Gardens and Outdoors Plants

The 10 Best Topiary Plants

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Turning plants into interesting shapes and forms can only be done by choosing topiaries. These are plants that allow you to shape them into simple or complicated objects or animals. A topiary plant will usually need to have small and dense foliage. This allows the gardener to express his creativity through careful pruning and shaping. Whether it’s a shrub, dwarf tree, or herb, many plants can be used for this purpose. It’s safe to say that evergreens make the best topiary plants in most cases.

There are various qualities to look for in a plant to be considered a reliable topiary. Besides creating the eye-catching shape from the plant alone, some gardening artists can also try using a frame to train the plant to reach a more desirable shape. Small and dense leaves are essential for a topiary plant but it’s also important to check the branching pattern and growth rate. Other topiary plants can come with some bonus features such as being scented or simple to grow.

1. Boxwood

This is an excellent shrub for crafting elegant landscape designs. Boxwoods are broadleaf evergreens that can be successfully used as topiary plants. They’ve been often incorporated in gardens where the focus is on creating an upscale vibe. Topiary enthusiasts will appreciate boxwood’s flexible foliage that can be styled in straight lines and patterns. This shrub is an old-time favorite to craft a refined look using the plant’s natural features. The only problem is the relatively high maintenance requirements when you’re attempting a complex design.

It’s not really necessary to strive for very formal-looking landscapes when trying to use boxwoods as topiary plants. They can be shaped however you like as the shrub provides a dense style with insignificant flowers. You can use boxwood topiaries for balancing an entryway or other simple applications like creating a basic hedge. Growing this shrub optimally will usually require consistent moisture and proper mulching. It’s also essential to provide it with well-drained soil. Choose dwarf varieties if you want a small topiary.

2. Yew Bush

Yew bushes are conifers that require minimal effort to care for. They’re fitting choices for topiaries as the foliage can be neatly adapted to suit your garden style. This plant is considered an evergreen shrub that doesn’t grow very fast. There are multiple varieties of yew bushes available. Some of them can be used as foundation plants while others can cover other landscaping needs. For example, certain types of yew shrubs can serve as a privacy hedge or for covering various ornamental purposes.

The yew bush doesn’t produce flowers but this needle-bearing evergreen bears red berries named ‘arils’. If you like the attractive look and topiary potential of this shrub, it’s important to be aware of some drawbacks. Yew bushes are toxic to animals and humans so they shouldn’t be grown in gardens where dogs roam or children play. There are two main types of yew bushes to consider – Japanese and English yews. These are the most popular but you can also find various hybrids that show off more distinctive qualities.

3. Japanese Holly Shrub

Although it resembles a boxwood, the Japanese holly shrub is a different plant with some distinctive features. The rounded form makes the shrub ideal for topiary projects that involve animal or geometrical shapes. The Japanese holly is an evergreen with broad leaves instead of needles. It shows off a dense, bushy appearance with many glossy leaves. The plant grows upright at a moderate rate. Occasional pruning is necessary to prevent the shrub from growing too large.

Small flowers emerge in late spring but the Japanese holly shrub is known for the remarkable qualities of the blossoms. This plant is more appreciated by landscape designers. It’s not just the dense style of the leaves. There are other characteristics to keep in mind if you’re looking for a topiary plant. The branches of the shrub are neatly packed together while the small leaves have a distinctively fine texture. Grow the Japanese holly in hardiness zones 5 to 8. You can count the shrub to tolerate shade to some extent and can thrive in different types of soils. For optimal flourishing, it’s recommended to opt for full sun exposure and well-drained acidic soil.

4. Privet Shrub

Many hedge plants can double as great choices for topiaries. A solid example is the privet shrub. You can immediately recognize the timeless aesthetic of this plant when used as a hedge for privacy. Even the name of the shrub implies the ability to create a private setting. There are a few advantages to privet shrubs compared to others when it’s used as a topiary plant. They grow quite fast and don’t take as much effort to shape. You will also appreciate the superior tolerance to salt and urban pollution.

