How to shape a topiary tree

How To Prune, Trim & Care For A Live Topiary Plant or Tree

Trimming A Topiary Plant

First, so you'll know, this article is not about creating a topiary plant from scratch. Instead, it's about the easy part: how to trim an existing topiary plant to maintain its original shape. 

So you were shopping on Wilson Bros Gardens or you were at your local nursery and garden center and saw a spiral, pom pom, poodle tier, or other interesting topiary plant and thought it was so cool you just had to have one. And you'd be right, living topiary plants are cool. 

So you got home and planted it and now it's 6 or 8 months later and your topiary plant isn't so cool anymore. New growth emerged and now what was once a perfectly sculpted spiral is looking a bit shaggy, like it's sprouted a beard. You'd like to trim it but you're afraid to touch it for fear of destroying the shape of the plant...or the plant itself. No problem, continue below to find helpful tips that'll have you trimming topiary plants like the pros so you can keep them looking like they did when you first brought them home.

How To Trim A Topiary Plant

Trimming a topiary plant is fairly straightforward. That said, there's some things you should consider before beginning.

When and how often to trim?

How often you trim your topiary plants will depend on climate, fertilization and the typical growth rate of a specific plant species. A privet plant grows at 10 times the rate of a boxwood. Faster growing species will require more frequent trimming. Bottom line, trim your topiary plants as needed to keep them looking nice. 

The more frequently you trim your topiary the easier it is to keep the plant in its intended original form. This doesn't mean you want to always trim the plant back to its original size, because all plants need to be allowed to grow some in size. What it means is that by trimming more frequently, maybe 2 to 3 times per year, rather than just once a year, it makes it more easy to see and follow the original form. This is especially true with spiral form topiary and other more complex shapes and forms.  

If you allow a topiary to grow too much before giving it a trim, such as a spiral form, the plant will revert back to its natural form, which is a solid column, pyramidal, round or cone shape. At this point, you might have to have an eye for carving 3-dimensional shapes in order to reshape what was once a spiral back into a spiral, and this is no easy task for someone who doesn't have the eye for it. You might be better off hiring a professional who is highly skilled at this pruning art form, and then make sure to trim your topiary more often!

Caution:  To avoid damaging new growth that could be damaged by an early frost, cease all trimming of you topiary plants two months prior to the average first-frost date in your area. 

Examine the plant

Before trimming your topiary, take some time to study and examine the plant you intend to trim. Look beyond the shaggy surface growth and put in your mind's eye the original shape of the topiary. 

While studying your topiary, if you see any damaged or dead parts cut these off with a sharp pruners. Damaged or diseased plant parts should always be removed as they occur.

Note:  If a plant part looks diseased, to prevent the spread to other parts of your topiary plant, it's a good idea to dip your pruners into a solution of alcohol. The advantages of alcohol (ethanol or isopropyl) to sanitize your gardening tools is that it is instantly effective and can be used as a wipe, and you don't have to rinse the product off. To disinfect your tools with alcohol you can either wipe or dip them in a solution that is 70–100% alcohol. 

To grow or not to grow?

Before giving your topiary an all-over trim, decide if you are going to trim the plant back to its original size and remove all new growth, or if you want to allow your plant to keep some new growth to increase its size. I always suggest allowing the plant to keep a little of its new growth. For example, if your topiary has added 3 inches of shaggy new growth, maybe trim this back by 2 inches or so. 

Trim away!

VERY IMPORTANT!  If your topiary plant is a pine species, to avoid damaging or killing your plant, there is a more specific pruning method that should be followed. Before pruning a pine read our article: How To Prune A Pine Tree Or Pine Shrub. 

To trim your topiary plant, avoid using long-bladed hedge trimmers or hedge shears, which might not allow you to cut properly from various angles. We use a sharp pair of bypass hand pruners or handheld clipping shears to trim back the new growth to desired length. 

Start trimming your topiary plant from the top down. If you're nervous about trimming off too much growth, maybe start with a light trim of  just a small section at the top of the plant. For example, if your plant has added 4 inches of shaggy new growth since the last trimming, maybe remove an inch or two of growth from the small section. If you decide that won't be enough, remove another inch of growth from the same small section. When you've decided enough is enough, then trim the same amount off the rest of the plant.

