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Train your tree: Why figs are a good choice to espalier

Pat Morgan of Westlake Village wrote to the SoCal Garden Clinic to ask:

My fig tree was started from a cutting three years ago and was recently transplanted to our atrium. It has been in a container in the same place for over a year. How should I create an espalier frame for it?

For an answer we turned to Alan Uchida, the nurseryman at Bellefontaine in Pasadena. He writes:

Espalier is a technique for growing plants against a flat, vertical surface. Among the benefits is an abundance of fruit in a relatively small space. The fig is particular good for espaliering because it has flexible branches when young and produces all of that fruit very fast.

The process is simple: Though you certainly could build your own support structure, first-timers might simply want to buy a strong trellis with a nice design. Then gently bend branches to the shape of your choosing, and secure them to the horizontal bars of the trellis using simple plastic ties available at nurseries.

You have many formal shapes in which you can grow the tree: candelabrum, double U-shape, fan shape. But a simple stack of three horizontal tiers emanating from the tree’s base would certainly work. Over time, just prune the side limbs and the top of the tree whenever it has reached your desired shape and size.

Unlike espaliered apples or pears, which need to be propagated through grafting, more fig trees can be produced as cuttings. A black mission fig or white Genoa fig tree can bear large, sweet fruit from June to November. At my nursery and many areas with little frost, you may see fruit year-round.

We welcome reader questions about what to plant and how to solve gardening conundrums. Sent inquiries to home@latimes.com with “SoCal Garden Clinic” in the subject line. Because of the volume of mail we receive, we can respond only to select questions.

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