In terms of growing conditions, it’s good to know that privet shrubs are quite versatile. They’re hardy enough to withstand colder temperatures. Most varieties can thrive in either full sun or part shade. Extra watering could be required for hot climate areas because privet hedges aren’t particularly resistant to high heat. Privet shrubs are great topiary plants due to their ability to tolerate a lot of pruning. You can easily start shaping them and encourage the development of a bushier appearance.

5. Arborvitae Shrub

There are lots of arborvitae shrubs that you can use as reliable topiary plants. One of the most popular species is the Thuja occidentalis evergreen. There are different cultivars of this arborvitae shrub to choose from, depending on the desired topiary shape. ‘Emerald Green’ is one recommended variety that can be pruned to create spiral topiaries. This is thanks to the shrub’s narrow pyramid shape. Coupled with the glossy foliage and semi-dwarf form, the arborvitae ‘Emerald Green’ is worth a shot.

Another solid arborvitae shrub to consider is the ‘North Pole’ cultivar that seems to come at a very fitting height and overall shape for topiary enthusiasts. This coniferous needled evergreen is a shrub but can reach heights of almost 15 feet so it appears more similar to a tree. When planted in masses, the ‘North Pole’ cultivar can work nicely for the creation of privacy fences. Its dense foliage and slim profile can allow you to unleash your topiary creativity.

6. Rosemary Herb

If you’re searching for a unique topiary plant, rosemary could be an unexpectedly great choice. Aside from its culinary appeal, the herb can be grown for some interesting landscaping applications. Although we’re used to small twigs of rosemary grown in containers for cooking, this herb can actually grow quite tall and wide. It can reach a maximum height of around 6 feet with a smaller spread. Keep in mind that’s usually only possible in optimal growing conditions close to rosemary’s natural Mediterranean environment.

This herb can work surprisingly well for ornamental purposes. It’s recommended to find a sunny spot in your garden if you plan on growing rosemary as a topiary plant. The plant may not be a suitable choice for many climates as it’s adapted for hardiness zones 8 to 10. Considering the native range where rosemary grows, it’s important to keep in mind some particular requirements in terms of soil need. The herb is accustomed to rocky hillsides so sandy, well-draining soil is pretty much essential for it to thrive.

7. Cherry Laurel Shrub

While it looks a bit similar to mountain laurel, cherry laurel is actually an unrelated shrub. This type of cherry can be sometimes used as a topiary plant. The secret is to choose the right cultivar as not all cherry laurels are suitable for this kind of landscaping application. A recommended option is the ‘Otto Luyken’ cultivar that can make a good dwarf topiary. It’s not a very flexible plant as you can only grow it in hardiness zones 6 to 8. You can keep it in a neat shape with the help of regular pruning.

8. Dwarf Alberta Spruce Tree

This diminutive evergreen is an ideal solution for anyone who needs a topiary with a pyramidal shape. The dwarf Alberta spruce tree is an evergreen that’s related to normal trees that can grow very tall. The reduced height of around 10-12 feet makes the tree more convenient for using it as a topiary plant. The slow rate of growth could be considered a disadvantage but there are other qualities that can make the spruce tree worth planting. It shows off fragrant green needles while the dwarf Alberta tree is also known for its densely-packed growth habit.

9. Lavender

The classic lavender plant can be used as a topiary if you prefer working with a smaller plant. It’s all about growing it specifically for this purpose. You need to live in USDA zones 5 through 8 to allow your lavender plants to reach their full growth potential. They can reach maximum heights of 3 feet and are also appreciated for their distinctive aroma. Lavender plants can work nicely when massed. Other benefits include the ability to draw butterflies and repel deer. If you live in a warmer climate, you might be able to take advantage of evergreen leaves.

10. Germander

Advanced gardeners who want a versatile topiary plant should check out the selection offered by germander plants. Many popular species such as wall germander can be used for various landscaping applications. When it comes to topiaries, an excellent choice is represented by tree germander. This native of Mediterranean regions has glossy aromatic leaves that can be easily shaped into fun shapes. It’s an evergreen shrub that can reach around 5 feet tall and wide. Dedicated gardeners can put in some extra effort to create knot gardens with the help of tree germanders.

By Stefan Bucur

Stefan is the founder and owner of Rhythm of the Home. He has 6 years of experience in home improvement, interior design, cleaning and organizing.

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