Give it a drink

If the soil is dry, deeply water your topiary plant after you finish trimming it.

Other Topiary Trimming Tips

With the exception of pine species, if you accidentally cut too much foliage away; beyond the point of green growth, don't worry too much about it. The trimming usually stimulates new growth that will fill in quickly. That said, some coniferous evergreens, such as junipers, do not respond well to pruning beyond a point on a stem or branch in which there is no foliage/leaves.   

So as to make clean cuts that won't brown foliage tips, keep the blades on your trimming tools as sharp as possible 

If possible, prune topiary trees on a cloudy day. Too much sunlight on freshly cut branches of some plant species can cause the leaf and stem tips to turn brown.

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Making a Topiary: How to Shape Shrubs, Bushes, and Vines - Lawn Care Blog

by Sarah Bahr | Updated: | 0 Comments

Lawn Care Tips

If you’ve ever wanted to be Edward Scissorhands for a day, now’s your chance. Topiary is an ancient art form anyone can do with a little know-how, a few tools, and some elbow grease.  

What is a topiary?

Topiary is the art of shaping or training plants into ornamental shapes or forms. Popular forms include pyramids, spirals, and the ever-present tiered ball shape. If you prefer alternatives to common geometric shapes, there are other decorative shapes, such as more organic forms, that are within the reach of an advanced gardener.

In this article, we’ll focus on three projects that are great for a beginner-level homeowner. We’ll explain how to create a clipped topiary, a stuffed topiary, and a wire frame topiary.

How to create a clipped, spiral topiary

brewbooks | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Spiral topiaries are a popular addition to a formal entryway or other defined space because they create a focal point in your landscape. 

Grab your tools, buy a boxwood, and let’s create a potted spiral topiary.

Gather tools:

  • Various trimming tools (hedge shears, bypass pruners, kitchen shears, topiary shears)
  • A tarp (for easy cleanup)
  • String
  • Sturdy planting pot

Identify techniques:

  • Cutting and shaping

Choose a plant:

  • Small boxwoods (Buxus) or yews work well as topiary plants. (Buy a sturdy pot if yours is plastic and flimsy.)

Create your topiary: 

Step 1: Mark your shape

Take the string and wind it in a spiral shape from the top of the bush to just above the bottom. Lay down the tarp to collect the clippings.

Step 2: Start clipping

Use kitchen scissors or other small hand shears to clip along the string. This marks the shape you’ll follow.

Step 3: Remove the string and keep clipping

Now that you can see the shape, remove the string. Get out your bypass pruners and continue to clip along the line to create the spiral shape. Round off the corners to create a pleasing shape. (A pair of topiary shears can be helpful for this final shaping.) Roll up the tarp, and enjoy your new topiary for many seasons to come.

Other plants that work for topiary:

  • Arborvitae (Thuja)
  • Japanese holly (Ilex crenata)
  • Privet (Ligustrum) [Warning: Many of these have a very fast growth habit. If you don’t have lots of time to remove new growth during the growing season, consider another plant.]

What about bonsai? You may wonder why we haven’t mentioned the Japanese art of bonsai. Simply put, it’s outside the scope of this article, as it is an advanced form of topiary.

How to create a stuffed topiary

Brian McGowan | Unsplash

If you’ve ever been in awe at the Disney theme park topiaries, guess what? It’s not outside your reach. All you’ll need is some hardware and a little Imagineering to get started.

Gather tools:

  • Wire topiary frame
  • Ivy
  • Sphagnum moss
  • Potting mix
  • Landscaping fabric pins OR bobby pins
  • Plant saucer

Identify techniques:

  • Stuffing

Choose a plant:

  • For a small, wire topiary form, a small-leaved ivy (duckfoot ivy, for example) works well.

Create your topiary: 

Before you make a life-sized, Disney-like stuffed topiary, let’s start small. Buy a small wire frame at the garden center for this project.

Step 1: Soak the moss

Place the sphagnum moss in a bucket with water. Let it soak for a few minutes until it’s wet.

Step 2: Stuff the wire form with moss

Stuff the wet moss into the form. If necessary, wrap fishing wire around the frame to help the moss stay in. Determine where you want the ivy to go and leave a little extra space there for the potting mix.

