Shrub Topiaries Of Faces And Animals
(Image credit: pxhidalgo)

Outdoor topiaries can create a striking effect in your garden. Taking the time to make your own topiary can save you up to several hundred dollars and give you a gardening focal point that you can be proud of.

How to Make Your Own Topiary

There are essentially two kinds of topiaries: vine topiaries, where vines are encouraged to grow over topiary forms, and shrub topiaries, where a shrub is cut into a form.

Make your own topiary with vines

  1. Choose topiary forms - Whether you are making a topiary tree or something more elaborate, if you decide to use vining plants to make a topiary, you will need to choose a topiary form. This will allow the vine to crawl up the form and cover the shape.
  2. Choose a vining plant - English ivy is a common choice for a vining plant topiary, though any plant that vines can be used, such as periwinkle or Boston ivy. English ivy is generally chosen due to the fact that it grows quickly, is tolerant of many conditions, and looks lovely.
  3. Fill the form with sphagnum moss - While filling the topiary forms with sphagnum moss is not essential, it will help your topiary take on a fuller look much faster.
  4. Plant the vine around the form - Whether a potted topiary or an outdoor topiary in the ground, plant the vine around the form so that it can grow up the form. If you are using a large form or if you simply want to cover the form faster, you can use several plants around the form.
  5. Train and prune appropriately - As the plants grow, train them to the form by helping them wrap around the form. Also, prune or pinch back any shoots that cannot be easily trained to the topiary forms.

The time it will take to have a fully covered topiary varies depending on how many plants you use and the size of the topiary, but we can guarantee that when it is all filled in, you will be thrilled with the results.

Make your own topiary with shrubs

Making a topiary with a shrub is more difficult but still very fun.

  1. Choose the plant - It's easiest to start a shrub topiary with a small juvenile shrub that can be molded as it grows, but you can accomplish an outdoor topiary effect with mature plants as well.
  2. Frame or no frame - If you are new to topiary, you'll want to put topiary forms over the shrubs you choose to sculpt. As the plant grows, the frame will help guide you on your pruning decisions. If you are an experienced topiary artist, you can attempt to create topiary without topiary forms. Be aware that even experienced topiary artists will use frames to make things easier. If you have a larger shrub, you may need to build the frame around the topiary.
  3. Training and pruning - When creating a shrub outdoor topiary, you have to take things slowly. Envision how you want your final topiary to look and trim off no more than 3 inches (8 cm.) in working towards that shape. If you are working on growing a small shrub, prune 1 inch (2.5 cm.) off in areas where you need to fill in. Pruning will encourage additional, bushier growth. If you're working on shaping a large shrub, take no more than 3 inches (8 cm.) off in areas where you wish to cut back. Any more than this will only kill off parts of the shrub and will ruin the process. Remember, when creating a shrub topiary, you are creating a sculpture in slow motion.
  4. Training and pruning again - We repeated this step because you will need to repeat this step -- a lot. Train and prune the shrub a little more about every three months during active growth.

Take your time when you make your own topiary and take it slow. Your patience will be rewarded with a fabulous outdoor topiary.

Heather Rhoades
Founder of Gardening Know How

Heather Rhoades founded Gardening Know How in 2007. She holds degrees from Cleveland State University and Northern Kentucky University. She is an avid gardener with a passion for community, and is a recipient of the Master Gardeners of Ohio Lifetime Achievement Award.