Gardeners are divided about how they feel about "standards" -- some gardeners love them, others will have nothing to do with them.
"Standard," here, means a naturally bushy plant trained to have a clear, upright stem capped by a mop of leaves -- a miniature tree.
A plant may set off on the road to standard status by a few routes. For an instant standard, graft a bushy plant atop a straight trunk of another, closely related, naturally upright plant.
To grow a standard from the ground up, begin with a seedling, a rooted cutting or an established bushy plant. With the established plant, begin by lopping all stems down to soil level.
From here on, the seedling, the rooted cutting, and the plant that has been lopped back can be treated in the same way. Allow only one main stem -- the trunk-to-be -- to develop, and keep it upright by tying it every few inches to a stake.
Shoots will grow out along this developing trunk, more or less depending on the natural bushiness of the plant. Diligently remove all side shoots, merely snapping them off.
Once the main stem reaches full length, it's time to form the mop head. The best height depends, artistically, on the density and size of the leaves. The thin, dense leaves of a rosemary standard look just right filling an 8-inch ball atop a 12-inch trunk. But a 4-foot trunk and an 18-inch mop head are needed to accommodate the larger, broader leaves of a potted bay laurel standard.
Begin forming the head by pinching out the growing point of the main stem. This pinch stimulates side branches to grow near the top. Create a dense head, now, by pinching those side branches after every few inches of growth.
Once your standard is fully grown, periodic maintenance pruning is required. Continue to remove any side shoots that attempt to grow lower down along the trunk. Treat the head as if the plant were a bush, periodically cutting back some shoots or shearing the head as needed.
Just about any bushy plant can be trained as a standard. Besides rosemary and bay laurel, other plants commonly trained to standards are coleus, geranium, fuchsia, heliotrope, and verbena. You might be surprised to see in this list some plants usually grown as annuals. They can, in fact, develop woody trunks when grown in pots as perennials, in which case they need protection from cold.
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