Step 3: Add the potting mix and ivy

If you have a small animal form, for example, put some potting mix along the animal’s spine. Add a sprig or two of small ivy in the potting mix. Place extra moss on top of the potting mix. Use small landscaping pins or bobby pins to pin the ivy sprigs along the frame.

Step 4: Maintain

When it’s time to water, place the form in a clay or plastic saucer. Water the saucer one to two times per week, depending on your climate. (Alternatively, sprinkle it with water as needed or dunk it in water if it becomes very dry.

Plan to refresh the moss about once per year in warm climates. In areas with heavy snow, the moss may break down more quickly. 

Pro Tip: Make sure your ivy or vines are in proportion to your frame. If you have a very small frame, a duckfoot or other ivy with small leaves works well. For larger frames (like those you see at Disney parks), larger ivies help to maintain a sense of balance.

How to create a wire-framed topiary

Peter Corbett | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Do you love plants shaped around a simple wire frame? A wire-framed topiary is an easy way for beginners to dip their toes into the world of topiary.

In this section, we’ll focus on using a wire frame to train the culinary herb rosemary along the shape of the wire.

Gather tools:

  • Herbs (Rosemary works well)
  • Potting soil
  • Wire frame
  • Sturdy pot
  • Orchid clips, tiny hair clips, wire ties
  • Landscaping pins (as needed)

Identify techniques:

  • Training (Guiding a vining-type plant along a form)

Choose a plant:

  • Rosemary or another long-stemmed perennial herb 

Create your topiary:

For the sake of illustration, we’ll assume you’re using a simple, open circle frame. You can buy one or make one with a coat hanger or other sturdy wire.

Step 1: Choose a plant

Select a young plant with several side stems that are at least 9 inches long. The stems should be somewhat pliable and not too woody.

Step 2: Get set up

(Assuming that the original pot is small and impermanent.)

Add rocks to the bottom of the larger pot for drainage. Add potting soil and place the plant in the pot. 

Step 3: Add the frame

Place the frame in your pot. If your frame doesn’t have wire “feet,” use a few landscaping pins to hold the frame in place.

Step 4: Train the plant

Wrap the stems around the wire frame. Secure the ends with orchid clips or small hair clips. Loose wire ties also work well. Don’t wrap the stems or tie the ends so tightly as to restrict growth. Water as needed and continue to train the stems around the frame as they grow. Water just as you would an untrained plant.

Pro Tip: If you love herbs but prefer to shape plants with clippers, follow the steps we used for boxwoods above. Certain varieties of rosemary (upright varieties) and lavender work well for shaping into pyramids, tiered balls, or spirals, to name a few.

If your scissorhands are too busy shaping, stuffing, or clipping to concentrate on your lawn, contact one of our lawn care professionals today. They’ll mow, edge, and blow your lawn, so it looks as trim and trained as your topiary.

Main Photo Credit: ewan traveler | Flickr | CC BY 2.0




Sarah Bahr

Sarah is a writer who has previously worked in the lawn care industry. In her spare time, she likes to garden, raise chickens, and mow the grass with her battery-powered lawn mower.

Posts by Sarah Bahr

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How to make a do-it-yourself topiary and what types are there?

Small ornamental trees are increasingly being used to decorate the interiors of restaurants and to set the table for various celebrations. They can resemble coffee balls, a bouquet of satin flowers, and much, much more - that only human imagination is capable of. This is a topiary - a “European tree” or a “tree of happiness”, which can be created in one evening from literally everything that is at hand. We found out how to make a topiary, try it too - what if you really lure unearthly happiness?

Any topiary - for beginners or for advanced masters - is created using the same technique. Therefore, when you master the basics, you can take on a “tree of happiness” of any complexity and change only materials for decoration!

To create a topiary, you need to pay attention to three components:

  • Base level: the base of the mini-tree.
  • Medium level: barrel.
  • Upper level: crown.
  • Step by step guide for beginners.

