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How to grow a multi stem shrub or tree?

What is the best technique to grow a multi stem shrub/small tree in a garden? I see so many photos of multi stem trees and large shrubs online, which look really beautiful as you can lift the canopy to plant underneath, plus they just look really elegant (in my opinion, anyway).

However, when I've tried to search how to do this online, there's so little information. I wondered if anyone here can explain the technique to me? I'm part curious, part inspired to have a go - I'd love to learn about how it works even if I never end up doing it myself (laziness...!). Do you have to start with a really young plant? What sort of time period does it take to get to the point where the multi stems start having a visual impact - ie years?

For info, I was looking at things like Amelanchier lamarckii or similar.


  • FairygirlFairygirl Posts: 50,346
    In most cases, you'd just cut them back to near the base. Amelanchiers are a good example. Chop back to a point lower down, and they'll throw up several trunks, rather than having a single leader.  :)
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

    I live in west central Scotland - not where that photo is...
  • Anna33Anna33 Posts: 300
    Thanks, as simple as that, then?! How far down to the base would you cut in order to trigger other trunks to grow, and in what season? For example, would it need to be done in winter when the plant is dormant so as not to stress it too much, or is it better in early spring as the plant is just starting to grow again?

    And it is better on a 1-2 yr old plant, or on one that has a stronger root system to withstand the stress?

    Again, partly this is curiosity as I'm always on the lookout for things to learn, and it's been something I've wondered about for ages, but if it is as simple as cutting back the main stem to the base (or near the base) I'm kind of tempted to give it a go.
  • PlantmindedPlantminded Posts: 1,985
    Hello @Anna33, is there a particular plant you are planning on experimenting on?  Some trees and shrubs respond better to this treatment than others. 

    I have used this technique on eucalyptus, silver birch, arbutus, buddleia, portuguese laurel and catalpa. In most cases I cut the main stem back to about a foot above ground level - this keeps the new shoots above possible slug damage level!  As the new shoots emerge you can leave all to develop into new stems or be selective and rub off those that you don't want.  It is a bit of an art, like topiary, creating the shape that you want.  I'd wait until early March to do your pruning.  I'd also make sure that the plant looks sturdy and has a well established root system before pruning, to lessen the shock, typically after at least one full growing season.

    Another shaping technique which you mentioned is to lift the crown of a plant by removing the lower branches.  I've done this to all the trees in my garden because my growing space below is limited - it means the borders get more light but you can still enjoy the height of the tree.

    The link below shows which tree species are commonly grown as multi stems, there's lots of possibilities!

    Buy True Multi Stem Trees | Ornamental Trees Ltd (

    There are also many helpful videos on line showing you how to use these pruning techniques.

    Have a go, it's very rewarding to create your own unique shape!
    Wirral. Sandy, free draining soil.
  • The city council drastically pruned some rhododendrons a while back. The actual reason was to deter drug users hiding underneath. Anyway, with the removal of the lower greenery it made the multiple stems stand out very nicely.
  • Anna33Anna33 Posts: 300
    @Plantminded, thank you so much, this is exactly the info I was looking for! I guess I was thinking of an Amenlanchier initially, but that link has given me a couple of different ideas.

    Even if I don't go down this route, the info alone is good to know, and you've answered something I've been wondering about for ages!
  • AthelasAthelas Posts: 702
    edited January 2022
    I followed pruning option 2 to create a multi-stem shape for my Physocarpus.

    From (a US site)

    ”For a totally different look that highlights the exfoliating bark of ninebark, you can choose a bunch of the thickest stems to save. Choose three, five, or seven, and make sure that they aren’t crossing each other and that they have a similar angle coming out of the ground. Clean up any branches and small twigs off the stems as high as you can, leaving some at the top. These will become the trunks of your multistem, small ninebark “tree.” As the tree grows through the years, keep removing the lower small branches and twigs from the large central leader trunks. As they mature, these trunks will have beautiful exfoliating white bark, and the tops will weep over, forming a beautiful flowering canopy. Any limbing up should be done from late spring to early fall.

    Other plants that benefit from this approach:

    • Kerria (Kerria japonica)
    • Deutzia (Deutzia spp.)
    • Mock orange (Philadelphus spp.)”
  • FairygirlFairygirl Posts: 50,346
    Buddleias need, by their very nature, to be hacked back in late winter/early spring. They require that treatment because of their growth habit and the fact they flower on new growth  :)
    Amelanchiers can be either a shrub or a tree. Just hack back in the same way.  :)

    Lots of evergreen from Camellias to Mahonias and all points in between. can be treated in a similar way if necessary [ie if they've outgrown their space]  but many of them grow in that habit anyway, so with those, it's more a case of exposing the existing trunks to raise the canopy. 

    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

    I live in west central Scotland - not where that photo is...
  • PlantmindedPlantminded Posts: 1,985
    Hi @Anna33, creating your multi stem shrub or tree is just a form of coppicing.  This link below explains the difference between coppicing and pollarding, both useful techniques in the garden:

      Coppicing and Pollarding - BBC Gardeners' World Magazine (
    Wirral. Sandy, free draining soil.
  • Anna33Anna33 Posts: 300
    Well I do like to hack back at my buddleia when I get a chance....! Quite cathartic. :D

    And @Athelas, I've also got a (young) physocarpus, which I bought last year. I've had a look at it this morning, and there's definitely stems I can leave and stems I will cut out, to get a nicer shape like that mentioned.

    Thank you all, really appreciate all of the above.
  • PlantmindedPlantminded Posts: 1,985
    @Anna33, with your recent knowledge, that poor buddleia should be carefully pruned to a pleasing low, well considered framework, please, not hacked back! 😊 I don't actually prune mine low as I like it as a multi stemmed tree to block off the view of my neighbour's "home office" - I just reduce its height by a third in March to promote new shoots and flowers and it provides a much pleasanter view! The plant is in shallow sandy soil so I don't want to risk it not reaching my desired height in summer!
    Wirral. Sandy, free draining soil.
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