How to Cut a Topiary


Most people today are familiar with topiaries thanks to the cartoon-shaped shrubs at Disneyland in California or Disneyworld in Florida. The art of topiary can be traced back to the ancient world. In Rome, skilled gardeners were called "topiarius," which means "creator of places." Fanciful topiaries today may be clipped to resemble animals ranging from bear to giraffes. More traditional topiaries are cut to resemble geometric shapes, such as spirals, cones and circles. Anyone with patience and a pair of garden clippers can create a basic topiary from a shrub.

Step 1

Choose an evergreen shrub that already has a similar shape to the one you plan to make. Boxwood hedges make good squares and rectangles because their shape is already squared. The leaf size of the plant should be proportionate to the finished size of the topiary.

Step 2

Spray the blades of shears with a solution of one part bleach and nine parts water poured into a spray bottle. The bleach water will disinfect the shears and prevent the spread of disease.

Step 3

Cut the rough topiary shape with a pair of long-handled shears. Start at the center of the plant and cut outward and downward to shape the plant. Step back from the plant every few minutes and survey it from several angles to ensure that you are shaping the shrub evenly. It is easier to make minor corrections now than a major correction when you have finished.

Step 4

Create a guide to help determine how to cut fine detail into the plant: a ribbon wrapped around a shrub-shaped cone to help determine where to cut a spiral, a long dowel rod balanced against the side of a shrub to show you how to cut a smooth surface for a cone or a piece of wire twisted into a circle to help you cut a perfect circle for a ball shape.

Step 5

Hold the guide up to the shrub and cut any branches or twigs that cross the guide. Start at the bottom of the shrub and trim upward.

Step 6

Pinch the ends of the shrubs for a more natural appearance.

Things You'll Need

  • Bleach
  • Spray bottle
  • Long-handled shears
  • Topiary shears
  • Ribbon
  • Dowel rod
  • Wire


  • Univeristy of Iowa Extension: Boxwood: a Versatile Evergreen
  • UC Master Gardeners of Napa County: Topiary Topics
  • University of California: Topiary
  • Mississippi State University Extension: Ornamental & Tree Diseases

Who Can Help

  • Topairy Arts: Cutting and Shaping
Keywords: trimming topiary shrubs, shaping landscaping plants, cutting boxwood hedges

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."