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Mastering Basic Topiary Techniques

Linda enjoys tending her plants and flowers. She has written a variety of gardening articles about flowers, arid plants, and shade plants.

Not all forms of topiary require such elaborate mastery. Learn topiary shapes and frames in this guide.

Not all forms of topiary require such elaborate mastery. Learn topiary shapes and frames in this guide.

What Is the Art of Topiary?

Looking for a distinctive plant project that doesn't involve trendy succulents or fiddle leaf figs? Try your hand at the art of topiary. Topiary is the art, or practice, of clipping trees and shrubs into ornamental shapes.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to feel intimidated. Topiary is not limited to the elaborate sculptural forms seen in formal landscapes. Even a novice gardener can master simple topiary techniques.

Topiary is also a great family activity. Allow the kids to dream up ideas for amusing topiary animals and shapes of any size. Topiary gardening is a fun year-round project. Creating and growing topiary is an enjoyable learning experience for the entire family.

Get busy honing your mad topiary skills. Try one of these main topiary methods outside or on a light-filled windowsill inside the house.

3 Topiary Techniques

  1. Freeform
  2. Frame-Supported
  3. Stuffed

1. Freeform

Freeform is one of the classic topiary techniques. This involves trimming trees and shrubs into a variety of animal and geometric shapes. Freeform topiary requires a basic design, sharp shears, a steady hand, and several pairs of eyes to make sure the shape is just right.

Tips for Practicing Freeform Topiary

Purchase a medium-height juniper tree from the garden center and begin by creating a simple cone or spiral. Make copies of online images of actual topiary sculptures to use as a guide. To achieve precise, straight lines and curves, use a length of string, wooden dowels, or a wire template as a guide.

Create your own topiary shape using string, wire, or wooden dowels.

Create your own topiary shape using string, wire, or wooden dowels.

2. Frame-Supported

The frame-supported topiary technique begins with a metal wire frame formed into the shape of the desired object or animal. Purchase ready-made frames at nurseries that specialize in topiary supplies. If you're creative make your own frame by molding chicken wire around any object or garden statuary. Leave the bottom open to accommodate the plant.

Tips for Practicing Frame-Supported Topiary

For the best approach choose a variety of small leaf vining plants. Place the topiary form over a single pot containing trailing or upright plants. Weave and train the stems through the openings of the wire mesh until they completely conform to the shape of the frame. If necessary, secure stems into place with floral tape or wire. As the topiary matures trim the excess growth to maintain the desired shape.

Topiary frames make it much easier to shape.

Topiary frames make it much easier to shape.

3. Stuffed

The stuffed topiary technique requires a frame with an enclosed bottom. Pack the frame from the bottom up with wet sphagnum moss. As the moss is inserted weave and firmly tie nylon fishing line between the wire openings to contain the moss within the frame.

Tips for Practicing Stuffed Topiary

Select very young, trailing plants or freshly rooted cuttings. Use miniature ivy plants, creeping fig or baby’s tears for this procedure. Fill the center cavity of the frame with quality potting mix. The mix will serve to anchor the young plants or cuttings.

Plant the lower portion of the frame by inserting them directly into the moss. Layer plants in sections up the frame. The moss should be kept moist until the plants have become adequately rooted into the potting mix. Water regularly and trim the stems to prevent overgrowth.

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The vines eventually will cover the stuffed moss and soil-shaped form.

The vines eventually will cover the stuffed moss and soil-shaped form.

How to Choose the Right Plants for Topiary

Selecting the type of plants for your topiary largely depends on which form of topiary you like the best. Different plant types are best suited for varying techniques.

Vine Topiary

  • English ivy
  • Rosemary
  • Sweet pea

Perennials like these can easily be trained around a frame while giving it a full appearance. Climbing jasmine, creeping fig, or angel vine are ideal house plants for topiary centerpieces and wreaths.

Container Topiary

  • Lavender
  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
  • Miniature olive trees
  • Crepe myrtles

Woody herbs like those listed above all make excellent container topiaries. They are typically trimmed into ball, pyramidal, or lollipop shapes.

Outdoor Topiary

  • Japanese boxwood
  • Yew
  • Privets
  • Arborvitae

Each of these dense shrubs tends to grow tall and wide enough for shaping. They should be ground planted or potted outside in an area that allows them to thrive in either sun or shade.

Evergreen topiary shapes are quite charming.

Evergreen topiary shapes are quite charming.

Essential Topiary Tools

  • Hedge shears: Perfect for manicuring and shaping shrubs and topiaries.
  • Secateurs: Short, precise shears are spring-action to keep your topiary sculptures and looking trim and tidy.
  • Long-Handle Shears: The ability to cut through thick stems in inaccessible areas that can't be reached with short shears.
  • Pole Pruners: Extended pole handles trim branches at the top of a tall topiary.

Topiary Care and Maintenance

The initial care for a topiary requires regular watering for dense growth. It's best to mist an indoor ivy every day to prevent underlying moss to prevent it from drying out. After the first few weeks add balanced plant food to nourish both indoor and outdoor topiaries.

Topiary shrubs don't need quite as much care as vine plants but should be regularly pruned as it fills out to create an artistic shape. A spiral, cone, cube or orb should be trimmed at least once a month to keep them tidy.

If you have an evergreen topiary that has been neglected it can eventually regenerate by hard pruning. This involves cutting the plant back to 6-12 inches at the ground level. New growth will come back with the help of fertilizing and watering although it can take several seasons for it to grow into its original shape.

Trim your topiary at least once a month to maintain its form.

Trim your topiary at least once a month to maintain its form.

You only need several tools for topiary grooming.

You only need several tools for topiary grooming.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Linda Chechar

Start a Conversation!

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on April 29, 2019:

Dianna, those would be fun! Thanks for stopping by to check out the topiaries.

Dianna Mendez on April 29, 2019:

I have two in my front yard and would love to try the topsy-turvy look posted here. Enjoy your week, Linda.

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on April 27, 2019:

Eman, it is definitely the timr for topiary season.

Eman Abdallah Kamel from Egypt on April 27, 2019:

Spring is the perfect season for agriculture. I think this article will be perfect for all plant lovers.

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