Using shears to trim a Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense) topiary spiral

How to trim topiary

Take a look at our step-by-step advice on how to keep your topiary looking prim and pristine.

Do it:

Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep

Takes just:

45 minutes

Topiary is the term used to describe the pruning of plants to create bold shapes that have been popular since Roman times.

These can be simple balls, cubes or pyramids, or complex ‘lollipops’, even chickens. Smaller topiary looks great in containers or borders, where clipped evergreens make a sharp contrast to colourful informal planting, in pairs to flank paths or gates, and as focal points.

Box and yew are classic topiary plants: small-leaved, they respond well to shaping and are neither too fast- nor too slow-growing. Box blight and box tree caterpillar is increasingly prevalent: avoid to some extent by not crowding or overfeeding plants. Ilex crenata makes a good alternative if either is rife near you. Privet is tough and easy to grow, but common privet needs frequent clipping to keep in shape. Keep topiary plants looking good with a spring mulch and feed in moderation – too much means lots more growth to trim.

Discover how to trim topiary, here a topiary spiral, below. 

You will need

  • Hand shears
  • Secateurs


Sharpen your shears and make a thorough assessment before you start cutting anything. This year’s growth that will need trimming is thin and wispy – but on close inspection, the thicker basic structure of the plant will be more visible.
Start trimming longer shoots, keeping the blades of the shears parallel with the mature growth of the plant to ensure an even finish.
Brush away the prunings as you go and continue working round the plant. If in doubt, trim lightly until the basic form is clearly visible.
Keep topiary plants looking good with a spring mulch and feed in moderation.
Thicker stems or any parts of the plant that need careful shaping, such as the top of this spiral, should be cut with sharp secateurs. Use a high-quality, sharp pair that will cut cleanly, rather than crush, the stems.

Run your hand over the plant so that any tucked-away shoots spring out – rather like a hairdresser’s comb – then give a final, overall trim to get the neatest possible finish.



Use sharp tools

Choose the right tools: hand shears suit small plants and powered trimmers are best for big ones. Secateurs are best for plants such as holly, so that you don't slice into individual leaves. Keep blades very sharp to avoid bruising the cut stems, which would turn brown.

Other plants to clip

Discover more ideas and inspiration

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Alternatives to box

How to trim holly topiary

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