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.
Spotlight on Multi-stemmed Trees

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.

Spotlight on Multi-stemmed Trees

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.

Spotlight on Multi-stemmed Trees

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.

Spotlight on Multi-stemmed Trees

Amelanchier lamarckii

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.

Spotlight on Multi-stemmed Trees

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.

Spotlight on Multi-stemmed Trees

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.