Pleached trees are a great way of adding privacy to a small or overlooked garden. They have a modern clean shape which blends well with newer contemporary houses and also heritage properties. Available in a variety of beautiful specimens there's a type for most tastes. However, gardeners can be put off as to how to plant them as they do require unusual staking. Don't let that put you off, here's your one-stop guide!

As a garden designer, who specialises in awkward and overlooked gardens, I use pleached trees a lot in my designs. This is not because I’m lazy with my tree choice, but because they really do offer a host of benefits to a small garden. Whether it’s politely blocking out nosey neighbours, adding some contemporary drama or making the most of the space underneath them, pleached trees can bring the wow factor to any garden.

Pleached trees offer privacy and year-round interest in a garden leaving space underneath for planting. Great for small gardens!

However, they are a bit of a diva when it comes to planting and staking. I think this is where most people get put of pleached trees and topiary. If you don’t take your time to prepare them correctly your design concept will fall short. Badly supported or incorrectly planted trees means you could be left with wonky donkey leaning trees. Don’t be put off though, a small amount of time in the preparation of your pleached tree planting will ensure years of beautiful symmetrical planting.

What are pleached trees?

A pleached tree is achieved by training a tree to a specific, usually rectangular or square, shape. Think of a cartoon or lego square tree! The tree is allowed to grow on a main stem or trunk, with any lateral (side shoots) branches being removed before it reaches its ultimate height. Then the laterals are allowed to grow out. The branches and subsequent laterals are tied onto a stable framework. Any branches that grow outside of this or contrary to the shape are pruned out before they turn woody. Keeping a really neat shape or habit. After a couple of years, you end up with a beautiful formal shape a bit like a screen on a stem.

Pleached trees come in a number of species and there’s plenty of variety to choose from. The most common varieties are:

  • Oleaster (Elaeagnus x ebbingei) -like the ones in this guide
  • Hornbeam (Carpinus Betulus)
  • Beech (Fagus sylvatica)
  • Holly (Ilex aquifolium)
  • Red Robin (Photinia x fraseri)
  • Cherry Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus)
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How to plant pleached trees.

Pleached trees are planted in the same fashion as any container-grown plant, it’s the staking that differs significantly. First things first though!

  • Dig a hole that’s 1.5 times the size of the original pot.
  • Loosen the soil in the base and around the sides of the hole that’s been dug
  • Remove any debris from the hole.
  • Carefully remove the pleached tree from the pot  – sometimes they are braced and stapled into the pot which needs removing first, this can sometimes be really delicate work!
  • Position the tree in the hole then stand back
  • Make adjustments with adding/removing soil until the tree is level and true – sometimes its easier to have a friend help with the viewpoint when you adjust it.
  • Backfill with the same soil – there is no need to add fertiliser or compost as this will just stunt initial root growth which is needed for the tree to anchor itself over the next few years
  • Ensure they are really well compressed, heel towards the trunk pushing away from the tree. If you fail to backfill and compress properly, the tree will undoubtedly suffer from settlement.

How to support pleached trees

It is now necessary to make a frame for the pleached trees to ensure that they don’t move or migrate over time. This happens particularly in exposed sites or as the soil may settle if air pockets of soil give way. This is usually if not completely backfilled.

By creating a frame you can ensure that the trees stay true to their clean lines.

A solid framework for Pleached trees is essential to keep their uniformity

The best method I have found over the years is to use a mix of fence post stakes and pressure treated timber batons. I try and design my frame to be of minimal visual impact and try and mirror the positions of the tree trunks so it doesn’t distract from the beauty of the trees. Though obviously, it depends on the site, whether stakes can be placed where you want them etc! So don’t beat yourself up if it’s not perfectly symmetrical. The key here is to make sure the support is solid and can hold the trees in their desired position.

Hammer in some suitable tree stakes, here I’m using 2.4m stakes. You want to make sure they are in deep enough so they don’t wobble or move easily. There is no need to concrete them in or anything more drastic. A simple lump hammer should do the trick. I am using 5, given there are 5 pleached trees to support.

Using a piece of pressure treated timber you need to then brace the stakes horizontally. You will need a spirit level, pencil, drill and suitable screws (such as decking screws). You want the brace to be just below the bottom of the frame for neatness. This brace holds the stakes together as one unit. Meaning that they completely support the trees giving you a really stable level frame.

Drill two pilot holes for two screws and then attach the first end of the brace. Then using the spirit level mark off on the other posts the top of the brace. Drill pilot holes and screw each one in as you have the first. By the end, you will have a horizontal (hence the spirit level) brace across the back of your pleached trees.

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Tying pleached trees to the supports

Now here is the most important tip with any tree supports. You need to use a rubber or flexible tree tie. If you use string, wire or those cable ties you found in the garage, you’re going to damage the tree. Potentially killing it over time.

If you look at quality pleached trees the branches and supports will have been tied in with rubber strips. This allows movement, flexibility and growth without cutting into the tree. The tie cuts into the tree it can cause irreparable damage to the water and food transport system, the lifeblood of the tree. Causing it to basically die of thirst!

Now that the melodrama warning is out of the way; why are rubber tree ties so good? Well, rubber tree ties are great as they allow you to tie the tree leaving enough flexibility for it to move slightly. You never want a tree to be entirely fixed, any severe wind will certainly then damage it. Rubber tree ties also allow you to adjust them over time, usually to loosen them as the tree grows.

There are two parts to a rubber tree tie. The first is the solid loop that goes around the stake or support. Then the other length, the one with the slots in. This slotted length goes around the trunk of the tree and the arrowhead fits back through the slots. You want it tight enough to hold it in place but not so its strangled. Think as you would if you were tying a formal suit tie.

