Is it just personal preference or what tree is available or are there times a multi-stem tree is a better choice? I want to add a bed anchored by a tree on each end.
Not all trees are avaiable in a multi trunk. There are time I prefer a multi trunk. But it is not always avaibale. How much room do you have, what are the conditions?
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Some understory trees like acer gresium, trying to spell paperbark maple, I almost prefer multi trunk if they have interesting bark.
For a large shade tree or taxodium, bald cypress, you better have a reason if you purposely go multi trunk.
Any particular species or cultivar you're thinking about?
depending what you want to do with the rest of the bed... would be the determinative factor in what trees you consider ..
e.g. ... if you want to garden.. in the long run.. you better avoid most maples.. and birch .... IMHO ...
both have very shallow surface roots.. and inside a few years.. a decade.. you wont be able to put a shovel in the ground.. let alone grow plants that will compete with a large tree.. or two
after that.. then i would consider how many trunks i might want ..... though there are classic multi-trunked treees .... i have see every type grown as such.. usually a function of having been mowed or deer chomped when young ....
The area will probably be about 20-24 feet long and it would get quite a bit of sun. I am thinking 2 smaller trees or 1 small tree and 1 large shrub. The rest of the bed would be some smaller shrubs and perennials. We do have deer that pass through the yard frequently although they don't seem to linger and I think more of our plants have been damaged by rabbits.
Species I am looking at are Ironwood, lilac trees (either Japanes or pekenisis), Seven Son Flower or other large tree like shrub. The Ironwood and some of the lilac trees are available either way. Seven Son and larger shrubs would be multi-trunk. I've seen some grafted on a single trunk but I didn't care for that look - at least at the stage they are at when I've seen them.
If the tree is naturally a multi-trunk or large shrub form, it often looks odd when standardized. An example would be Lagerstroemia (crape myrtle), which naturally produces multiple trunks but is often grown as a standard. The trunk never attains the caliper of a naturally occurring standard. Thus, you end up with a huge crown on a spindly trunk. To my eye it looks awkward and it is unstable. So I would determine the natural form of the tree you select and go that way. Or, if from a design perspective you prefer one or the other form, use that to help you choose the species.
If you want to know whether a plant is naturally multi-trunked, look in a good reference, like Hortus or Sunset or similar.
What reference is Sunset? I have a big thick Michael Dirr book but not at home to see if that has the info.
Dirr doesn't always mention whether they are multi-trunked in the wild or cultivation. Sunset Western...or ...National Garden Book is a standard reference, esp in the US & Canadian west.
Thanks for the info on the references. I can never have enough garden books.
Any other opinions on when one style is better or looks better than the other? Thanks.
As a rule, standards are more formal, multi-trunks more free-form/casual, so that may help you decide. Much is personal preference, though, so if you like one better than the other, go with your own taste - it's your garden!
What Sara said. Personally I don't like the tortured look of standarding, say, crape myrtle.
we could better understand this spot.. if you posted a pic for us to see it ..