When choosing trees for your landscape, a key decision is whether to go for single-stem or multi-stem varieties. Single-stem trees have one main trunk and aim for height to compete for sunlight, while multi-stem trees have several to many trunks spreading out from the ground, focusing on occupying lateral space.

Both single and multi-stem trees offer beauty, shade, seasonal interest, and other benefits, but they have different growth habits and structural needs. So, before heading to the nursery, think about whether your landscape would benefit more from the upright, organized look of single-stem trees or the fuller, architectural look of multi-stem varieties.

Keep reading to learn more about the differences between these two types of trees.

What Is a Single-Stem Tree?

A single-stem tree is defined by having one main woody trunk that extends from the roots and soil line. These trees focus on growing tall quickly during their youth. Depending on the species and genetics, their canopy shapes can vary, including conical, rounded, weeping, pyramidal, or oval.

Single-stem trees direct their energy upward on a single trunk, rather than spreading out on multiple stems. In contrast, multi-stem trees, like the multi-stem silver birch, have gracefully diverging branches that create a unique silhouette and a broader canopy.

Group of tall palm trees bottom view

Common Examples of Popular Single Stem Trees Include:

  • Palm: Palm trees, such as coconut palms and date palms, are recognizable examples of single-stem trees. They have a single straight trunk covered in leaf scars and old fronds, growing up to 100 feet tall before branching into a crown of large, evergreen leaves.
  • Corsican Pine: The Corsican pine, a single-trunk pine species, grows in a dense, cone-like shape, reaching up to 40 metres tall at maturity. Its spiny, evergreen leaves grow in bundles of two needles.
  • Italian Cypress: Italian cypresses have the classic slim, columnar silhouette of single-stem trees, reaching up to 60 feet tall but often only 3 feet wide. They lack branches along the lower portion of the solitary stem, with whorls of flat sprays adorning the upper portion.

Single-stem trees are ideal for accentuating lawns, anchoring corners, or framing entries. As they mature, they provide directional shade and visually draw the eye upward.

What is a Multi-Stem Tree?

Multi-stem trees, unlike traditional single-trunk trees, have several equivalent trunks or stems emerging from the ground. These stems may either share one root flare or arise in close proximity from the roots as shoots. As the tree grows, these multiple stems expand laterally at a similar rate, creating a spreading, horizontal silhouette rather than a tall, vertical one.

A picturesque scene of Roma Street Parkland in Brisbane surrounded by lush vegetation

Examples Of Popular Multi Stem Trees Include:

  • Field Maple: The Field Maple is a classic example of a multi-stemmed tree, naturally growing several slender trunks and stems instead of a single central trunk. It’s a smaller maple species that reaches heights of around 14 metres and develops multiple ascending branches, giving it a rounded, spreading habit.
  • White Chinese Birch: Unlike many single-trunk birch trees, the striking White Chinese Birch naturally forms multiple stems as it grows. Several slender, graceful trunks emerge from the base, spreading slightly and turning white as the copper-brown bark exfoliates with age. The multi-stemmed structure displays the ornamental curling and peeling bark texture to full effect.
  • Autumn Olive: The Autumn Olive is a prolific shrub that grows around 4 metres tall with a similar spread, adopting a loosely branched, multi-stemmed form. It produces clusters of small reddish fruits with edible flesh.

Which One is Better For Your Home?

The tall, upright presence of single-stem trees stands in contrast to the layered, flowing effect of multi-stem varieties. Here are key factors to consider when deciding which structural style fits your landscape vision:

Available Space

Single-stem trees grow vertically, making the most of upward space without encroaching on garden beds below. Multi-stem varieties spread out wider than they grow tall, needing ample space to accommodate their broad structure. Therefore, it’s important to study the mature height and width specifications before placing single-stem and multi-stem trees in your landscape.

Traffic Tolerance

Trees with sturdy single trunks, like Gingko, can withstand lawn mower bumps and activity around them. However, more delicate multi-trunk trees are prone to snapping and may not thrive in high-traffic areas. Consider pedestrian flow patterns when deciding where to plant any tree. Encourage exploration with sturdy cross-over branches of shade trees, and protect fragile multi-stemmed specimens by surrounding them with benches, decorative fences, or accent lighting to prevent soil compaction and damage.