First, sit down and think about where your mini-tree will live, and what do you need it for? Do you want to temporarily decorate the holiday table? Then such elements as a napkin, paper, fresh flowers, sweets and fruits are suitable. Or do you decide to plant a “tree of happiness” on your windowsill? In this case, you will need reliable material: coffee beans, satin and other ribbons, organza, artificial flowers and cones.

At this step, do not forget to think over the color scheme of the future tree.

To make a topiary you will need:

  • Base: flower foam ball or regular foam ball 8-12 cm in diameter. Buy the former in flower shops, and the latter can be found in the stationery department or among art supplies. Instead of a ball, you can use any form of foam or the same floral foam - then the crown of your tree will be in the form of an asterisk, heart, letter or number.
  • Crown elements: everything here depends on the initial idea and the flight of your imagination! Use flowers, beautiful fabric ribbons, napkins, banknotes, and so on.
  • Barrel: you can build it from a straight and dry dense branch or the most ordinary pencil.
  • Barrel decorations: First, paint the barrel blank with matt varnish. You can leave it like that, but if you wish, you can decorate with one or two beautiful ribbons.
  • Topiary Pot: A clay pot is best, but a neat tree will look good in a pretty cup.
  • Special Fixing Compound: For the topiary to be securely fixed in the base, prepare a mixture of alabaster - it sets quickly enough, is inexpensive and will not crack over time. If you only have putty or gypsum on hand, it will also work. In the most extreme case, the same foam or stones will help to fix the topiary in the pots.
  • Mixing materials: water, container, stick.
  • Ground Cover Materials: Any natural material is suitable for you: expanded clay, small pebbles, forest moss or sisal fiber. If you are creating a "sweet" topiary, you can decorate the base of the tree with candy.
  • Glue gun or Moment glue.
  • Scissors.
  • Wire cutters or chisels: is needed for cutting the trunk or various decorative elements.
  • Additional items: tailor's studs with a very small head can be useful if you need to fasten small beads to the crown.

Stage 1. Forming the crown

First of all, mark the base for the crown ball - mark with a pencil the place for attaching the trunk and mark around the border so that the decor does not interfere with the trunk. So you can easily connect the two parts of the topiary in the next step.

Now “try on” the part on the crown, make sure everything looks awesome, then apply glue to the desired area of ​​the ball and fix the element instantly! It is necessary to act quickly so that the glue does not have time to soak into the base of the crown.

Useful tips for decorating the crown:

You need to start with large elements, gradually moving to smaller ones.

Sometimes it is more convenient to fix the elements on the ball with tailor's studs.

If you use elements on wire (for example, artificial flowers), leave about 2-3 cm from their "tails". So you securely fix the part in the ball.

To make the crown-base completely invisible, paint it in the tone of the future decor.

Stage 2. Making the trunk and attaching to the crown

We have already figured out that making the trunk is not so difficult - any stick, reliable straight branch or pencil will do. To decorate it, fabric ribbons, twine, paper or any paint are suitable. If you wish, you can leave the branch-trunk unchanged - this way the natural beauty of a living tree will be visible.

To calculate the required stem length, use the formula:

1/3 ball diameter + pot height + desired stem length between crown and pot = stem length.

Now, to fix the crown in the trunk, make a hole in the base ball about 2 cm deep - an awl or a knife will do. Fill the bottom of the hole with hot glue and fix the barrel in the crown ball. For complete fixing, gradually fill the hole around the barrel with the same glue.

Then decorate the attachment point nicely.

Step 3. Prepare the binder mixture and fix the topiary in the pot

Well, now it's time to "plant" your "tree of happiness" in a pot. To do this, you need:

Put a mark about 2-3 cm from the top edge of the pot - you will need to pour the mixture to this level.

Now dilute the mixture according to the instructions and carefully fill the planter or cup.

Align and fix the topiary into the base, holding the stem, until the mixture is thick and firm (several minutes).

Almost everything! Now it remains to wait a few hours until it dries completely.

Step 4: Decorate the "soil" cover and pot

As a final touch, mask the fixing mixture and decorate the "soil". If you're using small pieces like pebbles, shells, moss, or artificial grass, secure them with glue.

Congratulations, your first topiary is ready!