Aftercare of pleached trees

Once you have tied and supported the pleached trees you need to give them a really good watering. Ensuring that over the next few weeks you give them a good soaking at least twice a week, more frequently if the weather is warm and dry. This will help establish them in the ground. Keep checking the trees for any initial movement and tweak the ties if necessary.

With most pleached trees you’re required to prune them twice a year, usually early spring and then late autumn when they are dormant. As a rule of thumb, I tend to trim off any shoots that grow past the frame or tie them into the frame to cover any gaps that maybe there. It’s really quite simple! If you need help with pruning I have a really speedy guide below to help.

So there you have it, a comprehensive guide to planting and supporting pleached trees. Please comment below if you have any questions or on my Youtube channel for more help. I’d also love to see pictures where you have used pleached trees in your own gardening!

Pleached trees in modern garden design

If you’re a fan of pleached trees then why not TweetFacebook or Instagram me with your pictures? You can also follow me on Youtube where I’ve got plenty of garden guide vlogs.

Happy Gardening.

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17 thoughts on “Pleached Trees; planting and support guide

  1. Robert Watts says:

    We are buying 6 pleached beach trees for screening cover in our garden. We have our house on the market at present to sell. So we will be putting them for now into large pots. What will be the best way of securing /staking them until we move?

    1. lee says:

      Hi Robert, Great to hear from you. I would still stake them with a brace of some description or they will blow over. If you can fix this brace to a fence or wall that would be best if you’re then going to move them again. Failing that I’ve used elasticated strapping (the ones with hooks on the end) to keep them tied to a fence before I’ve moved them. Hope that helps! Happy Gardening.

  2. Christine says:

    Hi there, we are thinking of getting some pleached trees for our back garden as it is very overlooked by our neighbors. I think we will need about 12.
    Please can you advise how far out from a fence pleached trees should be planted? Thank you

    1. lee says:

      Hi Christine. Great to hear from you. I’d always advise that a foot or 50cm is about right. This means you can trim the back and there’s some airflow. Too close and you can’t clip and you may end up with issues as airflow helps keep plants healthy. If they’re too crammed things like fungus or pests can take over for example. Hope that helps!

  3. Mark Bennett says:

    Hi,

    My pleache’d trees have been in the ground three years now and have good growth but at what point ,if any, do I loosen or remove the trunk ties for the supporting canes?

  4. Jane says:

    Hi
    We are looking at 6 pleached evergreen for privacy at the side where we border neighbours but the wind can be quite strong as it whips between the houses. 1.8m stem and 1m frame can you please advise which would be most suitable.
    Thank you

  5. Jane says:

    Hello,
    We have removed 2 large llalandii from our back garden and now need to replant with something to hide the overlook from neighbours. I love the look of pleached trees but with the previous stumps we can’t plant new trees closer than 2m, preventing the pleached frame from meeting and leaving a gap. Will the pleached trees ever grow across the gap or is it better to plant a traditional tree instead and just wait for it grow tall enough?
    Thanks

  6. Lewis says:

    Hi – I’m considering using pleached trees in my front garden to screen people looking into our house. I have a 4.4m fence that the trees would screen above, so don’t know if I’d need 3 or 4 trees. What would you advise? The trees I’ve seen have 1.2m screens, so how close do you plant them to each other? Is it OK to overlap them? And how far do the grow sideways? Or is the idea to always keep them the same width as the screen? Great advice about framing them too – I will definitely do this!

  7. Mel says:

    Hi
    Would you use an electric or battery operated hedge trimmer to prune pleached trees or prune by hand using shears?

  8. Michelle Kenna says:

    Is there plant food I can buy to help growth?

    1. lee says:

      Hi Michelle, The best way you can help plants and trees grow strong is by using a decent compost mulch placed directly on the soil. I have an article on that here. Hope that helps. Lee https://www.gardenninja.co.uk/mulching-your-garden/

  9. Alison Froom says:

    Hi
    We’ve moved into a new house and the developer planted red robin pleached trees but some have died is there any way I can encourage some branches to go across further to the next wooden support. As I think then I’d only need to replace two

    1. lee says:

      Hi Alison, Great to hear from you. To encourage bushy lateral growth you pruning back to the next stet of buds this will encourage more bushy growth. There’s no easy way to make a stem or branch grow longer without some skill and patience. Cutting back to the next set of buds is the easiest way to encourage further growth. Checkout my pruning guide series on Youtube here.Happy Gardening. Lee https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL7HK5RsLCR9crgatYb4LcwE34Om3cKsIO

  10. Katy says:

    I am planting hornbeam footballs and want them to grow into a pleached hedge. Any tips.

    1. lee says:

      Hi Katy, Thanks for your comment on pleached trees. If you’re planting root balls you need to make sure that your planting hornbeam standards and not hedging plants. A standard has one main stem. It’s then a case of over years training each shoot at the top into a frame that you would need to build. In all honesty, it would be quicker to buy the pleached trees already established as it is a real skill to achieve. All the best. Lee

  11. Iris says:

    Hi Lee
    I’d like a pleached hedge but the plants are very expensive. I’ve found some nice pleached apple tress which are about 5 foot high. Will they grow taller over time, or stay the same height.
    Thanks for advice. Iris

    1. lee says:

      Hi Iris, It depends on the rootstock. In my experience they won’t grow too vigorously, obviously, it depends on the rootstock they are grafted onto. They are probably pleached more for produce than height or vigour. Happy Gardening. Lee

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