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How to Create and Maintain the Trim of a Perfect Spiral Topiary Tree


How to trim a perfect spiral topiary (with tape)

Have you ever tried to trim a spiral topiary?  If you are following existing lines, it usually isn’t too tricky but if you are aiming to turn a cone into a spiral, it can quickly go off the rails. Topiary trimming is complex and an over zealous Edward Scissorhands inspired gardener can easily trim too much – causing a plant to take years to recover. But I have a spiral topiary tree trimming hack for you. The ‘tape trick’ will help you get a perfect spiral every time.

The Spiral topiary tree trimming tape hack

Here is how it’s done:

STEP 1 – Pick the right shrub or tree to sculpt

Select a shrub or plant that is tall and full and has a long straight central stem. Evergreens such as boxwood or privet work well as do various junipers, yew, hollies and arborvitea. Trim the shrub to make a clean and neat cone.

STEP 2 – Make a simple Tape Spiral on your tree

Once you have a cone, start at the base and wrap masking tape around the plant all the way up to the tip to create a spiral that you are happy with. Don’t do too many twists. If you are trimming a set of plants, use the tape to help you match the spirals before you cut.

STEP 3 – Cut the shape, following the tape lines

Following the line of the tape, trim back the foliage a few inches above and a few inches below the line. Taper the trim so that the longest branches remain under the tape.

STEP 4 – Keep your perspective

As you prune, step back frequently to take a look at your progress and make adjustments.

STEP 5 – Patience, Grasshopper

Be patient—this will take time. When you are done, the plant will need to recover. More trimmings and giving the plant time to grow into the gaps will eventually give you a perfect twist.

What types of trees can you prune into a Spiral Topiary?

With patience, most any shrub can be pruned into amazing shapes (think of bonsai) but certain trees and bushes are easier to prune into the sprial shape.

Evergreens – If you want your swirl trees to be a year round feature in your garden (they can look great with a winter frost of dusting of snow) – choose a plant that is evergreen where you live. Boxwood, juniper, cypress, yew, arborvitae, spruce, holly and even some evergreen shrubs like lavender and rosemary are all good candidates for twist trees.

Choose a shrub that has a strong central stem – this will help to ensure that you have a good upright shape to your final tree. I’ve a had great success with creating elegant spiral juniper topiary with blue point juniper. Juniper plants are relatively inexpensive (compared to other evergreens like boxwood), they grow fast and their natural cone shape and central stem is easy to work with.

If you are wanting to create your spiral for a container planting you will want to consider dwarf shrub varieties.

An alternative to using Trees and Shrubs for Topiary

If you are feeling limited in your choices for shrubs and trees, remember you can also get the same (or similar) look by growing a vine up a spiral topiary form. This is a great option for a container planted spiral topiary since many forms are designed to fit within a planter and can be too small of scale for an in ground planted area.

By using a vine, you can choose options with flowers and different leaf textures. This will however require you to pay more attention as the plant grows. You will need to regularly tie in the new growth to train the vine to the twist shape.

Using Swirl bushes and spiral topiary trees in your Garden

A spiral cut tree or shrub is going to give your garden’s design style a sense of formality. In a design that is looser and more naturalistic, this can be an interesting contrast to softer and more wild plants. Topiary tree spirals are typically used in pairs or multiples. Not that you can’t use just one, but their formality seems to ask for a pair. With a pair you can flank a door, a gate, or an entry into another area. Also with a pair you can use them to frame something (a fountain, an artistic focal point, a distant view).

Image: homestudio / 123RF Stock Photo and by Juan Rojas on Unsplash

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