Issue: August 13, 2005

What is espalier? | Tea bags in the garden?

What is espalier?


What is espalier? I saw a picture in a garden magazine and the caption called it espalier. Is this a type of plant?


Espalier is a means of pruning a shrub or small tree. In this manner of pruning, the tree or shrub is trained in a two dimensional pattern (flat) against a wall. The tree or shrub may be formed into elaborate patterns resembling multi-armed candelabras or other interesting geometrical patterns. It takes much effort and knowledge to maintain a plant in this form, so it is only recommended for the very devoted gardener or for landscapes maintained by professional gardeners.

This method of pruning allows the growing of fruit (apples, pears, and others) in a small area against a building or wall. Flowering trees and shrubs can be used to create colorful patterns against a wall, or trees and shrubs with colorful fruit (such as pyracantha) can be used to beautify an otherwise blank wall.

Plants trained in this manner help shade a wall to reduce heating during the summer and provide insulation to reduce cooling in the winter.

The plants will require annual pruning in the winter to remove excess growth and may require summer pruning as well. Such high levels of maintenance require proper plant selection and a good understanding of the ability of plants to tolerate such extreme pruning.

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Tea bags in the garden?


This summer my family has been drinking large quantities of iced tea. Is it okay to put the tea bags in the garden or compost?


As long as the tea bags are paper or other biodegradable material (not nylon or polyester), the tea bags can be put into the garden or into the compost. In the garden, they can be placed on the soil surface directly under the plants or dug into the soil. On the surface of the soil, they may be unsightly but otherwise they will be beneficial as they decompose. By digging them into the soil, they will decompose more rapidly and will be out of sight.

In the compost pile, they should decompose even more rapidly than when dug into the soil. As they decompose, they create humus that is beneficial when added to the garden or when used to make potting soil.

Loose tea leaves and coffee grounds (after cooling) may also be used in the garden and compost pile. The return of organic materials to the soil improves the soil for many garden applications and reduces the amount of material sent to the landfill (prolonging the useful life of the landfill).

There are a few plants used in xeriscape that are harmed by added organic matter. These are usually plants native to arid, gravely, well-drained (highly aerified) soils. Some of our desert penstemons respond poorly to added organic matter.

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Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email:, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at Desert Blooms and the NMSU Horticulture Publications page.

Send gardening questions to Southwest Yard and Garden - Attn: Dr. Marisa Thompson at, or at the Desert Blooms Facebook.

Please copy your County Extension Agent and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!