How to make a topiary with your own hands: step by step instructions for work

The desire of mankind to do everything “quickly” was reflected in such painstaking garden art as topiary. The formation of a bizarre crown of a tree, sometimes requiring decades, now takes no more than a few months. Who so simplified the hard work of a gardener? As usual, the most hasty nation in the world. Trying to quickly absorb the next portion of fast food, one of the Americans figured out how to make fast topiary quickly and naturally. Growing an intricate green figure, thanks to a sparkling thought from across the ocean, is now easier than ever - you do not need to wait for years until the tree grows, and then cut it for a long time to achieve a certain crown configuration. It is enough just to purchase a ready-made wire frame, fill it with an earthen mixture, plant ground cover plants and - voila! Topiary is ready. Curious? To be continued…

The desire to diversify our lives encourages all of us to look for an exciting activity, designed to paint the monotonous everyday life in bright colors. If gardening is your passion, why don't you transform your backyard with an original plant figure - a duck or a peacock, an elephant or a lion ... or maybe you prefer a flower car? The ancient art of topiary, redrawn in a modern way, will allow you, without straining, to create a topiary with your own hands literally within one day. Of course, provided that you do not plan to do something large-scale, striking with its dimensions the owners of nearby land. To begin with, it is better to try your hand at creating a small garden figurine using the topiary frame technique, gradually moving on to more complex compositions.


  • 1 Technique #1 - Topiary on finished frame

  • 2 Technique #2 - Express Topiary

  • 3 Technique #3 - classic topiary

    • 3.1 Simple Geometric Topiary

    • 3.2 Complex Topiary

    • 3. 3 Classic Topiary with frame

Learning how to make a topiary with your own hands using a ready-made metal frame is within the power of any gardener with due patience and perseverance. First, you need to choose a frame for the future green sculpture. Its size and shape should harmoniously fit into the garden landscape. It is better to take a small but expressive form - after all, you create an accent that simply has to attract attention.

Expressive green Formula 1 sculpture made of ground cover plants based on frame

Exotic ostriches, based on globular topiary bushes, will bring a touch of extravagance to your garden

Ready-made frames, available from specialized gardening stores, are made from 2-3 mm wire. They are a lattice structure with sufficient gaps to allow access inside. In addition, a lid is located in the upper part of the frame, which is designed to further simplify access to the "insides" of the metal structure when filling it with a substrate - a mixture of earth with peat or sphagnum moss.

Moss must be soaked in warm water for about 30 minutes before filling the frame. Filling the structure of the future topiary with a substrate, it is necessary to prudently create holes in which ground cover or climbing, succulent or herbaceous garden crops are then planted. For such purposes, perfect: rejuvenated, saxifrage, sedum, loosestrife, ivy, grapes.

When forming a topiary from weaving plants, the earth ball is moved from a plastic container to a metal mold, and the shoots are distributed along the frame and tacked with U-shaped clips. If the figure to create a topiary is medium or large, bags of crushed foam are placed inside the substrate to lighten its weight.

Fluffy hedgehogs, born thanks to the frame topiary, will decorate the green lawn on your site

A cute family of pigs, made on the basis of a carcass and ground cover plants, will create an unusual flavor in the garden

Caring for framed topiary involves regular watering and top dressing, pinching and pruning. It should be remembered that such a green sculpture should not be left to winter in the open air - it is better to bring it into an unheated room with an air temperature of about 5 degrees. If the weight or volume of the topiary does not allow this, you can cover it with a wooden box insulated with straw or polystyrene.

Topiary in the form of an elephant under the power of experienced masters of green sculpture

In an effort to further speed up the process of creating a complex green sculpture, an express topiary was invented. The essence of this method of forming a topiary is simple - in spring, weaving plants such as periwinkle, parthenocissus, ivy or hops are planted in open ground, tending to quickly form shoots.

Then, a metal mesh frame is installed over the landing, which serves as the basis for creating the topiary. As they grow, the branches of the plants are distributed along the frame and secured with a rope made of natural material or cut. By the end of the season, the frame will overgrow, the metal rods will completely hide under the green cover - you just need to remember to water and feed the topiary.

