Topiary is the art of training plants, usually trailing plants like philodendron, ivy and some jasmines, to grow into unnatural shapes. Most of the time the topiary shape is guided and supported by a wire frame that can be open or stuffed with sphagnum moss. The plant tendrils are guided up onto the frame and pinned in place. Before long, they'll cover the entire topiary, giving the impression of a robust plant growing in a most unusual shape.
Stuff a wire topiary form as tightly as possible with sphagnum moss. Wrap around and around each section of the topiary form with fishing line as you stuff it; this will help keep the moss from tumbling out.
Remove creeping fig or ivy plants with long runners from their containers and gently dunk the roots in a bucket of lukewarm water several times to wash off the soil.
Use your fingers to work apart the fishing line and moss in the lower half of the topiary frame's main body. Carefully insert your trailing plant's root system, then use hairpins to secure damp moss over the openings and help keep the plant in place. Repeat this several times, spacing the vines around the topiary. Finally, use hairpins, greening pins or any soft, flexible ties to pin the vines in place, evenly spaced around the topiary.
Saturate the moss inside the topiary with water every day to keep it moist; the vines will also enjoy a daily misting with a spray bottle. Try to ensure that your stuffed frame topiary gets at least 12 hours of light daily.
Guide trailing vines back to the topiary form, pinning them in place if necessary, every week or two.
Select a topiary frame--you can purchase one from a gardening or landscaping store, or make your own--and a pot large enough to accommodate its base. Fill the bottom half of the pot with an even mix of potting soil and sand, then fill the rest with potting soil. Plunge the base of the topiary frame into the pot.
Select a plant whose leaf size matches the size of the frame. For small frames you might use small-leaf ivy; medium or larger frames will look better if you use trailing plants with larger leaves, like philodendron or large leaf ivy.
Plant the variety of trailing plant you've selected in the pot with the topiary and gently guide its tendrils up onto the topiary form. Pin them in place, if need be, to keep them on.
Care and water for your topiary plants just as you would if they weren't on the topiary frame. Every week or two, guide any wayward vines back onto the frame and pin them in place. Pinch off any tendrils that you can't persuade to stay on the topiary form and root them beside the parent plant to encourage a fuller look.
About this Author
Marie Mulrooney has written professionally since 2001. Her diverse background includes numerous outdoor pursuits, personal training and linguistics. She studied mathematics at the University of Alaska Anchorage and contributes regularly to such websites as eHow, Garden Guides, LiveSTRONG and Trails.com. Print publication credits include national magazines, poetry awards and long-lived columns about local outdoor adventures.