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Brenda's Garden
Brenda's Garden
by Brenda Beust Smith
Friday, June 05, 2009

Lantana make fun trees.Be patient, like the "trees" in Brenda's Garden.

"Adopt the pace of nature:  her secret is patience." 
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

You'll need to listen to Ralph Waldo if you want to try the advice in this column. 

Creating a tree out of a shrub, such as the lantana pictured above, isn't hard, but it does take a lot of patience.  It's fun, and it's certainly an eye-catcher.

And, with many of us starting over with shrubs just now regaining their strength, this can be a good time for a little experimenting. 

Start with three to six good sturdy vertical stalks.  Somehow, uneven numbers of "trunks" just looks better.  You could be really brave and go for just one.  But if you lose that one, the game's over. 

Big exception: oleanders.  If you're trying this with an oleander, it's best to take a good strong single branch cutting and work with that, rather than trying to discourage the growth of already established branches.

It's easier if you start with a new shrub, one that hasn't had time to "harden off" numerous vertical stalks. 

There's really no trick to it.  You just prune away, or pinch off, all the vertical and horizontal growth except what you want for the "trunks."  Leave a canopy of leaves at the top.  The plant needs these for survival.

As the plant grows, producing new upward growth, continue to remove the lowest growth until the top reaches the height you'd like and the bottom side of the canopy is as high as you want it to be.

You have to be diligent.  I thought I had a varigated hibiscus conquered until our yard flooded several years ago.  Suddenly incredible growth sprouted from the base and it hasn't stopped since.  Every now and then I pull it all off, but the top canopy has never been as beautiful as it was then.

DurantaI've done this with several white durantas (golden dewdrops) and they are especially beautiful, because the flowers tend to cascade downward.

Hummingbird bushThe woodier the shrub, the easier it is to turn it into a tree.  Weak-limbed plants like plumbago may not develop strong enough "trunks."  Hummingbird bush (Hamelia) conforms easily, as would many roses, shrub crepes and azaleas. (right photo)
Pruning a shrub into a tree shape is called creating a standard. 

It does weaken the overall plant.  In the beginning, it's a good idea to stake the main stalks to make sure they grow upright.  They'll be weak at first and more susceptible to wind damage or growing at an angle toward sunlight.

You'll also need to protect these if we have a hard freeze, at least for the first few years.  Once the trunks harden, they should be okay.

Good luck!

Brenda Beust Smith (Features > Brenda's Garden)
"THE LAZY GARDENER'S GUIDE ON CD" — a gardening book on CD offers gardening tips plus 12 pre-designed gardens for butterflies, hummers, sun, shade and more. Monthly what-to-do reminders for Greater Houston/Gulf Coast gardens. $20 each. Make checks payable to Brenda B. Smith & mail to: Lazy Gardener's Guide on CD, 14011 Greenranch, Houston, TX 77039-2103.

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