordon is the most common form and has several advantages: a number of trees can be grown in a small space; trees can be easily reached over their whole length; and training towards the horizontal checks vigor but encourages the production of fruit buds.


Cordons require permanent support. In the open garden use a system of posts and wires, spacing wires 24 and 6 feet above ground level. Use the same spacing for wires on walls or fences, running them 4-6 inches out from the surface to allow the free circulation of air. The cordons are tied to bamboo canes, which should be attached to the wires before planting. Allow 2½ -3 ft. between cordons.


Formative pruning and training


It is preferable to start with a branched maiden, on which the prunedback laterals will develop fruiting spurs. The tree will probably start bearing in its third year.


At planting, between late autumn and early spring (the latter in the north), set the cordon at an angle of 45 degrees, ensuring that the union is above ground and the scion is uppermost. In the northern hemisphere, slope cordons in north-south town to the north, andin the southern hemisphere to the south. In east-west rows, slope the cordons to the east.


Tie the cordon to the came at two points, and cut back laterals to four buds. In the growing season tie in extension growth of the leader and begin the summer pruning as outlined for the bearing cordon.


If there are flowers in the spring after planting, remove them, taking care to avoid damaging the shoot behind the blossom.


Summer pruning: the Modified Lorette System


This system is the most widely used method of pruning bearing cordons and is started in the second year. In mid-summer-apples generally about a week later than pears – cut back mature laterals growing directly from the main stem at three leaves, not counting the basal cluster. Shorten mature laterals arising from spur systems more drastically, cutting at the first leaf beyond the basal cluster. Delay cutting immature laterals, which are lighter in leaf and bark than mature shoots, until early autumn.


Sometimes secondary growths develop after themed-summer pruning. Remove these, cutting back to a bud or leaf on mature wood just before leaf fall. If secondary growth is a recurrent problem, delay the summer pruning by two or three weeks or follow the advice for winter pruning.


When the leader has passed the top wire, cut it back in late spring to within 6 inches of the wire. Annual cutting back in mid summer of all but about one inch of the year’s growth will keep the cordon at the same height throughout its life.


A longer stem can be accommodated by lowering the cordon. However, this operation is most often used to check an over-vigorous cordon limiting the amount of extension growth made and encouraging the production of fruit buds. The cordon should be lowered in stages, by about five degrees at each stage, to not less than 35 degrees.




  1. At planting, between late autumn and early spring (early spring in the north), set the branched maiden at 45*, ensuring the union is above ground and the scion uppermost. Tie the cordon to the cane at 2 points. Cut back laterals to 4 buds.
  2. Remove flowers in the second year, but leave the basal rosette of leaves intact.
  3. Begin summer pruning by the Modified Lorette System in mid-to late summer of the second year. Shorten to 3 good leaves above the basal cluster all mature laterals growing directly from the stem that are more than 9 inches long. Cut back to one leaf beyond the basal cluster any sublaterals growing from existing spur systems.
  4. In autumn, just before leaf fall, remove secondary growths that have developed since the summer pruning. Cut back to a leaf or bud, on mature wood. (From a October 1998 conversation with horticulturist at the Univ, of British Columbia, I came to the conclusion that this last pruning could be left for the moose in the fall and not harm the tree. That is, of course, if they only eat the proper amount and are tidy about it – Debbie Hinchey)
  5. When the leader has reached the required height and passed the top wire, cut back in late spring, leaving about 6 inches above the wire.
  6. In mid summer of subsequent years cut back all but one inch of the leader’s growth. Continue to summer prune, cutting back to 3 leaves mature laterals growing from the main stem that are more than 9 inches long, and shortening to one leaf beyond the basal cluster any sublaterals growing from existing side shoots and spurs.


Winter pruning the bearing cordon


This is normally confined to simplifying crowded spur systems on mature trees. In mild areas with a high rainfall, secondary growth after summer pruning may he so prolific that the best course is to prune in winter. In such cases cut to three buds on laterals and one bud on sub-laterals.


Sometimes a young cordon produces insufficient laterals or laterals that are poorly spaced along the stem. Cutting back the previous summer’s growth of the main stem by up to a third will encourage the development of new side shoots.


Winter is the best time to renovate neglected cordons, the aim being to restrict laterals to short fruiting spurs. After the initial renovation return to a program of normal summer pruning.


Lowering a cordon To check an over vigorous cordon or to accommodate a longer cordon, lower it but to not less than 35*. Lower 5* at a time, tying the cordon in to a new cane already fixed in position.


ESPALIERS (from The Complete Guide to Pruning and Training Plants, by David Joyce and Christopher Brickell, 1992, Simon & Schuster)


The espalier is a restricted form consisting of a central stem supporting several tiers of paired horizontal branches all trained in the same plane. Espaliers generally have four or five tiers, but more are possible and single tier espaliers are sometimes used as an edging to beds. Except on poor soils, apples are normally grown on dwarfing or semi-dwarfing rootstocks. Pears are grown on either Quince A or Quince C. Partially trained espaliers are sometimes available from nurseries. These start bearing sooner than those planted as maidens.


