Topiary Gardening Delight: 11 Exceptional Plants for Your Topiary Creations

You can shear shrubs and dwarf trees into geometric shapes or animal forms in three-dimensional spaces (globes or cubes). It’s important to learn the proper techniques for topiary and to choose the right plants. You will often use evergreens for topiary (including broadleaf types) so you can enjoy your creation all year round. There are some exceptions. Not all privet shrubs will evergreen. However, they are among the most popular topiary bushes.

Topiary plants are best amongst trees, shrubs and herbs that have small leaves. They also grow fast and have dense branching patterns. As with all plant selections, be realistic but open-minded. You might decide to sacrifice one of these qualities to grow a plant you love, like being fragrant or easy to cultivate.

01

Yew Bushes
Close-up of red berries on a yew bush.
Cora Niele/Getty Images
Taxus shrubs are evergreen needled conifers that can be a good choice for shade.

You should not grow them in your yard if there will be children playing outside or if dogs are allowed to run free.
The plants grow slowly.
If you have a yard without children or pets, and if patience is on your side, then yews are a great choice for topiary. T. baccata ‘Repandens’ is an excellent choice for a low-and-long topiary shape. It measures 2 to 4 feet tall and 12 to 15 foot wide.

02

Arborvitae Shrubs
Topiary of tall arborvitae shrubs
The Spruce (Evgeniya Vlasova)
Thuja occidentalis, also an evergreen needled shrub, has flat, scaly leaves. The plant can be shaped in different ways, depending on what topiary form you want.

North Pole (zones 3-7, full or partial sun) can be used to create a topiary which is taller than wide (10-15 feet tall by 5 feet wide), but not too tall.

The ‘Golden Globe,’ which is suitable for zones 4 to 8 (partial to full sun) and stands 4 feet high and wide, suits a completely different topiary. It also offers a completely different color (golden leaves).

03

Alberta Spruce Trees
Alberta spruce decorated for Christmas flanking the front door of a house with wreaths.
Ellen Rooney/Getty Images
Picea Glauca ‘Conica (zones 3-8, full sun) is also a slow-growing tree, but its dense, fragrant foliage makes up for that. This dwarf tree can also be used to create a conical or pyramidal topiary.

04

Boxwood Shrubs
Two low-ground orbs of boxwood on pebbled grounds
The Spruce (Evgeniya Vlasova)
Buxus can be used in topiary. Boxwoods are used in formal landscaping designs because they make it easy to create straight, crisp lines. B. sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’ (3 feet x three feet, zone 6 to 8, full sunlight to partial shade), is a dwarf that’s best for topiaries.

05

Japanese Holly Shrubs
Japanese holly with berries (Hetzii).
David Beaulieu
Ilex crenata ‘Hetzii’ (3 to 6 foot tall and wide) is rounded, and therefore works well with many geometrical and animal shapes. If you want to make a tall, slender topiary (such as “triple-ball” topiaries), I. Crenata ‘Sky Pencil’ (6 feet tall and 14 inches wide) would be a better option. Both plants grow best in zones 5 to 8 with full sun or partial shade.

06

Cherry Laurel Shrubs
Cherry laurel blooming
Martin Siepmann/Getty Images
The cherry laurel, Prunus laurocerasus, has nothing to with the mountain laurel Kalmia latiflora (although its leaves are similar). It is a cherry-like plant, as the genus name (Prunus), reveals.

The ‘Otto Luyken” cultivar is a good choice for small topiaries. It will stay smaller than the species. It will eventually grow bigger than the listed size (between 3 and 4 feet high by 6 to 8 foot wide), but this is only after a number of years.

07

Privet Shrubs
Privet bush in full bloom.
Diane Macdonald/Getty Images
The same qualities that make topiary plants desirable also make them good hedge plants. Privet (Ligustrum), a broadleaf plant, is exemplary. L. vulgare can grow from 4 to 15 feet high, and has a spread between 4 to 8 foot. This European native is tough (zones 5 – 8) but it’s not evergreen.

L. japonicum comes from Japan. Evergreen but only suitable for zones 7-10. The bush grows 6 to 12 ft tall and spreads 6 to 8 ft. Both are invasive plants in some parts of the U.S.

08

Lavender Herbs
Lavender in full bloom.
Taya Johnson/Getty Images
Lavandula agustifolia can be grown in a topiary. It is a small plant that grows between 2 and 3 feet high. The spread depends on the cultivar. This herb is particularly popular with those who are looking for a pleasant aroma. Use the trimmings from your topiary to make potpourri.

Continue to 9 below.

09

Germander Herbs
healing herbs – Teucrium chamaedrys
Kerrick / Getty Images
Teucrium fruticans is a great plant for those who want to move beyond basic landscaping. It grows from 4 to 6 feet high and wide in zones 8 to 10 of full sun. This evergreen is not only one of the best topiary plants (a tender relative to T. chamaedrys), but also makes a wonderful edging.

If you are artistic, you can go one step further by creating a knot-garden, a garden that is intricately designed with plants interwoven in a pattern. It may also include topiary, or carefully maintained paths.

10

Rosemary Herbs
The stems of the rosemary plant.
Chn Ling do Chen Liang Dao/Getty Images
Rosmarinus officinalis is another classic topiary herb. It grows in zones 8 to 10. It belongs to the Lamiaceae, which makes it a close relative of plants like Lamium maculatum. In warm climates like the Mediterranean, this species can grow up to 6 feet high and 4 feet wide. This culinary favorite can be grown in full sun, or indoors if you live in the North.

11

The Topiary Concept with a Twist
Hedera Helix “Glacier” (variegated Ivy) with a background of cotoneaster berries.
Hedera Helix ‘Glacier is a variegated Ivy. Mark Winwood/Getty Images
Another type of “topiary”, which is a different kind of creation, uses a vine plant that grows quickly such as English Ivy (Hedera Helix) with a metal frame shaped in the form of what you want it to look like. Attach the vine to the metal frame, and then let it grow until the desired shape is achieved.

English ivy can grow vines up to 50 feet in length (zones 4-9, partial to complete shade). You can grow English ivy as a houseplant in North America where it is an invasive plant. Give it plenty of indirect light and keep the temperature at around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

How to Make a Love Ball
Kissing balls are another horticultural form. In this case you do not use living plants to create your art, but rather the branches of living plants. Kissing balls can be made at any time of year. They are popular around Christmas.


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