In horticulture, a standard is a plant on a standard or pillar, a form that shows off pendulous flowers, such as fuchsias or weeping cherries, and allows rampant growers such as bougainvillea to be used in small gardens or even grown in pots.

Plants that will make good standards include:

1. Fuchsias

Encourage a strong, single-stemmed plant to grow upward or prune back a straggly plant in winter, remove all but strongest, most vertical of the spring growths that follow. This, staked upright, forms the standard.

In both cases, pick off side shoots until the standard is the right height. Then remove the top 2 inches. Leave only two side shoots that follow – sturdy ones, close to the top, on either side.

Remove tips from side growths at 4 inches, selecting two shoots to remain on either side of each branch. Shoots from these branches are pinched back at 4 or 5 inches until the bushy, balanced top is formed. The plant then can flower.

Keep compact by pruning (leave 3 to 4 inches of last season’s wood) in late winter, or in autumn, in warm, frost-free areas if you want spring flowers.

2. Azaleas

Easiest from taller, faster-growing Indicum types (Splendens, Alphonse Andersen, Exquisite, Alba Magna, etc.). These can make tall, sappy canes which, separated the following winter with enough root growth, establish on their own.

However, cuttings are usually taken from vigorous shoots and potted.

These plants make a single stem until they form a flower bud. After flowering comes an umbrella of branchlets. So keep in a warm position, feed with liquid plant food, especially in late autumn/early winter.

Pinch out any flower buds before the desired height is reached. Growths will emerge just below the tip; keep only the strongest one, and tie it upright when it loses sappiness. Pinch out top when high enough.

New growths will branch naturally after flowering, but cut back, sacrificing flower buds, if too leggy. Trim lightly after flowering to preserve compact shape. A stake is needed. The stems are brittle, easily snapped.

3. Camellias

Select a good, upright, single-stemmed plant. Trim away side branches below the desired height. Shorten back remaining top to encourage even growth.

Rub off excess shoots, pinch back others when long enough. Trim after flowering each year. Remove any thin, twiggy growths.

4. Japanese Maples

Ordinary Acer palmatum types are produced similarly to camellias. Soft, pendulous dissectums need budding on to a vertical seedling of Acer negundo or Acer palmatum, in mid to late winter. Rub off any shoots that appear below the graft.

5. Bay trees

Often grown as 4 or 5 feet standards with perfect, globed tops 3 or 4 feet across. Clipped bays make impressive potted specimens at entrances, pathways, etc. The European bay tree (Laurus nobilis) adapts to most climates. This is the bay leaf used in cooking.

6. Kumquats

Decorative as potted standards when carrying bright orange fruits. Plants with long, single stem need little training. Prune any runaway branches, thin any excessive growth.

7. Orange trees

Orange trees grow similarly. Containers tend to dwarf growth, and occasional pruning preserves shape and size.

8. Bougainvilleas

Leave young plant for 6 to 12 months to establish on a stout stake, preferably of painted metal.

Tie one vigorous shoot in an upright position, remove the remainder. Don’t tie the top section of the shoot until the young wood loses its softness. Remove side shoots; pinch out the top to encourage branching when a few inches above required height.

If the young established plant remains hard and twiggy without a promising shoot, cut it in spring to a few inches from the ground to encourage new base growth.

Or, to create stronger support, let two shoots grow and crisscross around the stake, spiral fashion. With age, they tend to fuse, almost envelop the stake. The twisted stem tends to restrain growth.

Prune standard bougainvilleas after flowering to preserve form. Pinch back later, if necessary. For good balance, the top needs to be nearly as wide as the height of standard; preferably no wider than twice this height.


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