Espalier trees need support throughout their lives, whether they are grown against walls or trained on a system of posts and wires in the open. The height of the wires above ground level should correspond to the tiers of the espalier, which are usually 11/4-1 ½ feet apart.


Formative pruning and training


In early spring cut back a newly planted, unbranched maiden about 1 % feet above the ground, making the cut to the topmost of three good buds. Growth from the top bud will extend the central stem, while growth from the two lower buds, one facing to the left, the other to the right, will develop as the two arms of the bottom tier.


In summer train the topmost shoot vertically to a cane. Horizontal training in the first summer would check the growth of the arms too severely. Train them on canes at 45 degrees to the horizontal. If growth is unbalanced check a vigorous arm by lowering slightly and encourage a weaker arm by raising it. In late autumn carefully lower the two arms to the horizontal and tie them to the wires. If growth has been weak, shorten leaders by about a third to upward- facing buds, but otherwise leave them unpruned.


To create the next tier, prune back the central leader about 1 1/2 feet above the bottom branches. Yet again there must be three buds below the cut. one to extend the central stem and two. facing in opposite directions, to form the arms. Shorten surplus laterals to three buds. Throughout the subsequent summer train the leaders as for the first tier, with the arms at 45 degrees, until they are lowered to the second wire in late autumn.


Follow this pattern of building up tiers until the required number has been formed.




  • After planting in early spring, cut back a newly planted unbranched maiden at the topmost of 3 good buds about 1 ¼ feet above the ground.


  • During summer train the shoots to canes, the topmost vertically and the arms at 45*.


  • In late autumn carefully lower and tie down the 2 arms. If growth has been weak, shorten leaders by about a third. Cut hack the central leader to the topmost of 3 good buds about 1 1/2 feet above the bottom branches. Shorten other laterals to 3 buds.


  • In the second summer train the central leader vertically and the 2 arms at 45*, as for the first tier. Shorten laterals growing from the horizontal arms to 3 leaves above the basal cluster.


  • In late autumn of the second year carefully lower and tie down the 2 topmost arms, pruning back by a third if growth is weak. Cut the central leader back at the topmost of 3 good buds about 1½ feet above the second tier.


Pruning the bearing espalier


The arms of an espalier are like horizontal cordons, the fruit being borne on spur systems. As with cordons. Summer pruning starts in the second year and the Modified Lorette System should be used. In essence this means cutting back mature laterals longer than 9 inches  arising from the tiers to three leaves above the basal cluster and any laterals on side shoots or sours to one leaf To stop the central stem and the horizontal arms extending too much, prune them back in late spring cutting almost all of the preceding summer’s growth. On mature trees, thin crowded spur systems in winter.


FANS, ARCHES, AND TUNNELS (from The Complete Guide to Pruning and Training Plants, by David Joyce and Christopher Brickell, 1992, Simon & Schuster)


Old gardening manuals, and sometimes old gardens, reveal the range of forms in which apples and pears have been grown in the past. There are, generally, variations of the result forms, often elaborated for their ornamental value. The simplest of these variations are fans and cordons grown to form arches and tunnels.




Although the fan is mainly used for stone fruits such as peaches and cherries, apples and pears can also be grown in this way. Even when using dwarfing or semi-dwarfing rootstocks, apple fans need a minimum wall or fence height of about 7 feet, and pears on Quince A or Quince C require about 8 feet.


The initial pruning and training is very similar to that outlined for a peach fan. In the first year the main stem of maiden is cut back in the dormant season to a bud about 1 1/4 feet above ground level, and in the following two summer two strong shoots are trained out at an angle of 45 degrees. These are cut back in the second winter, and in the following summer selected shoots are trained in as ribs of the fan. It will take several more years of cutting back and training in to complete the fan.


Summer pruning by the Modified Lorette System, treating each rib as though it were a separate cordon, controls the growth of the fan and promotes the development of fruiting spurs.


Arches and tunnels


A fruiting arch is one of the easiest ways of accommodating a pair of trees in a very small garden. If there is room for no other fruit trees, the selection of cultivars must take account of their pollination requirements. The two trees are simply grown as vertical cordons that are arched over to meet each other at the top.


It is essential from the outset to have a firm and durable structure of wood or metal on which to tram the cordons and, as part of the reason for having an arch is to ornament the garden, the support should also be pleasing to the eye.


A series of arches can be used to form a tunnel. A much slower method of covering the framework of an arbor or tunnel is to train espalier trees on either side.


Photo captions:


Apples and pears can be trained as fans, either against walls (above) or in the open garden (above left) on a framework of wires. However, they require generous spacing and for this reason are not suitable for small gardens.


One method of forming a fruit tunnel is to train 2 rows


An alternative to the fruit tunnel composed of a series of cordons is one made from 2 rows of espaliered apples or pears trained over a permanent framework of cordon apples or pears to a permanent framework that arches over a path.


In the 19th century pears and apples were often trained in a variety of vase shapes, the methods used being adaptations of the techniques for growing cordons and espaliers. This shape is called “lo bateau after its resemblance to the ribs of a boat.


The arcure method of training is not widely practiced today, but is an interesting variant of the cordon, with the tree trained in a sequence of arcs.


compiled and edited by Debbie Hinchey