Planting advice for Pleached trees, Freshly Pleached trees,
Espalier trees and Freshly Espaliered trees.

An important consideration when planting pleached or espalier trees in a straight line is the slope of the ground. Pleached or Espalier trees look their best when they are planted on flat or gently sloping ground. Doing so will line up the frames and stems, creating one continuous line when viewed at all angles. Even on a gradual slope this effect can be achieved. However, with a slope of more than 10-12 degrees, it may be necessary to step the trees/frames when planting (the frames on freshly pleached trees can be manipulated to account for a sharper slope of perhaps 15 degree if necessary).

water feature in formal garden To create a good visual impression, it is important to line up the stems and frames (unless you are planting them in a circle or semi-circle). To start off the planting holes must be made wide enough for the backfill around the rootball to be compacted with your boot. This creates the firm, foundation the plants need to flourish. A larger hole also allows the rootballs to be positioned correctly ensuring the stems and frames line up correctly. Once the holes are dug to the correct depth and width, it is best practice to plant the two end trees first. By doing so you fix the reference points to create the perfect straight line. Now the rest of the trees can be planted in a line. For peace of mind why not take advantage of our planting service? From initial site visit to clearing the site, preparing the soil, offloading the trees, digging the holes and planting, we manage the entire project, leaving you to simply enjoy your garden and new found privacy

For those more adventurous our guide to planting Pleached and Espalier trees below will come in useful. You should find sufficient information here to help you complete the project successfully. Take all the necessary precautions to make certain you are operating in a safe working environment. Please seek the advice of professionals if you are not 100% comfortable working with large trees.

mature wire rootball pleached trees
Mature 30/35cm Carpinus betulus wire rootball pleached trees

This guide assumes root balled trees are being used and planting is taking place in the winter months – the traditional time to plant trees – the same logic can be applied to potted stock. The trees we have chosen are between 10-12cm and 18-20cm in girth i.e. two to three strong individuals are capable of carrying out the work without the need for machinery. We assume the trees will be planted in a straight line as a single row with equal spacing between the stems, on flat or gently sloping ground (no more than 12 degrees). 18-20cm girth trees can weight well in excess of 100kg each, please take the necessary precautions when working with heavy trees and always seek professional advice if you need it.

We have made a number of assumptions including but not limited to: there are no obstacles below ground level – tree roots, pipework, water, gas, electrical services, foundations, CCTV and fibre optic cabling etc; there are no overhead obstructions – electrical cables, trees and buildings; you have permission to dig in the area and if you are a contractor you have a permit to dig and you have completed the necessary RAMS; the soil is suitable for planting in; there is adequate drainage; the area is not subject to flooding (or if it is you are using trees which tolerate this); the ground is level; access is no problem and there is sufficient space to work in; there are no restrictions in place preventing the trees being planted – you should check with the local authorities if you are not sure; the site is ready for planting.

Tools/materials required

Freshly pleached trees made to client’s specification.Supplied and planted by Hedgeworx in the Cotswolds.
Freshly pleached trees made to client’s specification. Supplied and planted by Hedgeworx in the Cotswolds.
  • Spade
  • Fork
  • Sack truck or similar
  • String line
  • 2 Bamboo canes
  • Puncture proof good quality safety gloves and safety glasses
  • Sensible work boots
  • 1 can of line marking paint
  • 1 bag of Rootgrow mycorrhizal fungi
  • 1 bag of bonemeal
  • Suitable compost
  • 60mm porous land drain pipe
  • Two-three strong fit and able, green fingered volunteers

Preparation is key to make the project a success. For this example, we have a distance of 14 linear meters to cover. The trees we have chosen are 18-20cm grade (the circumference of the stem 100cm above ground level). The clean stems measure 180cm tall at which point the frames start, they measure 160cm wide x 180cm tall – total height of tree therefore 360cm, excluding rootball. The calculations suggest we can fit 8 trees in this space with a 15cm gap between frames and 7.5cm at either end. It is worth noting, a gap between the frames is necessary. We normally work to a 10-20cm gap where possible. The reason for this gap – while you are working with trees frames trained to a particular size, in reality no two frames are ever the same, they are rarely completely square, the stems are rarely perfectly straight or the same width. Furthermore, rootballs can be off centre and different sizes, some trees grow quicker than others with the result frames can be slightly wider/narrower and or shorter/taller. In a nutshell this can result in the stems being centred while the frames are out of position or the opposite can be true or a combination of the two. While we make sure our centres and straight lines are plumb using levels and string lines, when it comes to planting and fine tuning, we do this by eye. Hence why we allow for a gap between frames – a tolerance for nature. On the plus side, it doesn’t take long for the gaps to close naturally.

workings for planting trees in a line
Our workings for this example.

