Training Shrubs to Single-Stem Tree Form

Training Shrubs to Single-Stem Tree Form

Looking to add a distinctive feature to your yard? Try training shrubs into a long, branchless central stem topped with a full head of foliage. With quality plants, the right technique and patience, you can transform your favourite shrubs into dynamic tree silhouettes. Here’s how.

  • Start with a high-quality shrub in a one or two gallon pot and plant as you would any shrub.

  • Examine the shrub and select the largest, healthiest stem. This will become the ‘trunk’ of your tree-form shrub. Prune off most of the other stems, leaving some extra branches untouched for the moment. The extra foliage of these branches will give the plant the energy it needs to grow.

  • Maintain the tree form by pruning off new side shoots so that all of the plant’s energy goes into the remaining stem.

  • Stake and rod the stem to keep it upright. The rod and stakes should remain in place until the selected stem is able to support the weight of the plant.

  • Once the shrub reaches the desired height (1.2 m of clear stem is a good guideline), clip the top to force buds out, and remove any buds on the stem. This is also the time to remove those extra branches you left on the stem for plant growth. Treat like a normal shrub to produce a nice round head.

  • The shrub will continue to produce shoots in unwanted areas. Remove these shoots to maintain the tree form.

Make sure your expectations are realistic—training will not transform a 2-m tall shrub
into a 4-m tall tree, though your shrub may grow a little taller than usual because the
plant’s energy has been redirected to a single, central stem.

You can train almost any shrub, but here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Amur maple
Russian olive
Evans cherry
Hardy roses

Multi-Stemmed Tree Forms

Many large shrubs can be trained to multi-stemmed tree forms of three, five or seven
stems. Russian olive and amur maple look beautiful when trained to these forms.

Buying Tree-Form Shrubs

If you like the look but don’t feel like doing the work, you can buy mature shrubs in tree
form. Some of these shrubs are trained to tree form (dogwood, potentilla, ninebark, hydrangea), while others are created by grafting a shrub such as lilac or caragana to a
compatible rootstock. Note, however, that grafted tree-form shrubs are generally easier
to maintain than trained tree-form shrubs, as the rootstocks are chosen both for height
and their tendency to avoid creating side shoots. Grafted tree form shrubs come in a
variety of heights. In some cases, the central stem may be a metre tall, in others only
half that. It all depends on what the grower has chosen.

Grafted Cacti


There are a lot of cool looking plants that I like, but grafted cacti are some of my favourites.
A grafted cactus, in its simplest form, is taking a top of one cactus and sticking it on top of another cactus. After a few weeks, the tissues of the two cacti knit together and a new, and unique plant is born.
A type of grafted cactus that many people love is one that involves placing an unusual, but colourful, cactus called "moon cactus" on top of another similar sized "base" cactus that has had its top removed. Moon cacti lack chlorophyll (the stuff that most plants need to harvest sunlight) thus allowing the bright red and yellow pigments to shine through.
The result is red or yellow-capped cacti with green stems, that create an unusual and beautifully striking plant. Since the moon cacti have no sunlight harvesting chlorophyll, they rely on the green stems of the base plant to provide the nutrients for survival.
Now just remember these cacti require plenty of sunlight and hate "wet feet" so err on the side of less rather than more water. Other than that, sit back and enjoy these strange, but very pretty, grafted cacti!

We recently received a whole bunch of other very interesting cacti (see below!)

~Jim Hole