Topiary is an ancient art form of pruning evergreen plants into living sculptures. Popular in zoos and parks, topiary also works well in residential landscapes of all sizes. Add a formal or whimsical element to your own landscape design with topiary. You can use existing evergreen shrubs as candidates for topiary if they are healthy and full, with small leaves or needles, and vigorous vertical growth. Alternatively, plant new shrubs and train them over metal topiary frames.
Assess Your Landscape Design
Examine all your evergreen shrubs and decide which are topiary candidates. Evaluate topiary grouping possibilities for shrubs that are planted in rows or circles.
Check to see if a topiary candidate stands alone in a prominent place in the garden. Evaluate its potential use as an accent or focal point.
Decide if you want a formal design with geometric topiaries or a whimsical design with representational topiaries.
Use a pad and sketch designs that are executable with the shrubs you have. For geometric shapes consider spirals, cones, pyramids, cubes and spheres. For representational shapes consider animals or humans in costumes.
Choose a design for each shrub.
Prune Existing Shrubs
Put on gardening gloves, take your pruners and long-handled loppers and cut branches on a shrub to form the rough outline of the topiary shape you chose. Use pruners to cut small branches and loppers for large branches.
Refine the shape gradually, with successive pruning cuts. Walk around the shrub often to be sure your work is even.
Climb your ladder to reach high branches on the shrub.
Maintain the topiary shape with monthly pruning.
Add Shrubs to Your Garden
Choose a topiary shape for an area of your garden where you have no suitable topiary candidates. Buy a metal frame in the topiary shape you desire.
Using your shovel, dig the soil one-foot deep in the areas where the metal frame will touch the ground. For instance, if the frame is a giraffe, dig four holes where the giraffe's feet will stand.
Purchase matching evergreen plants from a garden center and plant them in the holes. Water the new plants thoroughly and mulch them with compost.
Place the metal frame over the plants and train the new growth up and over the frame.
Prune wayward growth monthly if it cannot be trained to follow the topiary frame.
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.