UNL Extension — helping you turn knowledge into "know how"
The Art of Topiary
by Don Janssen, UNL Extension Educator
Topiary, the art of creating fantastic shapes by clipping and trimming and directing the growth of woody plants outdoors, can become an indoor hobby as well. All you need are a few simple materials and a vining houseplant. The process is basically one of making and providing a wire form for the plant to grow on.
For stability, start with a heavy pot or maybe two pots -- a 6-inch clay pot and a decorative container to set it in. Use heavy coat hanger wire to make the frame for the plant to grow on.
Start with the base of the frame. Bend a 36-inch piece of wire into the shape of a small letter "e", beginning with the open part at the bottom and ending with the horizontal line that makes it an "e" rather than a "c". The circular part of the "e" should be almost as large as the bottom of the pot; the straight section should bend at a 90-degree angle to form the vertical upright of the form. If you need to extend the upright section, you can use wire twist ties or waterproof tape to attach more wire or a bamboo stake to it.
It's a good idea to keep the shape on which the plant will grow simple. A circle or other geometric shape, the outline of a fish or other creature, or a large spiral -- like a spring -- will work better than a more complex design that would be obscured by the growing vine.
Bend more wire into the desired shape and use light wire or tape to fasten it to the stem. Set the frame in the pot and consider the size relationship between the pot and the frame. The proportions should be pleasing. When plants cover the frame, it shouldn't be too small or overlarge -- two parts top to one part pot is about right.
Make adjustments to the frame as needed, making sure that all parts are fastened securely, then set the frame in the pot and fill the container with potting soil. Then plant a vining plant such as English ivy or creeping fig, rosemary, baby's tears or holly next to the stem. As the plant grows, use twist ties to attach it to the wire form.
If the form is heart-shaped, for instance, and you need two branches to cover it, you can plant two plants next to the stem and take one up one side and the other up the second side or you can plant one plant and let it grow until it reaches the point where you need two branches, then prune it to encourage it to branch.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office
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