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Can I grow multi stem shrubs as single stem?

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Question from CD


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Due to paths, fencing and tight space I have grown some of my shrubs like tall Hebe, Forsythia and Pieris as single or double stem plants, pruning back all other stems or side shoots until a height of 3 or 4ft so that they grow much like a small tree or a Standard with a clear stemmed 'trunk', though not so formally shaped as Standards.

I'd like to know if anyone thinks this technique would work on any of the following multi-stemmed or normally bushy plants;
Elaeagnus 'Quicksilver'
Enkianthus campanulatus
Amelanchier Lamarkii 'ballerina'
Viburnum, Osmanthus
Physocarpus opulifolius 'Diabolo' (Ninebark)
Philadelphus (Mock Orange)
Flowering Current
Coloured stem Dogwoods
Aucuba (Laurel)

For vigorous growers I will also need to restrict the 'canopy' height to 9ft and the spread to 5ft max, often much less.

My garden is mainly but not exclusively acid soil, some of it clay, some loam, reasonable drainage and moisture. Half the plants will be for partial shade in a slightly sheltered North and East area, the others are for full sun /light shade in a windy South and West area.

Thanks to anyone with tips, hearing of failures may be just as useful as hearing of successes.

  • Views: 3538
  • Replies: 11
  • Posted: Wed. 8th April 2009 11:05

growing plants as standards

Reply from Mark Pumphrey

looking at the list I can see only problems with the dog wood which would not respond as well to your idea of growing as a single stemmed shrub. I tend to prefer a more natural look to my planting so have never tried to grow any of these as a standard so you are on new turf for me. Please let me know how you get on with these plants I would be especially interested in seeing a standard Enkianthus.

Mark Pumphrey MSGD

  • Posted: Wed. 8th April 2009 19:41

Not too formal

Reply from CD

Thanks Mark,
I suspected the dogwood would be a tough one to try. I too prefer a more natural look but space is tight and this is the best way to have nice tall shrubs and still allow for smaller shrubs and perrenials below which softens the appearance making it all look more natural.

It tends to take me at least 3 years to get them tall enough to get the full effect but I'll be sure to post photo's of any that are successful. Thanks again for replying.

  • Posted: Wed. 8th April 2009 20:04

Opprotunity to grow other things!

Reply from Matt Nichol

Sounds really interesting, are you taking the opportunity to underplant the shrubs to get maximum use of the space?

  • Posted: Wed. 8th April 2009 20:12


Reply from CD

Yes indeed, there are several layers of underplanting either planned or underway, lots of spring bulbs, shade loving ground cover plants, Hostas, Skimmias, and a variety of summer flowering perrenials. When it's all finished I'm hoping for a lot of plants at different heights to really create an everchanging backdrop to a small garden through all the seasons - fingers crossed!

  • Posted: Wed. 8th April 2009 20:32

What an interesting idea

Reply from Georgie

My garden is small and narrow and I think this is a fascinating idea and one I shall certainly give some thought too. Buying larger shrubs on dwarf root stock is an expensive business so thank you so much for this tip. :D


  • Posted: Thu. 9th April 2009 19:50


Reply from Fi

Hi CD,
I have done this for fun with a viburnum fragrans and whilst I don't get as many flowers as usual, due to pruning so it doesn't get top heavy, it is quite decorative. The problem with some of these is that the stems will never be thick enough to sustain much top growth -so trees like Amelanchier for instance will not give you the beauty of a fully spreading branched tree.
I have also done it with a Rosemary, which was pretty successful, but as it aged the stem split (though the split section refused to die and I wired it to its main splint!).
Good luck - it usually takes a few years to see how they will turn out, well worth it. Maybe start them off in containers, to contain the roots as well as the top growth.
Let's have some pics if you have any.

  • Posted: Sat. 11th April 2009 23:03

Thanks Fi

Reply from CD

Thanks Fi,
That's great info, especially about the viburnum as it's really good to know how it impacts the flowers. I'm thinking I may try Viburnum but allow it to have 3 or 5 main stems so there is more growth at the top and I can pruned them in rotation to hopefully ensure good flowering on a couple of stems each year.

I did accidentally do it with a rosemary and a santolina because I neglected them. When I noticed they'd become leggy I made a feature of it but after a few years had the same issue as you with the main stem breaking. In future I'll try and give them a small stake right from the start. Thanks for your tips.

  • Posted: Sun. 12th April 2009 13:32


Reply from Fi

Hi again
I saw in a recent garden visit a honeysuckle grown as a standard around a sturdy metal pole, with rings at the top. The stems were twined around,how you sometimes see figs (or ficus for the intellectual gardener!) and the top growth was twined around the rings so that you couldn't see them. I thought it was a great idea, and could potentially be used for thin stemmed shrubs? Might try it when I've stopped using all my time and enery onmy veggie beds!
Good luck with your viburnum. I have also seen on Monty Don's around theworld series a gardener who makes clouds of the topgrowth of shrubs and hedges - tried it with a viburnum but looked very sad! lol

  • Posted: Sun. 12th April 2009 20:53

Re. Twining

Reply from CD

I like the sound of that, in the past I've inadvertently allowed too many honeysuckle's grow up leggy before pruning properly so I know I'd be good at that one!

I tried cloud pruning a cotoneaster years ago but I was new to gardening and messed it up. The one in the current garden has 3 stems and is loosely clipped a few times a year, just enough to keep it's size without sacrificing the berries that the birds love in winter.

  • Posted: Thu. 23rd April 2009 23:32

Amelanchier Lamarckii pruned

Reply from CD

Since asking the question earlier this month I've taken the plunge and bought 3 plants to try the technique with, Photina 'red robin', Viburnum Tinus and Amelanchier Lamarckii.

I did a another search just now I found that Sarah Price Landscapes planned a Chelsea garden using Amelanchier in a similar way in 'The QVC Bejewelled Garden' 2007. Here is the site that has the plan and pics of the finished garden:

You'll have to wait a few years before I'll have plants ready for my own photo's but I hope it will be a success.

  • Posted: Thu. 23rd April 2009 23:46

Multi stems and clouds!

Reply from Fi

I probably watched a review of the 2007 Chelsea show because I 'pruned' a viburnum fragrans in my front garden into 'clouds' lol. It looked like a refugee in all honesty. However, after 18 months to recover, it has started shooting from the base again and is making a neat little bush at ground level - better suited to its gravel garden environment. I haven't had the heart to dig it up! Thanks for the representation of the Amelanchier at Chelsea - my own is multi-stemmed and I had wondered if I should have bought a single stemmed plant, so much cheered. Good luck with the other shrubs. I have a red robin photinia that I have severely 'columnised' due to the erection of a summerhouse, and it has responded beautifully peeking over the roof this spring!
Keep in touch with progress. Fi

  • Posted: Fri. 24th April 2009 21:17