No matter how nice your fence looks to you, it can seem a little blank. While the primary purpose of the fence is to keep your kids and pets in and your neighbors out, there's no reason to make that the only purpose. Fences provide handy space for vertical gardens and plant supports. One common use for a fence is as a support for an espaliered fruit tree. If this sounds like an interesting project, how do you know if your fence will be an appropriate support?
What Do You Want From the Tree?
Will the tree be for looks and an occasional piece of fruit, or will you attempt to have a substantial yield of food for your family once the tree starts producing? Privacy and protection are concerns if you have a fairly open fence, such as a chain link fence, split rail, or even a fence that is tall and has many planks, but that also has enough space between those planks for someone to reach through.
If you're not that concerned about having all the fruit for yourself, then your relatively open fence is fine. If you do want to protect the tree and fruit from grabby neighbors, then you'll either have to replace that section of fence with something more solid, or you'll have to move the tree to another spot in your yard. Keep in mind that placement can be picky for espaliered trees, so replacing the fence may be your only option.
Do you want the fence to be the main support for the branches? When you espalier a tree, the branches grow along wire set up in a pattern, but that wire has to be attached to something. Many people set up posts in front of a fence -- you need room for proper airflow between the fence and the branches -- and string wires along that. But you can also add masonry hooks to brick and other solid walls and fences.
If you want to attach the wires and branches to hooks in the fence, you need strong material. Chain link, for example, could bend easily under the weight of the branches as they got bigger. Vinyl or wood, though, could hold those up nicely.
Then there's the matter of fence maintenance. The branches will cover part of the fence and make it harder to do things like repaint or fix broken planks. Look for sturdy materials that are low-maintenance, like vinyl fencing that doesn't need to be repainted.
When you have an idea of what type of trees you'd want to grow, talk to a fencing contractor from a company like Ashlee Fence Enterprises, Inc. about connection points and what to do if you do need to make repairs after the branches have grown in. Many people find espaliering trees a rewarding practice, and no doubt a fencing company would find it an interesting project.