The Best Plants for Topiary
Topiary is an ancient form of living sculpture. From simple geometric designs to complex animal or still-life scenes, topiaries can be used indoors or out to create formal or fanciful garden accents. Beginners may want to start by training vines around a pre-designed frame. For more advanced or adventurous gardeners and artists, free-form topiary shapes can be trained and trimmed from a variety of shrubs and plants. Topiary requires patience and maintenance, but the results are worth the effort.
English ivy (Hedera helix), creeping fig (Ficus pumila), jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum), creeping jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) and grape ivy (Rhoicissus rhomboidea) can be trained to grow on frames.
Moss-Packed Frame Plants
Filling shaped frames with sphagnum moss allows topiary artists to create whimsical shapes. Stars, animals and human forms are stuffed with moss and planted with hen and chicks (Sempervirum), begonias, scented geraniums and coleus. Other choices for moss-packed frames include popular houseplants such as the polka dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya) and wandering jew (Tradescantia), sedums, sedges, mosses and grasses.
Herb and Citrus Plants
Woody herbs such as rosemary, thyme and lavender can be trimmed into geometric shapes. Typical designs for herbal topiaries include balls, cones and squares. Herbal topiaries can be grown in pots and used indoors. Meyer lemon, a small citrus tree, can be trained as a topiary standard as well.
Boxwood, yews and hollies are traditional choices for topiary. These evergreen shrubs are tolerant of trimming and their fine-leaved structure shows detail well.
Achieve a dramatic seasonal effect with burning bush (Euonymus alata). A fine-leaved, dark green shrub throughout the summer months, burning bush turns bright red in the fall. Used as a specimen plant and clipped into a simple heart shape, burning bush creates a charming, living Valentine—a few months early.
Flowering Topiary Plants
Japanese holly (Ilex crenata) is a popular topiary plant. During May and June, the plant produces white flowers. The "Sky Pencil" cultivar of this plant has a naturally columnar shape, but other varieties have a wider spread. Podocarpus (Podocarpus macrophyllus) grows best in zones 8b through 11. It produces small yellow flowers followed by purple fleshy fruits that attract birds. Podocarpus has the best growth when placed in an area with full sunlight. It can tolerate poor soils and urban environments. Azaleas (Rhododendron spp.) tolerate pruning into mounded, dome, stone or cloud-shaped topiaries. Different varieties of azaleas tolerate different zones. They also come in a wide range of colors, including white, red, pink and purple. They grow best in areas with partial sunlight and partial shade throughout the day.
- Cornell Extension: Living Sculpture
- University of Illinois: Container Gardens
- Cornell University: Topiary
- University of Georgia: Pruning Ornamental Plants in the Landscape
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Ilex Crenata "Sky Pencil"
- Floridata: Jasminum Polyanthum
- Chicago Botanic Garden: Topiary and Training Plants
- National Gardening Association: Rhododendron (Subgenus Azalea) "Hershey Red"
- National Gardening Association: Rhododendron (Subgenus Azalea) "Hardy Gardenia"