Learn which plants thrive in your Hardiness Zone with our new interactive map!

How to Sculpt Italian Cypress Trees

By Tracy Morris ; Updated September 21, 2017
Italian cypress has a thick, columnar growth that can be shaped into columns, spirals or cones.

There is archeological and pictoral evidence that the sculpting of foliage may be ancient in origin. The first written record dates back to the times of the Roman Empire. Ancient Romans were fans of growing fruit trees in two-dimensional shapes (known as espalier) as well as of clipping dense-foliage trees such as Italian cypress or boxwood into ornamental shapes (known as topiary). Italian cypress’s columnar growth and dense needles make it a prime candidate for growing pillars, ovals or spirals.

Mix a solution of 1 part bleach and 9 parts water. Soak a clean cloth in this solution. Wipe your shears with the solution in between trimming each tree to prevent the spread of disease.

Choose an Italian cypress that already displays a shape that is roughly conical.

Find the central growing point of the plant. You will work away and down from this point.

Create an initial rough cut cone with long-handled shears. If you are making a spiral or a cone, stand to one side of the plant as you work and look down the face of the cone opposite to you to cut an even shape. Step away from the plant periodically to ensure that you are trimming the plant into a balanced shape.

Allow the growth to thicken before further shaping. This is especially important If you are trimming a spiral or a spiral with a ball on the top of it. The tree’s growth should thicken in approximately three months.

Use a guide to trim intricate shapes. A spiral can be designed by laying a string in a spiral path around the tree. A wire bent into a circle will make a good guide for trimming ball shapes.

Trim the rough line of the intricate cut with topiary shears.

Start at the base of the plant and work upward. Lift the foliage above the line that you are trimming to give you better access to the cutting surface. If you are cutting a spiral, make your cuts at shallow angles that become progressively steeper as you go up the plant. If you are cutting a ball shape, use the wire circle as a guide to show you where to make your cuts.


Things You Will Need

  • Bleach
  • Clean cloth
  • Long-handled shears
  • Topiary shears
  • Wire
  • String


  • Do not worry if your tree has gaps or holes at this point. The tree will produce new, denser growth to fill in the gaps.


  • Never remove more than 3 inches of growth from your tree at a time. Schedule regular pruning of the tree to shape it gradually.

About the Author


Tracy Morris has been a freelance writer since 2000. She has published novels and numerous online articles. Her work has appeared in national magazines and newspapers including "Ferrets," "CatFancy," "Lexington Herald Leader" and "The Tulsa World." She holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of Arkansas.