Seasonal Interest

Tall Eucalyptus tree growing in a town in South San Francisco Bay Area, California; eucalyptus trees are native to Australia and are considered invasive in California

Multi-stem trees and shrubs often provide vibrant seasonal features, from flowers to fruit and fall colours. Their tiered branches showcase fleeting beauty. On the other hand, conical evergreen trees offer year-round colour but with less seasonal drama. To achieve a four-season appeal, mix evergreen and deciduous single and multi-stemmed trees. Pair weeping cherry trees with spruce for spring blooms and winter structure, or combine Seven-sons with feathery Russian olive for a contrasting display throughout the year.

Visibility

Towering single-stem trees like Oak or Elm draw the eye upward, providing views under and through their canopy. In contrast, multi-stem trees, such as multi-stem silver birch, obscure views with their dense overlap of contorted stems and branches. Single-stem shade trees frame focal points while allowing visibility of lower garden components. On the other hand, plunge gardens, water features, and architecture can disappear enticingly into the tangle of multi-stemmed trees for a tantalizing hide-and-reveal effect.

Shade Quality

The umbrella-shaped shade from a single-stem Maple feels light and airy due to the high sunny pockets between leaves. Conversely, the diffused, dappled shade beneath a Multi Stem Dogwood or Aralia feels lush but darker on garden beds below.

How to Take Care of Single Stem vs. Multi Stem Trees?

Tailored care strategies are essential for both single-stem and multi-stem trees to thrive. Here are some key maintenance differences to consider:

Watering

Single-stem trees develop deep roots to support their tall growth, so it’s best to water them weekly during their first year and then gradually reduce to infrequent deep soakings. Multi-stem varieties, with their spreading branches, require more frequent watering to keep the soil consistently moist.

Adding a low ring of compost around the base of the tree helps retain moisture in the root zone. For multi-stem trees like fruitless weeping mulberry, allow the hose to trickle slowly over a broad area when watering new plantings. Soaker hoses or bubblers can also deliver low-volume, deep watering suited to different root architectures.

Fertilization

Single-stem trees with concentrated feeder roots benefit from annual feeding, while multi-stem trees with diffuse shallow roots may require wider application of fertilizer or slow-release root spikes.

Choose all-purpose fertilizers labelled specifically for trees and apply them in spring when trees are actively growing. Lightly scratch the fertilizer into the soil before watering to maximize nutrient absorption. Adding a layer of nutrient-rich compost or aged manure annually helps sustain feeding root types over longer periods.

A beautiful lonely tree in the hills. Place for text.

Pruning

For single-stem trees, limit pruning to maintain their dominant central leader and upright shape. Learn how to prune correctly to encourage healthy growth. Multi-stem trees and shrubs benefit from renewal pruning to remove older stems, shape form, and stimulate new growth.

While multi-stem trees can tolerate the removal of older branches, avoid removing more than 30% of living tissue at one time to prevent shock. Prune tree species that bloom heavily on one-year-old wood to stimulate new flowering stems. Let other multi-stem plants retain some older branches to maintain their architectural silhouette.

If you are not sure how to prune your tree correctly or you need any assistance, contact AB Tree Pruning for professional help.

Pest Management

Inspect single-stem trees for scale insects in bark crevices and multi-stem trees for mites or nesting insects, following their intricate branching architecture.

Learn to recognize both obvious infestations and subtle initial signs of insects or diseases to catch problems early. Treat soft-bodied invaders with rubbing alcohol or neem oil on contact. Preventatively spray horticultural oils to smother overwintering eggs of pests like mites or aphids. Support beneficial predatory insects with nectar plants to naturally control pests.

Staking & Supports

Stake newly planted single-stem trees for 3-5 years in windy areas to help their roots establish anchorage. Stake multi-stem trees only while roots develop, then remove supports to allow stems to flex and strengthen.

Remove tree wrap supports every spring and re-secure any loosened stakes to protect bark from moisture and pests. For multi-stem saplings, tie loose stems together instead of stacking vertically to allow flexibility and movement. Monitor for signs of girdling or rubbing where ties contact delicate branch bark.

Conclusion

Whether your landscape leans towards majestic Maples or charming Birches, both single-stem and multi-stem trees offer timeless beauty. The towering presence of Oaks stands in contrast to the graceful curves of Crape Myrtles, creating dynamic tension and visual interest when blended together.

By thoughtfully placing tall trees and grouping plants, you can create a beautiful, healthy garden that brings joy for years to come. Additionally, selecting vines, decorations, and compatible plants can turn any garden into a vibrant work of art that celebrates trees.