What Makes A Standard Plant: Learn About Standard Plant Features

By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

Plants come in many forms – vining, trellised, topiary, coppiced, bonsai, etc. The list goes on. But what are standard plants? A standard plant features a woody trunk and is more or less a tree-like form of a trained plant. They are available at many nurseries and plant centers or you can create your own standard. These stand-out plants have vertical impact in containers or in the garden setting. Learn how to make a standard plant and impress yourself with this wonderful stand-alone form.

What are Standard Plants?

While perusing nursery catalogs you may come across the term “standard.” What does this mean? It means you are in for a real treat, both in ease of care and in eye-catching beauty. Standards may be needled evergreens, deciduous fruiting, or even flowering perennials. It takes time to create a standard, so for the do-it-yourselfer, patience is a virtue.

Many enthusiasts have fun names for standards such as ball on a stick or lollipop. This gives a visual cue to a standard plant’s appearance. The term comes from the Old English “standan,” meaning “to stand.”

Standard plant features include a single stem, sometimes woody, but if not, a supported main trunk of some sort. It may be a twined stem such as in the case of a standard wisteria, which is made by winding the vines around themselves to support a leafy canopy. The process starts when the plant is young and there are three main ways in which to develop a standard form.

What Makes a Standard Plant?

It is the supported leaf and flower portion of a plant that designates it as a standard. Plants that accommodate the form might include:

  • Camellia
  • Holly
  • Dwarf magnolia
  • Dwarf fruit
  • Miniature ficus
  • Azalea
  • Photinia
  • Sweet bay

The key is selection of a young plant that still retains flexibility in the stem. Training consists of removing any competitive stems and pruning to achieve the shape. You can start with a seedling, a cutting, or an established container plant. During training it is important to keep the stem or trunk straight and true for best appearance. Training a plant yourself is much more economical than purchasing one already developed. It is not hard, but does require some time and attention to the growing standard.

How to Make a Standard Plant

The quickest establishment is through the use of a mature plant, but it takes more time to develop the stem. In this case, lop off any peripheral stems and stake the main trunk. Pinch off any shoots on the stem and only allow side shoots on the top of the stem to form a canopy. Depending on the plant, you can create a ball, cone or arching canopy.

Another way to start a standard is with a rooted cutting. When the cutting is at least 10 inches (25 cm.) tall, begin training it to one central leading stem. In the second year, start to form the canopy.

The final method to make a standard plant is with a seedling. This will really take some patience as the plant comes into maturity, but you can start even when the plant is young. Pinch off side shoots and stake the young stem. This is when you can also develop several stems to twine into a unified trunk.

Keep standards potted while training for ease of care because in-ground plants are more likely to send up competitive shoots that will ruin all that careful work.

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This townhouse courtyard featured on Home Living Now shows a great way to make space appear larger by keeping the number of colors used to a minimum. Purple and yellow are complementary colors that work together to make each color stand out, but any color pairing you love would work. Keep the plants low and loose, to soften the geometric shapes of hardscaping, such as the patio, lawn, and pathway.

When planting a crevice garden, the first question that comes to mind is how to wedge the rootball of a potted plant into the narrow crevice between two vertical rocks? Even plants grown in small 2 1/2" wide pots are too wide. Bare-root planting is required.

  1. Let the soil in the to-be-transplanted plants dry down a bit so that the soil mix can be readily separated from the roots. (It's very difficult to bare-root a plant in soggy soil.)
  2. Trim off excess hair roots with scissors or sharp clippers (remove about 1/4 to 1/3 of the bottom fine, hanging roots), but don't cut the tap-root.
  3. Using a narrow planting trowel, a Hori Hori gardening knife or weed fork, push aside the soil and gently lower the roots straight down into the hole.
  4. Then fill the hole with loose soil and firm into place.
  5. Water twice: once with clear water and again 5 to 10 minutes later with a mix of SuperThrive and liquid seaweed (Root Stimulator Combo Pack).
  6. Mulch with 1/2" of fine crushed gravel.
  7. Finally, position a couple of rocks leaning on each other, such that it shades the plant from the sun. Leave the rocks there for about a week to 10 days to help the plant re-establish its roots.

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