Growing Standard Plants

Shrubs grown in containers have been popular for hundreds of years. The technique of training plants to grow in this way originated in the Orient, particularly in China and Japan. The Japanese and Chinese first began to grow them in the shape of small trees, called ‘standard’ plants. It gradually spread to Europe and has long been a favourite with both English and French gardeners.

  • Depending on variety, plants are either stand outdoors during late spring and summer, but half-hardy plants need to be overwintered in a cool spot indoors, preferably in a frost-free conservatory.
  • Choose an upright variety such as Winston Churchill, with red and purple flowers or El Camino, cherry red and white.
  • During the first year, train one strong stem of the young plant by securing it to a stake. Remove all the other stems with a sharp pair of secateurs and pinch out new side shoots as they appear.
  • During the second year, continue to pinch out any unwanted shoots. Stop the plant once it has reached the required height by nipping out the main growing point. The plant will now begin to bush out at the top and eventually form a colourful crown of leaves and flowers.


The true Marguerite, Chrysanthemum frutescens, makes a striking standard plant when it is fully grown. A dense bush of bright green leaves provides the perfect foil to the white daisy-like flowers.


Start with a rooted cutting if possible and stake the strongest stem securely. Remove the other stems and pinch out any side shoots. During the second year, continue to remove the side shoots and secure the stem further up the stake as it grows. In late summer, remove the growing point to encourage the plant to begin to bush out, ready to give a good show of flowers the following year.

Coffee Tree

Grow Coffee Tree, Coffea arabica as a standard for the conservatory or large room. Start with a small plant about 20cm (8in) tall.

Pinch off the lower leaves and remove side shoots as soon as they appear to avoid creating unsightly scars along the stem. Continue to train the plant in this way for the next two or three years and you will be rewarded with an attractive, long-stemmed Coffee Tree.


Fuchsias are an ideal subject to train as standard plants. Hardy and half-hardy varieties can be used and they are easy plants for the beginner. Both types can be pinched and pruned to the desired shape such as Marguerite, or grafted on to a stem of a different species like the rose. Although grafted shrubs can be bought, many plants can be easily shaped at home by pruning and pinching.

Training Standard Plants

In the first year train a strong young stem using a stake. Remove all other stems with secateurs and pinch out new side shoots as they appear.

A standard plant has a single, non-branching stem at least 75cm (30in) high, topped by a crown of branches, leaves and flowers. A half standard plant is trained in the same way, but with a shorter stem about 60-75cm (24-30in) high. Plants with gracefully drooping branches at the top of the stem are called weeping standards.


In the second year, continue to pinch out any unwanted shoots. Stop the plant when it is the required height by removing main growing point.

Caring for standards

Most standard plants appreciate a period outdoors during summer. Give them a sunny or shaded spot, depending on variety, and keep a close eye on watering and feeding needs. Move frost-tender plants indoors well before the first winter frosts are due.

They will need a cool, light and airy position to overwinter successfully, and need to be well away from radiators and other sources of direct heat. Hardy plants may need some protection from frosts when the winter is severe. Reduce watering while plants are resting, but don’t let the compost become completely dried out. Prune lightly to keep plants shapely by shortening new summer shoots.

When temperatures rise in spring, increase watering very gradually and move plants outdoors when all danger of frost has passed. Check plants regularly for aphids and other pests and take the appropriate action if these become a problem.

Standards to grow

Foliage varieties:

  • Weeping Fig, Ficus benjamina
  • Mistletoe Fig, Ficus deltoidea
  • Spotted Laurel, Aucuba japonica
  • Sweet Bay, Laurus nobilis

Flowering varieties:

Fruiting varieties:

  • Seville Orange

Choosing a grafted standard Standard roses bring a wonderful display of colour to the balcony or patio. Hybrid tea roses and floribundas can be bought as half or full standards, while weeping standards, which have pretty trailing stems, are created from rambler roses. Those suitable for growing out side in tubs include Broom, Cytisus x praecox which has arched sprays of yellow, lemon or gold flowers in spring and Pagoda Bush, Enkianthus calllpanulatus, which has clusters of pink flowers and red and orange autumn foliage.

Some standard evergreens will give you both flowers and fruit. Choose from Viburnum davidii, with heads of white flowers followed by turquoise blue berries, or Cotoneaster ‘Coral Beauty’, with white blossom and red berries during autumn.

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