Training Apple Trees for 'Step Over'

toolmania1March 25, 2012

We are gathering information about training our apple trees into a 'Step Over'. We read in a book, "Plants for Small Spaces", by Clive Lane, that we could take 2 apple trees and train them to bend inward towards each other use a piece or wood in between them. We tie the trees to the wood I guess. What this creates is a horizontal line in which the apples would get full sunlight. We would just like to know if anyone has done this and if they have any information about it. Here are some other more specific questions we have regarding the "Step Over".

1. How far apart do you plant the two trees?

2. Can we use semi drawf trees or should we use full size trees?

3. How high should we put the piece of wood to train the trees when we tie the trees to the wood?

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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

1. Maybe 6'.
2. No and NO! Step-overs are grown on DWARF (not semidwarf or full-size) rootstock.
3. How high can you step?

Maybe I'm wrong, but your questions make me think you haven't really researched this topic at all. Before you go buy some trees, I'd plan to learn quite a bit more, and I'd do some consideration as to why I wanted to use this method and what the potential down-sides (there are some) would mean in your application.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2012 at 12:58PM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

You need a very dwarfing root stock and you need to start with a maiden whip. I don't think you'd have much luck trying to make an established tree into a step over.

Here is a link that might be useful: How to train step over apples

    Bookmark   March 25, 2012 at 1:12PM
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Have you tried researching this online? If you Google "step over apple trees", you will generate quite a lot of how-to information, including photos of established step over plantings. They are essentially a single tiered, horizontal cordoned espalier. Not terrifically dissimilar to growing fruit trees in a standard espalier format except that you start with very small trees - whips - initially.

Here is a link that might be useful: step over fruit trees

    Bookmark   March 25, 2012 at 1:18PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

there is a fruit forum.. and i have never seen most of those experts EVER over here..

otherwise i dont care where you post


    Bookmark   March 25, 2012 at 1:38PM
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alan haigh

I'd never heard of a stepover tree although I've made my living for the last 25 years entirely installing and managing fruit trees and running my fruit tree nursery. Add another 18 years and it's my total experience managing apple trees in a wide variety of climates and soils.

Brandon gave good advice but I would add that having a fruit tree so close to the ground has so many disadvantages for trying to get fruit production it seems more for novelty than anything else.

Here's a few that come to mind- being closer to the ground is huge encouragment to fungus problems- mice and other rodents would consider these apples their personal banquet, greater susceptabilty to mechanical damage, and more difficult to pick fruit (except for before mentioned rodents).

The only advantage I can think of would be if you were in Z3 or colder and wanted to cover the trees over winter. As far as saving space, wouldn't a fully dwarf tree trained vertically and only taking 4' of horizontal space save more room?- unless someone owns all your sky space over 12".

    Bookmark   March 30, 2012 at 10:52AM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

harvestman - they are typically used over here as an edging between vegetable gardens and paths. They do not cast shade on the veggies, take up no width to speak of and you can get at the beds to work by literally stepping over them. They are a pretty and productive way of growing fruit in the very small spaces most of us have to garden in. If you have plenty of space, are growing fruit only and are not concerned with veggies obviously normal cordons would be more productive.

Here is a link that might be useful: Step over as path edging

    Bookmark   March 30, 2012 at 1:29PM
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alan haigh

Thanks Flora, that makes sense. I don't know how the apples would do in our warmer and humid climate in the eastern U.S. but in the west it might work if the apples didn't scorch.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2012 at 3:04PM
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