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The Art of Topiary: How to Shape Shrubs and Trees in Your Garden

Green Leaf Plant

Topiary is the horticultural practice of training shrubs and trees into ornamental shapes. This living art form can create beautiful focal points in any garden. With proper techniques and regular maintenance, you can sculpt plants into stunning designs like spirals, cubes, pyramids, and more. Here’s a beginner’s guide to get started with the artistic tradition of topiary for your outdoor space.

Selecting the Right Plants

Choosing the right plants is key to success with topiary. The best options include:

  • Boxwood -Classic topiary choice. Slow growing with dense foliage that holds shape well. Requires frequent trimming.
  • Yew – Similar to boxwood. A bit faster growing, with softer needles. Does well with shaping.
  • Privet – Quick growing and low maintenance. Its leafy green foliage can be trimmed easily.
  • Juniper – Evergreen shrub perfect for spiraled and cascading shapes. Retains shape with minimal trimming.
  • Myrtle – Broadleaf evergreen that responds well to shaping. Surface roots makeContainers work better than in-ground planting.

Basic Techniques

Topiary requires consistently trimming and pruning plants to maintain their ornamental forms. Here are some key techniques:

  • Use sharp bypass pruners for clean cuts that won’t damage stems.
  • Trim boxwood and yew frequently to encourage dense growth. Target wayward stems and shape lightly.
  • For looser shapes, allow plants like juniper to grow freely, then prune back as needed.
  • Use stakes, wire frames, or forms while plants are young to train growth in the desired shape.
  • Trim at least weekly during peak growing seasons. Target stray shoots and shape lightly.
  • Remove old growth and prune rootballs each spring before new growth emerges.

Creative Designs

Let your imagination run wild when deciding what shapes to create. Some options include:

Geometric Shapes

Boxwood is perfect for sculpting geometric topiaries like spirals, cubes, cones, and spheres. Make them different heights for interest.


Use creative pruning to shape plants into animals like birds, horses, rabbits, turtles, and more. Select focal points for faces.

Letters and Words

Spell out names, words, or phrases in your garden with cleverly trimmed topiaries.


Try faux benches, chairs, or tables trimmed from boxwood or yew. Use decoration accents like “pillows.”


Shape Christmas trees and pumpkins for holiday displays. Add festive trim to complete the look.

Maintaining Your Topiaries

Keep sculpted plants looking their best with these care tips:

  • Monitor water needs and soak thoroughly during droughts. Consider irrigation systems for convenience.
  • Apply slow release fertilizer in early spring and again halfway through the growing season.
  • Watch for pests like aphids and mites. Control with targeted organic pesticides.
  • Cover or overwinter container topiaries in harsh climates to protect from frost and snow.
  • Check for dead branches or spots with thinning growth and prune away.
  • Rotate or gently bend branches occasionally to encourage even growth on all sides.

With proper care and technique, you can enjoy stunning topiary shapes that enhance your garden for years to come. Let your creativity run wild in shaping healthy trees and shrubs into living works of art!