How to Trim Boxwood Plants Into Animals


The art of topiary involves training shrubs and other plants into living sculptures that are usually geometric or natural shapes. Animals and birds are very popular subjects for topiary, with fine examples seen in many formal and botanical gardens, especially in Europe, where this craft has been practiced for hundreds of years. The dense, tightly knit foliage of boxwood makes it one of the best shrubs for topiary. Creating a good topiary animal with boxwood requires patience, as the work must be done in stages to allow the plant to fill in after each pruning.

Step 1

Decide what type of animal will best suit the size and shape of the boxwood shrub you have. Small shrubs can be trained into compact forms such as a sitting dog or cat. For large, standing animals like elephants you will need to have four shrubs to form the base, one for each leg. These larger topiaries can take many years to complete, due to the slow growing nature of boxwood.

Step 2

Purchase or make a wire frame in the shape of the animal desired. Making a good frame requires considerable time and effort, so buying a ready-made unit is highly recommended. Most frames come as two separate halves that can be easily fitted around the shrub and joined together. Choose a frame that is slightly larger than your shrub so that the boxwood can grow into it.

Step 3

Place one half of the frame around the shrub by pushing the wire stakes into the ground. Repeat with the other half, and attach the frame together with wire. Stand back and make sure the frame is upright and not leaning to one side or the other.

Step 4

Trim any branches that are protruding out of the frame. Boxwood responds well to regular light pruning, so don't remove more than 3 or 4 inches at a time. When hard pruned into old growth, boxwood can take several years to recover.

Step 5

Continue pruning the shrub back to the wire frame as new growth fills in. Once the shape is complete it will need a light trimming in spring and fall to keep the lines and curves crisp and well defined.

Things You'll Need

  • Boxwood shrub
  • Topiary frame
  • Pruning shears


  • Cornell University Department of Horticulture: Shrub Topiaries
  • North Carolina State University: Growing Boxwoods in the Landscape
Keywords: trimming boxwood animals, boxwood topiary animals, boxwood animal topiaries

About this Author

Based in Surrey, British Columbia, Stephen Oakley is a freelance writer focusing on environmental issues, travel and all things outdoors. His background includes many years spent working in the Canadian wilderness and traveling worldwide.