How To Clip Shrubs Into Ornamental Shapes


Frescoes on the walls of Egyptian tombs show what may be the first topiary in history: shrubs clipped into geometric circles and squares. Today, when people think of topiaries, they are more likely to think of the fanciful shapes seen at places such as Walt Disney World rather than a cone, spiral or circle. But simple ornamental shapes in boxwood hedges may be used to dress up a façade. Clipping a topiary shape is not difficult as long as you carefully plan each cut and work slowly.

Step 1

Select a topiary frame in the shape that you want to trim your shrub. Shapes with straight edges, such as squares or spirals, can be sculpted freehand, but circles and fanciful animal shapes will sculpt easier with a wire frame guide.

Step 2

Disassemble your frame along the center seam by unhooking the clasps that hold both halves together.

Step 3

Position each half on either side of the shrub that you intend to clip. Insert the prongs found on the bottom of each half of the wire frame into the ground to secure the frame. Press each half of the fame together and reclasp the fasteners along the center seam.

Step 4

Pull the branches out of the frame so that the frame is hidden inside the shrub.

Step 5

Soak a cloth with bleach. Swipe the blades of your shears with bleach in between each cut to sterilize them and prevent the spread of disease.

Step 6

Trim the ends of your shrub, working slowly toward the frame. Never remove more than 3 inches from the tip of any branch.

Step 7

When you reach the wire frame, hand-pinch the ends of each branch to force it to develop side shoots and grow more full.

Step 8

Plan a trimming session every three months to maintain the desired shape.

Things You'll Need

  • Topiary frame
  • Hedge trimmers
  • Bleach
  • Cloth
  • Measuring tape


  • Topiary Arts: Cutting and Shaping
  • Gardening Know How: How to Make Your Own Topiary
  • Topiary in the United Kingdom: The History of Topiary

Who Can Help

  • Topiary Organisation: International association of topiary growers & suppliers
Keywords: shaping shrubs, how to topiary, topiary art

About this Author

Tracy S. Morris has been a freelance writer since 2000. She has published two novels and numerous online articles. Her work has appeared in national magazines and newspapers, including "Ferrets," "CatFancy," "Lexington Herald Leader" and "The Tulsa World."