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Making a simplest topiary shape from scratch takes years. By the time you created your first topiary, you have turned from a beginner into an expert gardener.
Topiary is more than just clipping a box hedge and all those shapes of boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) are a pretty awesome addition to your garden.
The main principle of topiary is to create enough side branches to form a shape. This is achieved by clipping the main stem and side branches in various sequences over the course of few years depending on a particular shape. You can also let the plant grow into a frame but for instructions on how to achieve a specific topiary shape you may want to pick up a book that takes you through the intricate art of topiary. Take a look at Topiary and the Art of Training Plants by David Joyce.
Here we would just cover the basic principles of clipping the boxwood.
Starting with the new plant
Every spring feed your plant with a slow-release or specialised topiary fertiliser to promote healthy growth.
When you start with young plants and want to make them into a topiary shape, you have to keep cutting the main and side branches down for two or three years until the plant has enough side branches that can form a shape.
For each individual shape your choice of branches will differ. For example, for a lollipop shape you need to remove all the branches at the bottom of the plant.
If you already grow clipped box which seems to have become rather hairy, then it is time for a prune. Clipping topiary is very much like taking care of hedging, just with a little more care and attention, and several (hair)cuts will be needed throughout the year.
Maintenance pruning should be carried out in early or late summer when most of the growth spurt has already taken place. If you’re a perfectionist, feel free to snip here and there throughout the growing season too.
Using loppers or sharp secateurs, prune away the yearly growth to the original shape. If the shape you want isn’t easily obvious, give your topiary a rough cut first, before going in and carefully removing individual leaves and stalks to perfect the final look. Step back regularly to ensure that you’re cutting in the right places to get to the desired shape.
Alternatively follow instructions for a specific topiary shape if you are starting designing your plant from scratch.
Use chicken wire
If you’re renovating an old piece of topiary or are starting from scratch, use chicken wire to help guide the shape. Old wood, dead or diseased limbs and misplaced branches can be removed with a pruning saw. Carefully cut back any foliage which sticks through the mesh frame, keeping the shape and encouraging new buds to form.