Start by taking a string line and two canes, push the canes into the ground and pull the line taught – you have a straight line. Along this line mark out with line paint where the centre of each tree will fall over 14m. The centre point for the first stem will be 87.5cm, the second 262.5 and so on until the last stem falls at 1312cm. Measure the width of the widest rootball or pot and add a further 40-50cm to this measurement (enough space for your boot) If for example the rootball measures 50cm in diameter this equates to 90cm. Make a circle around each mark along the line 90cm in diameter. Once all 8 circles are marked out remove the string line but remember to drive the two end pegs into the ground to refer back to the straight line if necessary. Using a sack truck or similar, position the trees within a meter or two of the holes to be dug and lie them flat on the ground facing away from the digging area. You are likely to lift the rootballs just one more time before they are placed into the holes. If you are using traditional rootballed plants this is a good time to tighten up the wire cage and repair any damage before the trees are moved for the last time – the integrity of the rootball is key to making sure your planting project is a success. A tight rootball prevents the tree from rocking around in its cage.

Taking time to mark out accurately is key to a successful project
Taking time to mark out accurately is key to a successful project

 

Perfectly lined up stems, now just the frames to tie together Meysey Hampton
Perfectly lined up stems, now just the frames to tie together Meysey Hampton

Image. Never remove the wire cage or hessian protecting the rootball. Without it the integrity of the rootball will be compromised.

Next select two trees to go at either end and measure the height of their rootballs – they do vary so make sure you check as a fair amount of unnecessary digging can be avoided. Dig the first hole to the depth of the rootball leaving the spoil close to the edge of the hole. Tip – Make sure your hole is flat on the bottom and the sides are straight, this will allow you to change the position of the rootball if necessary. If the bottom of the hole is flat the frame remains at a consistent height when moved.

Tip – Much like close board fencing where the close board can be positioned on the inside or outside of the posts, a bamboo fame can be positioned on the inside or outside of the stem. In most cases the close board will be on the outside and the same can be said for the bamboo frame found on a pleached or espalier trees.

Place your first tree in its hole and before you do anything else make sure the bamboo frame is on the correct side of the stem. If you are using trees in containers remove the container before rolling the tree into the hole – you will only forget to do this once!

The easiest way to place a tree in a hole in a controlled fashion is for one person to hold the stem horizontally while a second person rolls the root ball into the hole. As it rolls into the hole, make sure the stem doesn’t come into contact with the edge of the hole as it can be damaged. The tree may want to stand up quickly, just at the point it rolls into the hole. Be ready for this as it can be a high energy manoeuvre, especially on larger trees which will inevitably catch out the inexperienced and could cause serious injury – as a consequence we don’t recommend rolling anything bigger than 18-20cm grade trees into pre dug holes – anything bigger and you should seek the advice of a professional who is experienced in this type of work. Remember the person holding the stem steers the tree towards the hole. This same person dampens the energy created by the tree dropping into the hole. It is important for the frames to be flat/inline when the rootball drops into the hole, this prevents the frame being damaged and or the frame damaging something as it ‘stands up’ abruptly.

Once the rootball is in the hole stand the tree upright and check the depth is correct (soil should be in line with the top of the rootball). Next centre the tree, stem and frame (remember this is done by eye not a spirit level). Once you are happy it is more or less straight, backfill just enough (no more) to allow the tree to stand upright unassisted. Do exactly the same to the tree at the opposite end. Now choose which end you will return to check your lines and levels – this must be the point you return to each time to make these checks.

Once you are satisfied both trees are standing upright, the frames are square and inline, add your Rootgrow mycorrhizal fungi and bonemeal. Add the compost mix to the topsoil and backfill. Be sure to compact the soil with your boot gradually as the hole fills until the rootball is half to two thirds covered. At this point it is time to install your 60mm porous irrigation pipe *(land drain) – available from all good civils and drainage suppliers. Wrap the pipe around the rootball and bring one end up proud of the topsoil by 30cm. Cut the pipe here and cover exposed end with a cap to keep the mice out! Once the pipe is fitted continue to backfill the hole, tightly compacting the soil as you go. Throwing the backfill into the tree pit may seem an unimportant laborious task but it is in fact the most important part of the entire planting process. Making sure this is done correctly pretty much guarantees the success (or if done badly the failure) of the tree. Be sure to check the position of the trees as you fill the holes as they do have a tendency to move, especially if the wind is blowing. If the soil is dry, we advise soaking the area surrounding the rootball and compacting the soil once again, adding additional soil to make up the levels if needed. Most inexperienced gardeners would stop here and dispose of the remaining spoil. However, overtime and after watering the likelihood is the soil will subside a little more, so we always add a little extra, even creating small berms around each plant.

treegator automatic tree watering system

* Another irrigation system we have tried and tested in the field is the “Treegator”. This is a simple cost effective way of ensuring trees receives the correct amount of water. http://www.treegator.com The bags are a great invention and in our experience, offer fantastic results. No expensive outlay for complex irrigation systems, they can be removed in seconds when empty and used again to irrigate another tree. Once done they fold away easily and can be stored until needed again. Cared for correctly they will last many years. Its almost impossible to overwater or underwater trees using the Treegator system as you know exactly how much water each tree is receiving. We don’t stock Treegator products and have no connection with this company. You will need to look online for potential suppliers – an independent review.

