How to Cut a Tree Into a Spiral


Topiary--the art of shaping living trees and plants--usually requires building a structural frame of strong wire and growing a shrub to fit. As foliage fills the framework, careful pruning prompts the plant to fill out the desired shape. Untrained trees and shrubs won't thrive in just any cut shape, since trimming back a limb too far kills the branch. Few trees naturally adapt to the spiral shape, but one common landscaping evergreen does provide the dense canopy and whorled branches needed for this beautiful geometric form.

Step 1

Step back and study the spruce for a few moments. Spruce trees grow with branch clusters evenly spaced on the trunk. Each individual cluster contains many branches growing on the trunk in a slight clockwise rising spiral. The pattern shows faintly in the foliage. Working with that natural pattern gives the best final effect.

Step 2

Start cutting at the lower left side of the tree. Establish the pattern by removing only a few branches along the plane of the spiral. Keep the angle low, a rise of about twenty degrees. If the diameter of the base of the canopy is 3 feet, the right side of the line should be about 8 inches above the starting point at the left.

Step 3

Move around the tree, marking the spiral by trimming out small branches along its path. End the spiral about 8 inches below the top of the bush.

Step 4

Connect the gaps. Remember that pruning creates the gap between the spiral turns. Results will look ragged at first. Shaping the foliage comes last.

Step 5

Prune out enough foliage to form a gap two to three inches wide between the turns of the spiral. Shape the edges of the turns for a rounded and even look. Clip needles and branch tips only slightly, since conifers put on new growth at the ends of twigs. Cutting back too far stops the foliage from renewing itself.

Step 6

Clean up the interior of the tree by pruning out unsightly dead growth. Opening up the canopy exposes many dead twigs and dead branches normally hidden from view. Clip the dead growth back to its base.

Tips and Warnings

  • Prune in careful stages, cutting twigs before cutting entire branches. A branch mostly in the wrong place could also project a twig into an important location. Shake each branch before cutting. Pruning out a living branch by mistake leaves an obvious hole in the spiral tree. Shaking the branch makes spotting the living tips easy.

Things You'll Need

  • Pruning shears
  • Rake
  • Garden cart
  • Dwarf Alberta spruce


  • University of Arkansas: Dwarf Alberta Spruce
  • Wisconsin Master Gardeners: Creating a Topiary
  • Friends of Pearl: The Garden

Who Can Help

  • Cleveland Seniors: Dwarf Alberta Spruce
Keywords: topiary, spiral tree, dwarf alberta spruce

About this Author

James Young began writing as a military journalist in Alaska and combat correspondent in Vietnam. He specializes in electronics, turnery, blacksmithing, outdoor sports, woodcarving, joinery and sailing. Young's articles have been published in "Tai Chi Magazine," "Sonar 4 Ezine," "The Marked Tree," "Stars & Stripes," the "SkinWalker Files" and "Fine Woodworking."