What is plant training?

Plant training is a method of teaching plants how they should grow.

Sometimes this is done merely to create a visual oddity, as in the “circus trees” of Axel Erlandson. In other cases, it is used for practical purposes.

In one fantastic and ancient example, people in northeastern India have for centuries been training tree roots to grow over rivers, forming living bridges. Closer to home, native peoples across North America trained trees to grow into bent shapes, to serve as markers for trails and important sites.

Plant training is also used in suburban yards. Commonly, vining plants are trained to grow up a trellis instead of sprawling across the ground. Some books on gardening in small spaces advocate training fruit trees to grow flat against a fence or wall, a technique known as espalier.

Training techniques can also be used to prevent woody plants from growing in undesirable directions. This is generally accomplished by pushing or pulling branches into a new position, and holding them there. For example, two branches growing too close together can be spread by pushing them apart and wedging a block of Styrofoam in between. Or, one branch can be pulled in a new direction, then held in place with a rope tied to some stakes. After some time, these supports can be removed, and the plant will remain in its new shape.

Plant training often does not involve any cutting. Upcoming posts will explore why cutting is ineffective in many situations.

What is plant training?

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