Cutting & Shaping Topiary

The tools you will need to create your plant sculptures are: a pair of secateurs, long handled sheers and topiary sheers (shown left).

To start cutting your topiary shape, first use the long handled sheers to create the initial ‘rough cut shape’, from your chosen plant. These sheers (shown right) have a crank, or angle to the blade, which enables you to cut in the correct direction using both sides of the blade, as well as, the entire length of the blade and handle.

If you find it difficult to cut the perfect circle, I recommend using a circle of galvanised wire (shown left) to use as a template. The template can be used if you want to cut several plants in a uniform size.

To prevent the spread of disease, use an anti-bacterial spray (as used in the kitchen) on the blades of your tools, in between cutting plants. It is important to remember to oil the pivot point of the sheers.

Step-by Step – Creating the topiary cone

One of the most popular shapes is the topiary cone, seen next to the topiary spiral below
You can see how you can progress form one shape to another.

  1. When choosing a plant to ‘topiarize’, select a plant that is already as near to the shape you plan to cut, i.e., in the example of a cone shape, you will require an upright growth.
  2. Locate the central growing point of the plant which will become the top of the cone. Work away, and down from this point.
  3. Standing to one side of the plant, look down the opposite face of the cone, this will enable you to cut an even shape.
  4. Stand back from the plant from time to time to ensure that the cone shape is evenly balanced and central. Do not worry if there are gaps or holes in your shape at this stage, the plant will fill in when cut in succeeding years.

Creating the spiral topiary with ball on top

The spiral topiary shape is a progression from the cone shape. Whilst this may look complicated in actual fact, it is very simple. There are several elements to this shape that can be used on an individual basis – the single stem could be devoid of foliage thereby creating a ball on stem, the spiral could be a shape on its own.

  1. Preferably select a plant with a straight single central stem. If the plant does not have enough foliage to create a spiral shape, initially cut it into a cone to enable the growth to thicken.
  2. Look at the way the plant is branched to determine the shape of the spiral. You may find it easier to initially sketch a line in the foliage with the sheers, or use a piece of string spiralled around the plant as a guide line. Starting from the base of the plant, with one hand, lift the foliage away to enable you to access the line to be cut (shown right).
  3. Working up the plant, starting at a shallow angle progressively getting steeper towards the top.
  4. If required, shape ball on top.

Creating the Topiary Peacock

This Topiary Arts Peacock has a lean to the right. To correct this, pull the head to the left and insert a cane vertically through the plant, into the ground behind the plant, thus straightening the head. The cane may need to stay in for several years.


Royal Horticultural Society – Easy Pruning – Dorling Kindersley (ISBN 978-1-4053-1685-9)