How to Cut Topiaries

Topiary techniques can be used on any size plant.
Topiary techniques can be used on any size plant. (Image: Polka Dot Images/Polka Dot/Getty Images)

You finally created the yard you wanted -- that's great! Unfortunately, this was maybe a few years ago, and now you'd like to look at something different. If you planted ornamental trees and shrubs, you are in luck. Those plants can be transformed into new shapes, changing the look of your yard without the cost of putting in new plants. If you happened to plant topiaries and now they look a bit bedraggled, not to worry. They can be reshaped and made good as new.

Things You'll Need

  • Long-handled pruners
  • Topiary shears
  • Flexible wire

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Choose one ornamental plant to use as your topiary. Study it to determine the best shape for that particular plant. For instance, if you have a boxwood that used to be mostly round but is now bloblike, it probably can be cut into a sphere shape. Some plants lend themselves to square or cone shapes. Move the leaves to the side and see which direction the branches are growing.

Cut the rough shape with the long-handled pruners. Think of this step as a sketch for the final design. Move all around the plant to get the design as even as possible. Start rounding the plant, for instance, if you want to end up with a sphere-shaped topiary. At this point, it can have irregular edges; details will come later. Cut straight edges on all sides for a square topiary.

Make a template with the flexible wire. This is especially helpful if you are making more than one topiary of the same shape. Bend the wire into the shape desired, whether it is a sphere, cone or square.

Hold the template up to the plant. Use the topiary shears to put in the fine details of the shape so that the plant is the same size as the template. Move the template around to ensure evenness on all sides. Topiary shears look like scissors but without the hinge. Instead, the blades are connected at the bottom and spring apart after being squeezed together. The blades of topiary shears are longer than those of standard hand-held pruners or clippers. The blade length lets gardeners create smooth, even shapes.

Stand back and study the topiary you just created. Walk all the way around the plant to look at it from all sides. Use the topiary shears to make corrections to the shape, if necessary. Make sure your sphere topiary is round from every angle. Check that your square topiary has crisp edges that match the opposite side.

Tips & Warnings

  • Coat cutting blades with an antibacterial spray between plants. This minimizes the chances of spreading bacteria between plants
  • Keep your blades sharp to get the cleanest cuts. Ragged cuts make for a ragged topiary.


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