Container Topiary




About: Army Vet. I love learning & being creative.

Topiary involves pruning & training plants, trees and shrubs to create a type of living sculpture. I love art and this summer I became interested in topiary. Although it can take years for some shrubs to take on the full shape you're aiming for, there are ways to make quicker topiary creations.

In this Instructable, I will cover the basics of how to make a "lollipop" topiary - one which has a longer stem and a beautiful puff-ball of growth at the top.

Step 1: Materials Needed for Starting a Topiary

To start out with making a quick little topiary, you will need some type of small tree or flowering plant with dense foliage. I found a great deal at my local Shopko Garden area where I bought 4 Dwarf Alberta Spruce trees for $16. I also used another small bushy flowering plant, a boxwood plant I already had in my yard, and another evergreen tree I found in my yard (not sure the exact type) for one of the topiary creations. You will also need some pruning sheers, clippers and/or scissors. Lastly, you may also need a stake (or sturdy stick to use as a stake) and something to tie around it to attach it to your tree, shrub or plant.

Planter containers are needed if you want a container topiary vs. planting it in the ground. I put my topiary plants in planters as I've had problems with people letting their dogs on my property and kill off my favorite plants. If planting in a container, you should use a mix of peet moss and soil in the planter, topped with mulch.

When selecting a tree or plant, try to choose one with a good sturdy upright stem. You can also use flowering plants to create a beautiful lollipop topiary.

Ideal Topiary Shrubs/Trees:

  • Boxwood - popular classic evergreen topiary
  • Berberis Thunbergh - dense shrubs with colorful leaves of purple and pink
  • Cypress - dense foliage with good upright growth
  • Dward Alberta Spruce - dense foliage

Flowering Plant Topiary Options:

  • Angel's Tumpets (Brugmansia) - quick growing with large blooms & very fragrant
  • California Lilac (Ceanothus) - hardy evergreen with fluffy flowers
  • Azaleas (Deciduous Rhododendron Cultivars) - hardy shrubs with large bell-shaped flowers in various shades
  • Marguerite Daisy (Argyranthemum) - bushy plants with flowers in white, pink or yellow

Step 2: Pruning the Plant

In this step I will show in detailed photos how I took my first flowering bushy plant and pruned it. I took these photos on separate occasions. I've made notes on the photos so you can see before pruning, after new growth and then more pruning. I'm sorry I don't know the name of the type of plant!

So, I started out with my flowering plant and I first tried to locate a central stem. This plant in particular didn't have a strong central stem - so I decided to leave a few strong stems in the beginning. This can be pruned down more in the future. If you don't mind having several stems, you can also carefully bend them around (in a braid-like fashion) to create a beautiful braided stem. This isn't ideal for topiary - as it would be best to have one strong central stem.

Start by clipping off the other stems and offshoots, starting at the base of the stem. Clip off the little side-shoots as well. Then, go to the top of the plant and cut the tip off the central stem(s). Prune the sides of the plant as well to clean it up. If you've cut off the main stem at the top, and other growth at the top, this will cause the plant to begin to grow outward and become bushier. So, if you wanted the plant to get a lot taller, then it is wise to let it grow taller before you snip off the main stem at the top.

In my photos you can see how I pruned the plant and then kept several stems, wrapped them around and tied them together. In the next step you can see how I created the "lollipop" topiary with plants having only a strong central stem. A couple weeks after the initial pruning, this plant experienced a ton of new growth. I then decided to go back in and cut off some other stems, only leaving three or four. I don't want to over-prune it all at once, which is why I've been working on it every couple of weeks. So, if you see the final image you will notice the plant is so small and scrawny again. This was as a result of cutting off excess stems and leaving it with only three. I also pruned off any excess small growing offshoots to encourage outward growth again - and transplanted it into a large planter. I will update with more photos in a couple of weeks.

Step 3: Topiary of the Dwarf Alberta Spruce

In this step I am sharing with you the process in which I created a quick "lollipop" topiary from the Dwarf Alberta Spruce tree. You can see in the photos the pruning process and cutting away of the offshoots. Then, I prepared a planter by putting large stones in the bottom (to help with drainage). Then, I added a mixture of peet moss and soil. I also used a stick as a stake to help hold up one of the trees as it continues to grow. The good thing about these trees are that they have very strong central stems. The only downside is that they take a while to grow.

If you take a look at the pictures you can also see in a couple of the photos where I cut off the top of the main growth stem - to help it grow outward and become bushier.

Step 4: More Photos of Topiary Trees and Bushes

I almost forgot to share some photos of the most common topiary - the boxwood. The first three photos in this step show my boxwood topiary (in progress). It is doing surprisingly well because I took one large, hardy boxwood plant and managed to separate it into about four smaller plants. I thought for sure they might struggle as I had to cut through some major root systems - but they are doing very well. I have three planted in the ground and this one in the container with a stake. It may take months - or until next summer, but it will start getting denser growth and it will be beautiful. I may cut off more stems, but I wanted to wait until I knew it was strong as I didn't know if it would survive all the pruning and being transplanted.

If you need more information about creating a topiary, I recommend getting some books from the library. Here is a useful online resource: which might provide you with some more tips.

There are lots of methods to creating these living sculptures - hopefully this inspired you to give it a try!



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    7 Discussions


    2 years ago

    I'm Thinking of adding some topiary when I'm done with my outdoor kitchen and was wondering how these turned out after these years. Can you post an update on them Hollly if you still have them. =)

    2 replies

    Reply 1 year ago

    Hey Pitstop, sorry for my lack of reply 2 full years ago. It's been so long. I feel bad for these plants because I have yet to fully plant them in the ground. I am about to move to my 'forever home' hopefully soon and will then finally plant them. But, I have them in much much larger containers and they've grown beautifully, very strong - with very little maintenance needed. There's one in the images that I braided and it's fully fused and looks incredible and strong as well. I will post pictures after I move.


    Reply 1 year ago

    Hey Holly, wow how time flies, that will so be cool I'm really looking foward to seeing how they have grown. It's funny because not too long ago I saw some topiary at Lowes and was tempted to buy them because they were so pretty and I was thinking of putting them in some large pots I have in front of my house that needs something new but they're not cheap so I was holding off so I can make my own someday. Can't wait to see them and happy for you that you're getting you're new forever home... I'm guessing now you will really get busy soon with many new home projects... :) Glad to hear from you Holly!


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Beautiful plants Holly!! Love your topiary.. The owl pot looks cool also... =) Will love to see how they turn out when they grow more.