How to trim topiary

How to trim topiary

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

A table displaying which months are best to sow, plant and harvest.
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
To do
To do

Do not To do in January

Do not To do in February

Do not To do in March

Do To do in April

Do To do in May

Do To do in June

Do To do in July

Do To do in August

Do To do in September

Do not To do in October

Do not To do in November

Do not To do in December

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 lollipop trees, even shaped like 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.

Keep topiary plants looking good with a spring mulch and feed in moderation.

You Will Need

  • Hand shears
  • Secateurs

Step 1

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.

Assessing what to trim
Assessing what to trim

Step 2

Start trimming longer shoots, keeping the blades of the shears parallel with the mature growth of the plant to ensure an even finish.

Trimming the topiary spiral
Trimming the topiary spiral

Step 3

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.

Trimming lightly around the topiary spiral
Trimming lightly around the topiary spiral

Step 4

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.

Using secateurs for careful shaping
Using secateurs for careful shaping

Step 5

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.

Giving a final trim
Giving a final trim

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.


Chinese privet (Ligustrum lucidum) lollipop standard

Other plants to clip