How to Cut an Outside Tree Into a Topiary


Topiary is the art of shaping trees and other plants into shapes by cutting and trimming. Topiaries can be created using pre-made metal topiary forms or can be done by freehand pruning. Designs used for topiaries range from the very simple, such as balls and cones, to complex shapes like buildings and animals, which will usually require forms for amateurs to accomplish.

Step 1

Select a tree that has a straight center branch or trunk for designs such as cones and spirals. A cone is a standard triangular "Christmas tree" shape that is small at the top and wide at the bottom and a spiral is similarly shaped, but has a twisting design that wraps around the tree as well.

Step 2

Choose a tree that is very wide at both the top and the bottom to create a ball design. A ball-shaped topiary is a completely rounded shape, though balls are sometimes included at the top of other topiary designs as well.

Step 3

Place the topiary form over the tree if you will be using a form. The form should fit snugly against the tree in most places. If it doesn't, the tree will need to grow fuller before the form can be used. Once the form is in place, prune all foliage back to level with the form.

Step 4

Start a cone design at the top of the tree, trimming the foliage close to the central branch at the top and moving downward. The plant will slope outward into the full width of the foliage at the bottom.

Step 5

Begin a spiral by cutting a cone shape first. Once the general shape is cut, wrap a ribbon around the tree in a spiral shape all the way down the tree and cut along the edge of the ribbon. Remove the ribbon and trim the path all the way down to the trunk to create a very distinguishable path.

Step 6

Begin cutting in the middle of the topiary for a ball shape, trimming the foliage down to a diameter of your choice. Cut both downward and upward in an arch to create the ball shape.

Tips and Warnings

  • Cut topiary shapes in the early spring before the main growing season, but after all risk of frost has passed.

Things You'll Need

  • Topiary shears
  • Topiary form
  • Ribbon


  • Iowa State University: Topiary
  • Topiary Arts: Cutting
Keywords: topiary, tree, design

About this Author

Alexis Lawrence has been writing professionally for six years and has been published on Associated Content. She is also a freelance filmmaker and photographer with extensive experience in digital video, book publishing and graphic design. Lawrence attended the University of Central Florida where she earned a Bachelor of Science in English.