How to Trim a Bush in Fun Shapes

A bush trimmed in the shape of an elephant.
What You'll Need
Wire frame
Pruning shears
Hand shears

Topiary is the art of sculpting greenery into fun and creative shapes. These elaborate works of art can usually be found in stylish and well-maintained gardens, but they don't have to be associated with wealthy households and private gardeners. Trimming a bush into an interesting shape is not as complicated as it may seem; even the novice can create a magical piece to delight the beholder.

Best Shrubs for Topiary

Boxwood, ivy, privet, and yew are the most popular shrubs to shape into topiary forms. These evergreens have small leaves, and they grow slowly and densely which makes them a perfect blank canvas for trimming into anything. Not to mention, they don't require as much maintenance to keep their shape as other types.

Step 1 - Choose a Shape

Early summer is the best time to start your topiary project. Think about the figure you want and assess the existing shape of your shrub. Sometimes, your plant will already resemble a certain pattern and this can give you an idea of how to develop it. Focus on the fundamental geometrical shapes needed for things like a spiral, a cube, a bird, or animal. A basic topiary such as a cube, cone, or pyramid is simple enough for the novice gardener but it will still give a sense of accomplishment.

More elaborate figures such as a peacock, swan, bear, guitar, or woman are not necessarily complex to create, but they take more time and patience. Therefore, carefully consider what you may want and how much time you intend to invest in the project.

Step 2 - Use Wire Frame

If you are a complete beginner, wire frames in different shapes are a practical tool to get you started. Alternatively, you can make your own template from a wire frame. Pick one and place it on the bush. Then, prune the shrub branches where they are sticking out. Your shears have to be clean and sharp, as pruning with blunt tools only harms the stems. With regular trimming, the shrubs will be “trained” to grow around the frame, but you need to be patient as the process takes time.

Step 3 - Trim Without a Wire Frame

When trimming without a wire frame the process is somewhat different. First, you will want to slowly and carefully form the shrub into a basic geometrical shape. For example, for a cat, trim the bush into an oval shape. Then, place some sticks to act as reference points where you want the head or the tail. Tie the sticks with a string to the shrub if necessary. As the shrub grows, trim the selected stems into details such as head, tail, paws, etc. This process can take several years but with persistence, your topiary will become a focal point in the yard.

Step 4 - Care for Your New Bush

Your shrubs will still need regular watering, especially in hot months, so that they retain their form and look healthy and green. Also, keep them free of insects and pests.

Depending on the type of shrub you have used, the frequency of necessary trimming varies. Some types of plants grow fast while others take several years to form into a shape.

Topiaries are an exquisite and sophisticated addition to your landscaping and can set a magical atmosphere. They are not so complex to make, but definitely require a significant amount of patience.