How to Shape a Topiary

Overview

"Topiary is the art of fashioning living plants into ornamental shapes," according to the Iowa State University Extension. This ancient gardening technique was used as far back as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Today, it is seen in formal and whimsical gardens all over the world, and also decorates home interiors. If you have patience and skill you can make your own leafy fantasy come to life, and complete your exterior or interior design plan with a free-form, shrub or sphagnum topiary.

Free-Form Topiary

Step 1

Choose a bushy, evergreen shrub in your garden or at a nursery.

Step 2

Put on gardening gloves and use your pruners to clip a rough outline of the desired geometric shape on the plant.

Step 3

Refine the shape by sculpting with your pruners. Maintain it over time with careful pruning that does not open bare areas on the shrub.

Shrub Topiary

Step 1

Select a spot in the garden where you want the finished topiary to be on display in three to 10 years.

Step 2

Put on your gardening gloves and use your shovel to loosen the soil in this area.

Step 3

Position the metal topiary frame on the loosened dirt and dig a planting hole at each place the frame touches the ground. For example, if you use a frame in the shape of a chair, the frame needs a planting hole at each chair foot.

Step 4

Plant a young evergreen plant, of the same variety, in each hole and water well.

Step 5

As the plants grow, either prune them to follow the shape of the metal form, wind and tuck them around the form, or tie them to the form.

Sphagnum Topiary

Step 1

Choose a topiary frame that you want to have covered in three months.

Step 2

Put on latex gloves and thoroughly soak the sphagnum moss in a bucket of water. Squeeze out one handful of moss at a time and stuff the frame until the metal disappears under the moss.

Step 3

Tie fishing line to the frame and wrap the line tightly all around the moss. Finish by tying the end of the line to the frame.

Step 4

Pick up the dibble and poke holes in the moss wherever you want to place a plant. Push the plants into the holes and tuck the wet moss around them.

Step 5

If the plants have vines, secure them to the moss with hair or fern pins. Water the plants with liquid fertilizer and place the topiary in a sunny spot. Maintain moisture with a spray or by submerging the topiary. Guide the plant growth by pinning or pruning.

Tips and Warnings

  • Topiaries of all kinds need careful watering and fertilizing.

Things You'll Need

  • Gardening gloves
  • Latex gloves
  • Pruners
  • 1 or more evergreen plants
  • Shovel
  • Metal topiary frame
  • Hose
  • Bucket
  • Sphagnum moss
  • Fishing line
  • Dibble (thick, pointed wooden peg)
  • Hair or fern pins
  • Liquid plant fertilizer 20-20-20

References

  • University of Wisconsin Master Gardeners: Creating a Topiary
  • Cornell University Department of Horticulture: Shrub Topiaries
  • Iowa State University Extension: Topiaries

Who Can Help

  • National Gardening Association
Keywords: topiary frame, prune topiary, sphagnum topiary

About this Author

Daffodil Planter's writing appears in the Chicago Sun-Times, and she is the Sacramento Gardening Scene Examiner for Examiner.com. A member of the Garden Writers Association, she has a bachelor's degree from Stanford, a law degree from the University of Virginia and studies horticulture at Sierra College.