Just a couple of months will pass and the frame of a retro car will turn into a green sculpture of unprecedented beauty

Pyramidal tree shapes created using the topiary technique give the garden landscape solemnity and elegance

Of course, the ancient Roman gardeners could not even imagine how much modern society will transform the classical art of parks, similar in concept to sculptural modeling. Indulging in topiary, they did not at all try to speed up the process of creating a living sculpture, on the contrary, they found charm in a leisurely search for an ideal form. If you are closer in spirit to the classical approach, then you can make topiary the way the Romans did it, and gardeners followed them 18-19centuries. What is needed for this? A lot of patience, imagination and a well-honed tool: garden or trellis shears, loppers, pruners, wooden slats.

A combination of clipped borders and pyramid-shaped topiary clearly separates the lawn from the path

Here are some tips on how to make a classic topiary. It is best to start the “sharpening” of skill on simple geometric shapes. Moreover, a simple three-dimensional figure can easily be complicated by transforming it into another one - turning a cube into a ball, a cylinder or a pyramid - into a cone.

Pyramidal topiary towering against the background of globular bushes creates an unusual contrast of shape and color

Simple Geometric Topiary

You need to start by identifying a "patient" for your first exercises. So, let's go looking. Your goal is a tree or bush aged 5 years and older, with a well-developed root system and a crown that is larger than the intended size of the figure. Good options for making topiary, choose from plants such as spruce or prickly, brilliant cotoneaster, purple vesicle, pinnately incised hawthorn, Tatar maple. Topiary cutting is best done in March or April, or from June to August, but not in autumn, so as not to weaken the plant before wintering.

Topiaries of complex geometric shapes take years to create - they require painstaking cutting of the crown as it grows

Here is a step-by-step guide to help you make a cube topiary:

  1. On the ground, under the crown of a tree, you need to draw a square with the desired length of the side of the cube.
  2. At the corners of the square, install wooden slats or bamboo sticks with a diameter of 2-3 cm and fasten them together with horizontal transverse slats - this will be your reference frame.
  3. Using trellis scissors, make a rough cut, outlining the approximate contours of the figure - start from the top edge, then process the sides.
  4. After checking the sides of the cube for curvature, correct the planes and proceed to the final cut, gradually trimming the volume.
  5. Use a secateurs to finish off any small twigs that stand out from the mass.

Important to know! Periodically move away at a distance of 3-4 meters from the topiary in order to assess the correctness of the form from afar.

Arbor made of grapes harmoniously exists next to the unusual landscape created with the help of topiary on the shore of the lake

Complex Topiary

A ball-shaped topiary can be made from a cube by cutting its edges. The most suitable plants for ball-shaped topiary: purple willow, Thunberg barberry, vesicle, western thuja, gray spirea, spruce, yew, boxwood and many others.

A ball-shaped topiary molded from clearwood will look spectacular in both regular and landscape landscapes

Cylindrical topiary, as a rule, can be easily made from thuja occidentalis, a variety of which naturally has the shape of a column. Good cylinders can also be obtained from European larch, round-leaved shadberry, small-leaved linden. The principle of cutting a topiary in the form of a column is the same as that of a cubic one. Under the crown of the tree, draw a circle, install guide wooden stakes, and cut out a cylinder already bolder than the cube you conquered.

Topiaries in the form of a cone and a truncated cone look good. In order to build a frame for a cone-shaped topiary, dig at least three poles and fasten them in the center, in the place of the imaginary top of the future cone - in the likeness of an Indian wigwam. Again, nature itself comes to the aid of beginner topiaries by creating a western “smaragd” crown with a conical shape.

Topiary haircut in the form of clouds or “pompoms” creates the effect of an extraterrestrial landscape

Topiary in the form of cones or columns can serve as an excellent frame for a green path leading to a fantasy arch

As you train your hand, you can later try your hand at making pyramidal topiary with three and four sides, arranging a mini-complex of Egyptian pyramids in your garden, giving your site a completely unique look. Having brought your skills to perfection, you will smoothly move on to creating such complex green sculptures as a spiral, tiered geometric volumes and their combinations, and not far off - to the figures of animals and people.

Thanks to a modern vision, topiaries are becoming more complex and unexpected forms

Classic Topiary with Frame

Considerably simplifies the process of shearing a classic topiary with a removable metal frame that is placed over the crown of a tree or bush.

Learn more