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How to Prune a Topiary

By J.D. Chi ; Updated September 21, 2017

A topiary adds structure, depth and interest to any garden but must be maintained to get the full effect. Pruning your topiary is simple but can be time-consuming and must be done a regular basis to maintain the desired shape. You may plant your topiaries in containers, use them as borders around a garden or create a hedge with them. Slow-growing evergreen plants are often used for topiaries as they require minimal trimming.

Pruning a Ball

Form a length of wire into a circle to use as a guide when trimming. The circle should be smaller than the foliage on the plant.

Place the circular wire near the base of the plant foliage and trim with garden shears over the wire.

Move the wire up the plant and continue trimming until you have trimmed the whole plant.

Use garden shears, or even scissors for a small plant, to snip off any pieces of foliage that you did not trim back using the guide.

Trimming a Cone

Stand over the top of the plant and begin trimming from the top down. Trim to a point at the top and work out to a wider base. You may want to use guides for larger plants.

Place three posts -- bamboo, metal or other material -- against larger plants with the tops meeting at the top of the plant. Firmly push these posts, which will serve as guides, into the ground near the plant.

Trim the plant using garden shears by following the line of the posts. Make sure the guides are pushed into the foliage so that you can trim over them.

Remove posts and use garden shears to snip off any errant foliage.

Trimming a Square

Use garden shears, or an electric hedge trimmer for larger hedges, to cut evenly across the top of the plant.

Cut down the sides of the plant from the top down or from side to side, being careful to keep the shears or trimmer straight. You may use a post as a guide. If doing so, push two posts into the ground each about one-third of the way across the side of the plant that you're trimming. Make sure the posts are pushed below the foliage so that you can cut over them.

Trim the bottom of the plant last, working from the outside foliage to the stem.

Remove the posts and trim any errant foliage by hand.


Things You Will Need

  • Sharp garden shears
  • Electric hedge trimmer
  • Garden wire
  • Wire cutters
  • Thin wood or metal posts
  • Topiary guides
  • Protective goggles
  • Gardening gloves


  • Use sharp shears when trimming topiaries to get clean cuts and prevent tearing of the stems.
  • Choose slow-growing evergreen plants as topiaries. The more slowly a plant grows, the less upkeep it will need.
  • For more advanced shapes, you may purchase preformed topiary guides at a garden specialty shop.


  • Take your time when trimming a topiary. This kind of trimming requires patience.
  • Wear protective goggles to keep errant foliage from getting in your eyes.


About the Author


J.D. Chi is a professional journalist who has covered sports for more than 20 years at newspapers all over the United States. She has covered major golf tournaments and the NFL as well as travel and health topics. Chi received her Bachelor of Arts in professional writing from Carnegie Mellon University and is working toward a master's degree in journalism.