Topiary Planting Instructions

Topiary refers to the clipping of shrubs or trees into shapes. These can be simple geometrical types, such as cones or balls, or energetic animal shapes or faces. The custom of topiary dates from the Renaissance, however, the Victorians renewed interest in the art and expanded its domain from estates of the affluent to the cottage garden. Today’s gardener can plant a acceptable cutting and, over many decades, clip it into a design or purchase an established topiary.

First Decisions

Selecting a design has to come first, because this will affect the choice of the plant. For example, spirals work best on junipers (Juniperus) or spruce (Picea). Normally, small-leafed, woody evergreens with dense leaf can withstand the intense pruning necessary for topiary. Recommended shrubs include boxwood (Buxus sempervirens), privet (Ligustrum), holly (Ilex) and rosemary (Rosmarinus). All of these have varieties that thrive in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 to 10a. If you aspire to turn a tree into a mushroom or lollipop shape, where the trunk serves as stick or stem, it is necessary that the trunk be straight with no kinks. Good species to plant are the olive oil (Olea europea) or Chinese banyan (Ficus microcarpa), as well as varieties approved for USDA zones 8 to 10. If you’re beginning with a small plant and training it, support the main stem to keep it straight and remove any competition from an early phase.

Starting from Scratch

Once you opt for the tree or tree for your topiary and purchase a cutting, plant, water and fertilize it based on the nursery’s directions for that species. The plant has to be at least 4 feet tall prior to pruning starts. Topiary sculpting is a very long, slow process; trim plants frequently, but just a little at a time. Shaping a spiral takes six to eight decades. To cut the first spiral pattern in a juniper, begin at the foundation and choose three turns together with the shears, moving upwards to the right. If forming a ball in boxwood, clip the shirt into a dome shape and keep rounding the mass in subsequent decades. Keep moving, never dwell too long in 1 spot. Before starting any cutting, place a cloth on the ground around the plant to catch the clippings.

Beginning with a Purchased Topiary

After bringing your topiary home, either plant it in the ground or transplant it into a permanent container. Care for it as you would the identical plant in the natural condition. Glazed ceramic or plastic pots are suggested over unglazed terra cotta, which dries out more quickly. By purchasing a topiary which was years in the making, you’re accepting responsibility to keep it. After the established pattern, trim every couple weeks during the growing season, removing just a bit at a time so you will have no regrets.

Topiary Warnings and Alternatives

A Florida company of landscape managers cautions about badly pruning trees, where 60 to 70 percent of the canopy is eliminated in the course of creating a topiary. They say such therapy dramatically lowers the trees’ lifespans. Shrubs are hardier and tolerate pruning better. As options, the group suggests two other topiary techniques which are simpler on plants. In the first, grow a bush inside a wire frame. As the branches extend beyond the framework, clip them, little by little. The other technique applies a wire frame filled with moss. A fast-growing vine, such as creeping fig (Ficus pumila), suitable for USDA zones 8b through 11, is planted outside the frame and permitted to cover it.

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