Horizontal Cordons

In bygone times, the horizontal cordon method was widespread for training grapes on house façades. Foliage and fruit grow from one or two horizontal, rigorously trained arms or cordons. Unilateral cordons (1 angle) and bilateral cordons (T-shape) are possible, the vertical main trunk remains usually without foliage.


The cordon tradition was passed down as "Thomery-Cordon" from a French village of the same name near Fontainebleau / Paris. Outstanding table grapes were grown in this way from quality grapevines. The photos shown here were taken mostly in the east German region of Saale-Unstrut.

Spatial Requirements

Horizontal bands usually 70 - 120cm height, narrower strips are greened with so-called Garlands. The optimal length for a unilateral cordon used to be 1.2 m in Thomery, or 2.4m for a bilateral cordon. For the contemporary grafted and vigorous vines, these can be longer, however for covering very extensive areas it is best to train several vines. If at all possible, the two arms of a bilateral cordon should be of the same length. The minimal distance above the ground is approx. 0.5 m, but heights of 5 - 6 m are possible.

Trellis Systems

Trellis Systems and Timber Espaliers. Includes usually a vertical wire rope to guide the vine upwards, and 2 - 4 horizontal wire ropes (spaced 25 - 35cm apart). The cordons or arms are tied to the lowest wire rope, from where the yearly new shoots grow to several tiers, where they become entangled with each other. If shoots are not entangled with others, they are either tucked behind the wires or tied to them.

Training and Pruning

For training procedure refer to the illustrations below. On the horizontal arms or cordons, vertical shoot positions (VSP) spaced approx. 15 - 20cm are developed. If these VPS are rigorously developed from the upper side of the cordon (from every 2nd or 4th bud), the cordon will be more productive and longer-living, because there are no sap flow obstructions in one half of the arm cross-section. Only cordon extensions are usually trained from buds on the lower side of the cordon. 

The canes later undergo pruning, usually Spur Pruning or, if some fail, Rod Pruning, some special varieties and for very high yields also Cane Pruning. If necessary, additional Summer Pruning.

Grapevine as cordon
Unilateral and bilateral cordons on horizontally arranged wire ropes
Cordon trained grapevine
Medium size cordon
Horizontal cordon
"Internal life" of a cordon in July
Trellis with vine
A cordon after summer pruning and tying can look that tidy!
Cordon on a base of a house
Cordon trained along the base of a house, spur pruned
Cordon pruning
Cordons before winter pruning (in front) and afterwards (at back)
Cane pruning, vine
Rather rarely seen, but very high-yielding: cordon trained predominantly cane pruned and fruiting canes tied to wire rope.
vine cordon
Wide cordon grown from just one vine
Bilateral cordon at harvest time.
Bilateral cordon at harvest time.
Historic cordons
Cordons before spur pruning, historic illustration. Each tier is made up of a separate vine - this is a very safe variation, which prevents the lower areas from becoming bare.
Cordon training
Spur pruned cordon, on 3 wire ropes analogous to System 1060.
Training 2 tiers of cordons from one grapevine is also possible.
Vine as cordon
Espalier band or "ribbon" with bilateral and unilateral cordons. For more photos go to Winter Pruning.
House vine on a trellis
everal cordons on a timber espalier
Grapevine on a wall
Cordons on a natural stone wall.
Village forge with grapevine
Two unilateral cordons on the wall of a blacksmith's workshop
Terrace with vine
Horizontal cordon on a balustrade.


1st / 2nd Year

Cordon training
Diagram 01: Growth and thinning in the first spring.
Grapevine trained as cordon
Diagram 02: Careful bending and tying of cane onto lowest trellis wire
Diagram 03: An axillary shoot arising from the bending point is also carefully bent and tied, others are trimmed back to 1 leaf.

2nd Year

Diagram 04: Winter pruning, per cordon 2 upper buds and one for cordon extension are retained.
Diagram 05: In contrast to a vertical cordon, only every 2nd bud is used here (if eyes are spaced very tightly, every 4th bud is used), all others are rubbed off. In cold regions (eg east of the Elbe), one bud on the lower part of the main trunk can be retained as a back-up or replacement spur, in case of severe frost damage.
Diagram 06: Shoot growth of the retained buds. At the end of August, the shoots are trimmed back to about 1.0m to 1.5m length, to ensure maturation of the lower buds.

3rd Year

Diagram 07: The shoots grown from the "upper" buds in the previous year are spur pruned to form vertical shoot positions and, if appropriate, will undergo Spur Pruning in the future, same for the replacement spur. Depending on the growth habit of the vine, the cordon extensions are trimmed back to 3 - 5 new upper buds. The distance between buds, as well as between buds and already formed vertical shoot positions should be approx. 15 - 20cm. If the cordons are to be extended further, then a "lower" bud at the end of each cane has to be retained, as per Diagram 04 / 05.
Diagram 08: Rubbing off buds in winter resp. thinning young shoots in spring. 3 - 5 upper buds remain per cordon, and if required, one lower bud at the end of each cordon for extension. The lower shoot - if present - is trimmed back to a replacement spur.
Diagram 09: Fruit canes growing from the 4 finished vertical shoot positions resp. spurs and from the buds retained during winter pruning. From the latter ones, new spur positions will be formed during the next winter pruning. At the end of August, the shoots are trimmed back again to about 1.0m to 1.5m length, to ensure maturation of the lower buds.

Cordon Extension

Diagram 10: Different variations to extend a cordon by pruning or thinning: 0 = unpruned, 1 = with densely spaced buds on the extension, 2 = with loosely spaced buds, 3 = with offset densely arranged buds. The cordons should be extended by max. 0.8m (Variation 1) each year, or 3 - 5 new vertical shoot positions respectively. If the extension is to reach areas much further away in a short time, then it can be 2 - 3m long, however, in this case, only 4 - 5 upper, suitably spaced buds (Variation 2) or buds in a suitable position (Variation 3) are to be retained. If required, a "lower" bud is to be retained again at the end of the shoot, for repeated extension.
Diagram 11: After rubbing off buds
Variation 1: for cordon extensions which are to be high-yielding and spur pruned
Variation 2: for cordon extensions which are cane pruned and for garlands, for which rapid lengthening and sparser foliage is desired.
Variation 3: for bridging intermediate wall spaces, eg also to guide cordons around house corners.
Diagram 12: After bud break in May. Variation 0 is useless due to the irregular, partly already weak or missing bud break.