A wide range of shrubs, small trees, and vines grow well in containers – many can be easily trained to grow in the semi-formal shape of a standard. The single, upright stem or trunk of a standard, topped by a full, bushy top, adds great beauty and interest to any container garden. With a little care and patience, you can train your own standard from simple nursery stock. Here are the steps.
First, choose the type of plant you would like to grow. Here is a list of some common ones which form beautiful standards, some with showy blooms for a short period, others with blooms all season long, and some with beautiful foliage:
Brugmansia (Angel's Trumpet)
Juniper – some of the ground covers make a beautiful vining standard
Select a plant that will so well in your climate (and the microclimate of your container garden) and that you will enjoy. Choose one that already has a strong stem with upward habit, and replant in a good container with quality potting soil.
If your plant has many stems emerging from the soil, prune away all upright stems but the one strong upright you wish to train. Insert a stake in the pot, and tie the stem to it at several points to encourage straight growth. Tie loosely with soft fabric or stretchy gardening tape. Do not remove the lower leaves and branches yet – too much pruning at one time could kill the plant.
As your standard grows, continue to tie to the stake, changing to a longer stake if needed, until the desired height is reached. Turn your plant regularly, to ensure it receives even sunlight and grows symmetrically.
When your plant is nearing its desired height, prune away any lower branches and leaves, leaving a straight, bare trunk.
When your standard reaches its desired height, pinch or clip off the growth at the top of the stem – the 'terminal growth'. This will encourage the plant to branch out and form a bushy 'head.'
Continue pinching new growth at the tips of branches to encourage more branching, until the desired shape is achieved. If desired, prune the head into a ball shape - the most common shape for a standard.
If you are growing a vine, you may wish to add a T bar at the top of your stake. Train a few branches along each side of this cross bar, allowing them to drape downward at intervals. This make a beautiful 'waterfall' effect.
Prune annually and as needed to maintain the shape of your standard, and remove any branches or side shoots which emerge along the trunk.
With regular care and simple pruning, your standard will add beauty to your garden for many years to come.