How to Make a Topiary for Your Garden

Topiaries give a garden a classic look, and show off meticulous pruning skill. Take a colorful coleus to new heights with a simple trimming and staking technique to make this DIY topiary.

Topiary is the art of shaping plants into extraordinary forms, but that doesn’t mean creating a topiary must be complicated. Start with the right plant and you’ll have to trim only a few leaves to design an eye-catching topiary standard, or “lollipop.” Most topiaries are perennial plants trimmed and shaped over several years, but fast-growing annuals can also be trimmed into a stylish standard. In just a few weeks, a standard can take shape and hold its good looks all summer. The key is to choose a plant with a naturally strong central stem and attractive foliage—such as an upright coleus with splashy colors—and add sturdy support as it grows. Regular care and feeding, along with an occasional pinch or snip, will keep your standard looking snappy.

  • Working Time 30 Minutes
  • Start to Finish 3 Weeks
  • Difficulty         Projects Easy
  • Involves Planting, Pruning, Staking

What you need

Tools

  • Small pruning snips

Materials

  • Planter—we used an 8-inch pot—and potting soil
  • Upright coleus with a strong central stem
  • Bamboo stake cut to size
  • 6 twist ties or short lengths of garden twine

How to do it

Step 1 Plant Coleus

Fill a planting container 3/4 full with potting soil. Plant the coleus in the planter, no deeper than it was in its original pot. Press soil firmly around the roots.

Step 2

Starting at the soil line, clip off all the leaves on the bottom two-thirds of the stem. Use a pruning tool rather than just pulling off the leaves to avoid damaging the stem.

Step 3

Carefully insert the bamboo stake next to the plant stem, pushing it to the bottom of the pot. Starting about 2 inches above the soil line, wrap one twist tie around the stake, then gently around the stem. (The tie should make a figure-8 around the stake and stem.) Repeat the procedure every 2-3 inches up the stem. Reserve the remaining ties to use as the plant grows. Water the plant well and continue to care for it as described on the plant tag.

Step 4

As the plant grows, snip off any new leaves that appear on the lower stem and add more ties to the top growth to protect it from wind damage.

When the plant reaches the top of the stake (or when it reaches your desired height), snip off the tip of the central stem. This will force new growth to appear below that cut and eventually give the plant a rounder, fuller appearance. As the plant continues to grow, trim the tips of the side stems to shape the plant. Set it in a protected area away from strong winds and heavy rain.

 

Tips On More Plants

Coleus aren’t the only summertime plants that can be trimmed into topiaries. The following three plants also make interesting standards using the same techniques.

  • Scented geraniums (Pelargonium spp.), especially small-leaf types
  • Rosemary, particularly upright cultivars such as ‘Tuscan Blue’ or ‘Gorizia’
  • African blue basil (Ocimum kilimandscharicum × basilicum ‘Dark Opal’)

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