As a Garden Coach, I’m often asked for “trees” that stay about 8-12’ tall. Most people don’t realize how few trees there are with that mature size – but there are many shrubs that can be pruned to have a tree-like form, with an open branching habit down below and a pretty multi-stemmed trunk.
Tibouchina urvilleana, or Princess Flower, is one such shrub. Tibouchina is great for this because it has really pretty cinnamon-colored bark and grows with an open, attractive habit, though you need to clear out a lot of twiggy business before you can see it.
This one was planted a little over a year ago, and is finally big enough to begin doing some initial training for its ultimate tree shape. I won’t clear it out entirely because they are frost-tender and spring is a ways away, but I’ve started with a technique called “skirting”, which removes the branches that are growing in a direction I don’t like – sideways and sprawling on the ground:
After the last frost has passed in spring, I’ll peer inside the shrub and remove any branches that are growing inwards towards the center of the shrub, selecting only a few branches (3-5) to form the framework of the “tree”. I’ll then clear off any shoots coming off the lowest third of the branches, so we’re left with about a foot of pretty, bare branches with about two feet of foliage and flower.
As the shrub grows, I’ll continue clearing out stems that point inward towards the center of the plant and removing shoots on the “tree trunks” until I’m happy with how my tree looks – just enough pretty bark and stem showing, open at the base for dwarf shrubs and perennials to fill in around the tree, and plenty of lush gorgeous foliage and flowers on top.
You can use this technique with Lilacs, dwarf Citrus, or any other 8-12’ upright shrub, as long as you can see a few well-spaced branches that will make an attractive framework.
Tell me: What are your favorite large shrubs/ tiny trees? And have you had luck with pruning any of your plants into a small tree shape?