Right the first two trees are in. Now it is simply a case of repeating the process another six times. Dig all of the remaining holes to the correct depth. Roll the furthest tree from your datum point into its hole, stand back and by eye line it up with the two end trees, backfill and repeat. Remove all the excess topsoil and the trees are planted. Finally cut the exposed watering pipes to ground level (if you are using this system) and reattach the cap. Job done.

Tying the pleaching frames together
A quality finish is all about the detail. Tying the frames together

Now you may ask why we haven’t mentioned tree stakes, tree anchors and other elaborate supports. In our experience these methods of support are completely unnecessary in the large majority of cases. To put this into

perspective in the past 10 years we have not planted any Pleached or Espalier trees with stakes, tree anchors or other forms of elaborate support. Not once in this time, have we had to return to straighten or replace a tree. How can this be you may ask? The fact is the trees were planted correctly in the first place and secondly, we incorporate a simple but effective way of tying our frames together to create one big sail area, distributing the energy created by gusts of wind across all the trees. This tried and tested solution has never failed us and incorporating this simple but effective technique is part of the planting service we provide. Remember there may be exceptions to the rule – exposed windy sites for example.

Tip – Checking levels. Invariably pleached trees are planted near hard landscaping or buildings which have plumb lines you can use to your advantage to ensure frames are horizontal and stems are upright. For example, brick coursework, coins, windowsills, door frames, walls, soffits, drain downpipes, fence posts etc, can all be used as reference points to check vertical and horizontal levels. Nine times out of ten there is something onsite which will aid you this way, you just need to position yourself correctly to take advantage of these free levels.

Carpinus betulus pleached tree screen supplied and planted Hampshire
Carpinus betulus pleached tree screen supplied and planted Hampshire

The best time to plant trees is in the winter months and pleached trees are no exception. Some of the advantages to planting at this time of year include: the roots have time to develop and spread, anchoring themselves to the surrounding soil; soil will consolidate and settle far quicker in a tree pit due to the increased moisture content in the soil; less stress is placed on deciduous trees in windy conditions at this time of year as they are completely free of foliage in most cases; trees need little to no care or watering in most cases (unlike those planted in the summer months); the trees have time to familiarise themselves with their surroundings before the all-important spring period and uptake of nutrients, lessening potential shock; the weather in the UK is difficult to predict and while the best potted stock can be specified for summer planting, an unexpected spike in temperatures like we have experienced over the last decade can lead to massive stress and tree failures. Our advice is to avoid summer planting whenever possible, less stress for the plants and less stress for you. Working as nature intended.

Finally, we have been planting pleached trees for over 20 years and the methods we use are tried and tested. As far as we are aware, only two trees we have planted have failed in this time, both on the same job. The customer in question acknowledged they were responsible for the failure as the trees were not watered correctly in the first season. For all intents and purposes a 100% success rate which we hope you will agree is an outstanding record and one we are very proud of. When we started planting pleached trees all those years ago, there were no guides available, so we developed our own. We are aware there are a number of different ways to plant pleached and espalier trees, we have seen most of them, but we still find our tried and tested method yields the best results and a quality finish every time. Customers are always very impressed with the results.

before planting
after planting
garden with new fence
trees to block out neighbours

