There’s nothing more beautiful than a flowering shrub in full bloom, except maybe a flowering shrub in full bloom that has been trained to grow as a single stem tree. Imagine having a fragrant Viburnum Tree next to your patio or outside your bedroom window, waking up to such a terrific aroma.
Training The Plant
Don’t confuse what I am going to explain here using the usual method of grafting flowering shrubs on into the stem of some kind of rootstock. Grafting is extremely effective, but not very easy to do. This is significantly easier. Not just that, when you train the tree to grow into a single stem tree, you may end up with some very interesting plants.
Training a flowering tree to grow into a single stem tree is in fact pretty simple. The younger the tree you begin with, the easier it is to train. I have a friend who grows thousands of Tree Hydrangeas annually, and that is how he trains them. The variety he grows for this objective is P.G. Hortensie. (hydrangea paniculata grandiflora) This is the one with the huge white snowball blooms.
He begins with rooted cuttings and traces them out in the area about 30″ apart. The first year he lets them develop untouched as multi-stem shrubs. Being a fast growing tree, they generally produce 3 to 4 branches which grow to a height of approximately 3 to 4′ that season. The next spring he goes into the field, examines each plant and selects the 1 stem that’s the straightest, and is very likely to grow up from the roots if tied to a stake.
He then clips all the other branches as close to the main stem as possible. Then he pounds a stake in the ground as close to the main stem as possible, and clips the tip off the single stem that’s left. This forces the plant to place lateral buds just below where he clipped off the top, rather than continue growing up. These lateral buds will grow into branches which will form the mind of the tree. Then he ties the stem to the stake.
As it starts to grow, any buds that look under the top group of buds are chosen to maintain the single stem tree form. That’s all there’s to it. You can use almost anything for a bet, and only tie the stem to the stake with a piece of fabric. I also anchor plants to bets with a single wrap of duct tape. I find that if I just wrap the tape after, the sun will dry the adhesive and the tape will fall off by itself in about 12 months. 1/2″ electric tube (conduit) also makes a fantastic stake, and is only a few dollars for a 10 foot piece.
You can do the exact same thing with an older established shrub if you can locate 1 branch which may be tied to a vertical stake. The stem is very likely to be jagged and not too smooth due to the wounds from where the branches have been removed, but it doesn’t mean you can’t make an interesting plant. Some of the shrubs that make beautiful and unique ornamental trees are lots of varieties of Viburnums, Burning Bush, Winged Burning Bush, Red and Yellow Twig Dogwoods, Weigelia, Mockorange, Rose of Sharon, and Flowering Mandel.
Try this plant
I’m sure there are a lot more. My preferred shrub to train to a single stem tree is Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick. In tree form this plant is very interesting with its own twisted and contorted branches. The new expansion is reminiscent of a pig’s tail. Using the same technique as explained above I pick one stem, tie it to a stake, and train it to grow as a single stem tree. The effect is wholly unique.
Call your local garden stores and ask them if they have a Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick plant. Give it a go, I’m positive you will have fun and make some very interesting plants to your landscape.