Training shrubs as standards

A standard is quite a formal, ornamental way of growing shrubs, which aims to bring the bulk of the ornamental growth into the eyeline. Only certain plants can be trained in this way, although others can be top-grafted to create the same effect. Whether the plant is a single specimen or grafted, the training and management is the same.

To create a standard, select a one or two year old plant. First you need to select a strong stem, which is growing more or less upright, to be the leader. Insert a stake (eg a bamboo cane) alongside this stem (causing as little root damage as possible) and tie the leader into it so that it is vertical. Remove any strongly growing stems back to the leader and cut back all the other, weaker, growing stems to half their length. Don’t remove any foliage from the remaining stems and leader – the plant needs this to continue producing energy for growth through photosynthesis.

The following year, remove all the laterally growing stems, but retain all the leaves on the leader.

Once the leader has just gone over the required height (usually 1 to 1.7m) cut it back to three sets of buds above the required height (these buds will start to form the bushy ‘head’ growth). Pinch out any shoots which are growing on the main stem, but retain any leaves. You may find that you need to replace the original stake with a more substantial, and longer one.

The following year, cut back by half the lateral stems which are forming the head of the standard, this will encourage further lateral growth from them to make it nice and bushy. Continue to pinch out shoots growing from the main stem.

In the following and subsequent years, continue to prune the head to encourage bushy and balanced growth. Remove all shoots from the main stem and, now that the head is established, you can also remove any single leaves from it. Once the stem is sufficiently thick, and if the plant is in a sheltered spot, you may wish to remove the stake. However, if the plant isn’t well sheltered, or if it’s only viewed from one side, so the stake can be ‘hidden’ on the other side, then it’s best to retain the stake and simply continue to loosen the ties so they don’t dig into the stem.