Below is further information about the various species we regularly supply

Pleached Hornbeam
Carpinus betulus (Betulaceae)
The most popular deciduous pleached species sold in the United Kingdom by far, due to its many outstanding qualities.
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Pleached Hornbeam ‘Lucas’
Carpinus betulus ‘Lucas’ (Betulaceae)
The Hornbeam ‘Lucas’ is a relative newcomer (2003) It produces long slender branches, recovers well after pruning and generates new growth reasonably quickly.
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Pleached Common Beech
Fagus sylvatica (Fagaceae)
The Common Beech is one of the most majestic native trees in the British Isles. It positively enjoys being managed in a formal compact fashion.
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Pleached Copper Beech
Fagus sylvatica ‘Atropunicea’, Fagus sylvatica Purpurea (Fagaceae)
Like the Fagus sylvatica the Fagus sylvatica ‘Atropunicea’, is an imposing tree. Careful consideration needs to be given to the positioning of this trees due to its striking purple colour in spring.
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Pleached Lime
Tilia cordata ‘Rancho’ (Tiliaceae)
The cultivar Tilia cordata ‘Rancho’ is ideal for planting along paths, driveways and avenues. The year-round interest created by this small compact tree ensures it is fast becoming a firm favourite.
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Pleached Yew Hicksii
Taxus x media ‘Hicksii’ (Taxaceae)
One of the smallest yews in the family. Dark green needles, a profusion of red berries in late summer and autumn. A slow growing species which requires little maintenance apart from a light clip every so often.
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Pleached Yew
Taxus Baccata (Taxaceae)
Taxus baccata is native to the British Isles and considered by many to be the most elegant and stylish evergreen specie available. The small tightly knit needle like leaves and compact habit create a very tidy formal appearance.
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Pleached Portuguese Laurel
Prunus lusitanica ‘Angustifolia’ (Rosacae)
With its close-knit tidy habit, small narrow glossy dark green leaves and red stems the Portuguese Laurel makes for an ideal candidate for training in a formal habit.
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Pleached Cherry Laurel
Prunus laurocerasus ‘Novita’ (Rosaceae)
Novita is a quick growing evergreen with tree like qualities. A relatively new cultivar it is a hardy plant with mid green leaves which provides solid screening.
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Pleached Cherry Laurel ‘Caucasica’
Prunus laurocerasus ‘Caucasica’ (Rosaceae)
Another hardy cultivar of the popular Cherry Laurel, the ‘Caucasica’ has a vigorous upright growth habit and well suited to being managed in a formal fashion.
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Pleached Photinia Red Robin
Photinia × fraseri ‘Red Robin’ (Rosaceae)
The pleached Photinia × fraseri ‘Red Robin’, is the most widely sold evergreen screen on the market. Fast growing, it is the most competitive too.
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Pleached Holly
Ilex Aquifolium ‘Nellie Stevens’
A small to medium sized evergreen tree ideal for screening purposes due to its compact habit. This cultivar produces a mass of red berries which linger long into the winter.
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Pleached Elaeagnus
Elaeagnus ebbingei (Elaeagnaceae)
An outstanding evergreen which really enjoys being managed. Elaeagnus is highly regarded for its sweet fragrance and tiny bell-shaped white flowers
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Pleached Field Maple
Acer campestre ‘Huibers Elegant’ (Aceraceae)
The Field Maple ‘Huibers Elegant’ share many of the same qualities as the Acer campestre ‘Elsrijk’. It is characterised by its beautiful small leaves.
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Pleached Field Maple
Acer campestre ‘Elsrijk’ (Aceraceae)
The popular Field Maple ‘Elsrijk’ is characterised by its small delicate green leaves and neat uniform oval crown.
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Pleached Holm Oak
Quercus ilex
The Quercus ilex is a beautiful large evergreen Oak tree, with small dark green leaves, capable of living for thousands of years. One of the very best upmarket evergreen species available.
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Pleached Persian Ironwood
Parrotia persica (Hamamelidaceae)
Deciduous trees don’t come much better than the Persian Ironwood. It's leaves start off dark green and change to dark red/purple as the season progresses.
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Pleached Crab Apple
Malus Toringo ‘Scarlett’
Widely regarded as the most popular red leaved Crab Apple on the market. Young deep red leaves contrast superbly with the long-lasting dark pink blossom in spring.
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Pleached Crab Apple ‘Evereste’
Malus ‘Evereste’, Malus perpetu ‘Evereste’ (Rosaceae)
The Crab Apple Malus ‘Evereste’ is a beautiful disease resistant, compact ornamental tree, providing white blossom in spring and colourful orange red fruit in autumn.
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Pleached Magnolia
Magnolia grandiflora ‘Galissoniere’ (Magnoliaceae)
Southern Magnolia is a classic evergreen cultivar grown for planting against walls and creating natural formal divides and garden structures.
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Pleached Sweet Gum
Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Worplesdon’ (Hamamelidaceae)
The Sweet Gum has a wonderful habit and beautiful Maple like leaves. They emerge in spring bright green and from September onwards they put on a show which is almost unrivalled by any other tree.
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Pleached Leylandii
Cupressocyparis leylandii (Cupressaceae)
This very large evergreen hybrid is used widely for large and small screening due to its fast growth habit and dense conical crown.
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Pleached Hawthorn ‘Paul Scarlet’
Crataegus laevigata ‘Coccinea Plena’, Crataegus oxycantha ‘Paul Scarlet’, (Rosaceae)
The tree produces a beautiful floral display of stunning bright red fragrant blossom which can last from the end of May to July.
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Pleached Cornelian Cherry
Cornus mas (Cornaceae)
The Cornus mas produces a beautiful early blossom in February/March which completely covers the tree in small yellow flowers.
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