Spotlight on Multi-stemmed Trees
By Lorraine Spooner
This form of plant is defined as a tree with two or more main stems arising near ground level, but importantly growing from one root system. Specific pruning techniques carried out at an early age encourages the formation of multiple branches. Usually, a multi stemmed tree has a short spur as opposed to a shrub, whose branches naturally form from ground level (or just below). In the natural world, grazing animals eating away at the bark can simulate pruning, which encourages new growth to form from the trunk as a process of rejuvenation.
Because multi-stems combine characteristics of both a tree and a shrub, with an open structure at their base and often with a greater foliage mass than the same tree in its usual form, their features, such as perhaps beautiful bark or stunning flowers, can be enjoyed at close quarters, rather than gazing skywards to appreciate these attributes.
A multi-stemmed tree has many uses in a garden setting:-
- as a stand-alone specimen to be viewed from all angles;
- as a barrier to invite exploration to other parts of the garden;
- in a mixed planting scheme where often their open structure creates a window through which other plants can be appreciated;
- to provide dappled shade to a seating area where a single stemmed tree might cast excessive shadow from a large canopy;
- to add interest to a large area of lawn by strategically planting ‘punctuation points’ to break up a long vista;
- to plant in groups for structural impact; very effective with a white stemmed Birch, set against a green backdrop;
- cultivate a new area of garden for your choice multi-stem and underplant with low growing perennials, grasses and spring bulbs, (ensuring the planting circle is maintained free of competing plants);
- use where an open and informal character needs to be maintained, such as in a garden with naturalistic planting schemes – a growing trend;
- introduce diversity to the garden by planting amongst other standard tree forms;
- and last, but not least, use for that all important focal point.
With many beautiful examples available at the Plant Centre, I have highlighted the attributes of some below to assist you in making your choice. Our expert horticulturalists will be able to provide you with each plants’ preferred conditions to ensure you have the right plant for the right place.
Acer palmatum ‘Osakazuki’
With an open habit and fresh green palmate foliage, this Japanese Acer takes on the most intense scarlet autumn colour, known as one of the best for the longevity of this late season display. Ideal for the smaller garden, it will mature to a maximum of four metres, provided a sheltered position out of full sun is provided.
Arbutus unedo ‘Compacta’
A compact form of this unusual evergreen, which fruits and flowers simultaneously in autumn; with small bell-shaped creamy-white flowers, appearing as the previous season’s flowers mature to globular strawberry fruits, making an eye-catching display of colour contrast. The glossy foliage, deep red petioles and mahogany bark all add to the spectacle.
Deservedly popular as multi-stemmed trees for their naturally open habit and many seasonal attributes, Amelanchiers start the show off with young bronze foliage unfurling as the white five petalled flowers clothe the branches in early spring; stunning autumn foliage colour of red and orange and purplish black berries follow for the hungry birds. Amelanchier ovalis is an alternative with young silvery green foliage and other characteristics similar to lamarckii.
Betula utilis var. ‘Jacquemontii’
The ‘classic’ tree for a multi-stem, these graceful birches provide a loose canopy of mid green foliage turning buttery yellow in autumn, creating dappled shade and a calming rustling sound as the breeze flutters through the canopy. The intensity of the white bark increases with age, resulting in a winter spectacle, when all around has defoliated and descended into dormancy. Plant where the multiple white stems can be enjoyed to full advantage.
Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’
The Red Bud is another tree often favoured in multi-stem form due to its gently arching habit and stunning foliage which can be appreciated at eye-level through the seasons. From deep red-purple in spring and summer to hues of orange and bronze in autumn, this tree captures the eye over a long season creating a kaleidoscope of foliage colour. The vivid bright pink flowers clothe the bare stems in early spring, almost as a ‘look at me’ starter for what is about to unfold.
Cornus kousa ‘Weisse Fontane’
Literally meaning white fountain, this is certainly the perfect name for this flowering dogwood, as the showy white flower bracts weigh the branches down, creating a cascading fountain effect. The tight central flower clusters mature to deep pink raspberry like fruits, which are edible, containing beneficial anthocyanins. The foliage turns from green, to orange and dark red, and the attractive bark can start to peel on mature specimens. Another choice specimen is ‘Eddies White Wonder’, which has a reputation amongst aficionados as the very best white flowering dogwood.
The Golden Rain Tree – what a lovely name, this tree needs to be seen to be fully appreciated when its long panicles of small yellow flowers light up the attractive pinnate foliage, which changes through the seasons from red, to green, and finally to yellow. Small bronze-pink fruit follow later in the season. The spreading, open habit makes this tree the perfect candidate for a multi-stem, but you need to be quick off the mark to plant in time to enjoy the ‘Golden Rain’ in July.
The Sweet Gum is renowned for its spectacular autumn display, when myriad shades of crimson, purple and orange bedeck the maple-like foliage over a long period, before falling to create a tapestry on the ground below. The flowers and fruit are termed as ‘insignicant’ in botanical terms, which implies they do not have much to offer, but, in my mind, they still contribute to the overall picture.
Magnolia x loebneri ‘Leonard Messel’
This Magnolia is not only frost resistant but will also flower from a young age – an unusual feature in Magnolias. Its rounded spreading habit suits the multi-stemmed form, making it an ideal specimen for the smaller garden. The deep pink buds open to fragrant lilac flowers in April, appearing before the leaves begin to unfurl.
Also on offer is Magnolia kobus – the Northern Japanese Magnolia, with fragrant large white flowers delicately tinged in pale pink, which can appear as early as March; and its close relative, Magnolia stellata – the popular ‘star’ Magnolia, compact and bushy, with white flowers in spring.
The species name is a giveaway for this Japanese Flowering Crab Apple, when the pale pink-white flowers, opening from deep pink buds, create a cloud of blossom seemingly hiding the branches beneath. The yellow/green fruit are a reliable food source for wildlife in winter and are a pleasing contrast against the warm bronze tones of the autumn foliage.
Also on offer in this genus is Malus toringo ‘Scarlett’, with purple foliage, beautiful deep pink blossom and small purple crab apples, which persist through winter.
Prunus serrula var.‘Tibetica’
The Tibetan cherry boasts impressive glossy mahogany coloured bark with prominent horizontal lenticel bandings, making this the ideal specimen for the bark enthusiast. Often referred to as the Birch Bark Cherry, due to the bark peeling away to reveal new layers beneath, it is a unique and tactile choice for a multi-stemmed specimen and should be sited where its beauty can be admired to best advantage. Clusters of white flowers appear in spring, which mature to small cherry fruit in summer; the narrow willow-like foliage takes on yellow tints in autumn before falling.
We look forward to welcoming you back to the Plant Centre but if you require any further information on any of the above trees, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.