How to Make a Topiary

Many simple shapes are easy to establish from scratch and with regular care are attractive features that last for years.
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©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Photo By: Photo by Sam Henderson

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Topiary Makes Elegant Focal Point in Patio Container

Topiaries are among the most useful plants in the garden, providing structure, texture and all year round color, plus adding an elegant focal point to the garden.

Making a Standard Tree

A traditional lollipop-shaped standard, where a rounded head of foliage perches above a clear, straight stem, make an elegant vertical feature. Bay, Portuguese laurel, holly, myrtle and hornbeam are easily manipulated in this way. Pick a plant with a single, strong central leader that will act as your main stem and tie it to a cane or stake. Gradually clear the lower stem of shoots, then snip back the leader to encourage bushy growth to develop, and clip to a rounded shape.

Start Topiary with Healthy Untrained Plant

When choosing a plant for a topiary, select a healthy, untrained plant that is already as near to the final shape as possible, plus one with an upright growth.

Stand Above Plant and Prune in Outward Direction

Locate the central growing point of the plant which will become the top of the cone. Trim away, and down around the sides from this point.

Go Back Around Plant and Neaten Sides of Topiary

Stand back from the plant from time to time to ensure that the cone shape is evenly balanced and central. If there are gaps or holes in the shape at this stage, the plant will fill in when cut in succeeding years.

Trim Topiary Whenever It Begins to Lose Shape

Keep the topiary maintained by regularly trimming it when it begins to lose its shape. Stop pruning in early fall to reduce the risk of frost damage to new growth.

Use Wire Template to Get Correct Shape for Topiary

To cut the perfect circle, use a circle of galvanized wire as a template. The template can be used if cutting several plants in a uniform size.

Trim Topmost Stems Creating Loose Ball for Topiary

Clip the top of the tree into a round lollipop ball. Turn the shears to follow along the curve while trimming.

Tie Supporting Strong Stem to Cane with Twine

To create a strong supporting stem, tie the main stem to a cane with twine, and clear it of all sideshoots and foliage.

Sterilize Tools with Disinfectant Between Prunings

Clean tools after trimming and cutting plants by spraying them with a disinfectant solution and wiping blades clean.

Suitable Topiary Plants

Buxus microphylla (small-leaf boxwood) is an ideal topiary shrub.

Common Hornbeam grown for Clipping and Topiaries

Common hornbeam, or Carpinus betulus, is an attractive, columnar tree with dense branches when young, spreading into a broad cone shape with age. Clean looking dark green foliage turns yellow orange in fall. It's also great for screens.

Cryptomeria Japonica

Cryptomeria japonica is a topiary-friendly plant.

Box Leaf Holly

Ilex crenata is a plant well-suited to topiary.

Juniperus Chinenis Stricta has Silvery Foliage

Juniperus chinensis Stricta is deciduous plant with needle like foliage. Needles are borne in whors in a usually bushy shape. They grow in any well drained dry soil, in full sun or partial shade. Used mostly in rock gardens and groups and work very well as a topiary plant.

Myrtus Communis Tarentina Has Long Seasonal Interest

A compact, aromatic evergreen Myrtle, Myrtus communis subsp. tarentina explodes with large pink-tinted, creamy white petals, each tipped in yellow stamens, that are often still in flower late in the year in the shelter of a wall. It works well as a topiary plant.

Pittosporum Attractive Formal Garden Focal Point

Pittosporum tenuifolium is a large evergreen shrub with foliage that is leathery, glossy, medium green throughout the year. Bell shaped, honey scented, dark red to purple flowers appear singly or in small clusters, in late spring.

Portuguese Beauty

Portugal laurel is a dense, evergreen laurel with glossy, dark green leaves. For a semiformal hedge, trim with pruners in late summer.

Rosemary Topiary

Rosemary makes an ideal topiary plant for tabletop decorations.

Cotton Lavender

Santolina chamaecyparissus has a lovely silver tint and takes well to the topiary shears.

Viburnum Tinus Ideal Shrub for Simple Shapes

Viburnum tinus 'Variegatum' is a bushy shrub with gold-edged green leaves, perfect for simpler topiary shapes.