Mastering Basic Topiary Techniques

Looking for a distinctive plant project that doesn't involve trendy (and expensive) succulents or fiddle leaf figs? Try your hand at the art of topiary. Don’t worry, you don’t have to feel intimidated. Topiary is not limited to the elaborate sculptural forms seen in formal landscapes. Even a novice gardener can master simple topiary techniques.

Topiary is also a great family activity. Allow the kids to dream up ideas for amusing topiary animals and shapes of any size. Topiary gardening is a fun year-round project. Creating and growing topiary is an enjoyable learning experience for the entire family.

Get busy honing your mad topiary skills! Try one of the three main topiary techniques in the backyard or on a light-filled windowsill inside the house.

Free Form
Free-form topiary is a classic topiary technique. This method involves trimming trees and shrubs into a variety of animal and geometric shapes. Free-form topiary requires a basic design, sharp shears (let your mom and dad do the actual trimming), a steady hand and several pairs of eyes to monitor the progress of the shaping.

Purchase a medium-height juniper tree from the garden center and begin by creating a simple cone or spiral. Photocopy images of actual topiary sculptures to use as a guide. To achieve precise, straight lines, use a taut length of string as a guide.

Frame Supported

The frame-supported topiary technique begins with a metal wire frame formed into the shape of the desired object or animal. Purchase already made frames at nurseries that specialize in topiary supplies. If you are creative, make your own frame by molding chicken wire around an object of your choice.

Many people used stuffed animals as a form for topiary frames. Leave the bottom open to accommodate your plants. Place your topiary form over a single pot containing multiple trailing or upright plants. For this technique, consider English ivy, rosemary or myrtle. Weave and train the stems through the openings of the wire mesh until they completely conform to the shape of the frame. If necessary, secure stems into place with floral tape or wire. As the topiary matures, trim the excess growth to maintain the desired shape.

The stuffed topiary technique requires a topiary frame with an enclosed bottom. Stuff the frame from the bottom up with wet sphagnum moss. As the moss is inserted, weave and firmly tie nylon fishing line between the wire openings to contain the moss within the frame.

Select very young, trailing plants or freshly rooted cuttings to create a stuffed topiary. Use creeping fig or baby’s tears for this technique. Plant the lower portion of the frame by inserting the rooted plants directly into the moss. Place layers of moss and plants in sections up the height of the frame.

Fill the center cavity of the frame with quality potting mix. The mix will serve as the soil to anchor the young plants or cuttings. The moss of the stuffed topiary should be kept moist until the plants have adequately rooted into the potting mix. Water regularly and trim the stems to prevent overgrowth.
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