Simple rounded topiary in a garden.

How to Trim a Simple Topiary

Topiary lends structure and formality to any planting design and makes a useful focal point, whether grown in a container or planted directly into the border. All you need to bring an overgrown specimen back into shape, or to make a cone from scratch, are some basic tools, patience, and a good eye.

When to plant: Early summer.

At their best: All year round.

Time to complete: 1 hour.

You will need: One boxwood plant – Buxus sempervirens, household disinfectant, sharp long-handled shears.

Select a healthy plant

When choosing a specimen to clip into topiary, look for one with dense, healthy growth, unblemished foliage, and a strong leading stem in the center.

Start to trim by eye

Looking down on the plant, locate the central stem, which will form the top of the cone. With shears, trim around the stem to create the outline.

Keep moving around the plant

Don’t trim the topiary in “sides”— you risk overclipping one area. Continually move around the plant, regularly taking a step back to look at the overall shape.

Assess shape from top

When you have nearly finished, look down at the central stem to check that the outline of the cone is straight and even. Assess the shape all the way around, and trim accordingly.

Routine care

Established topiary should be pruned once or twice a year in midsummer and early autumn. Never clip on hot, sunny days to prevent the newly exposed foliage from being scorched.

Tool choices

Creating topiary shapes is much easier if you have the right tools and always keep the blades sharp and clean. Although you can use garden shears to trim cones and simple shapes, long-handled shears (far left) are a better choice because they offer greater control.

Tips: Clean cuts

Boxwood blight is a major disease of boxwood (Buxus sempervirens), commonly used for topiary. Protect your specimens by cleaning your pruning shears between plants with a spray of household disinfectant.