How to prune topiary

By Martyn Cox

Topiary can add shape and structure to your garden, even during the winter months. Keep it in good shape with a trim in June
TopiaryTopiary is a good way of adding distinctive shapes to your garden

Whether they are grown in a pair of sleek galvanised steel containers outside your front door or planted among perennials in a border, box topiary shapes are among the most useful plants in the garden, providing structure, texture and all year round colour.

Although box balls, cones, cubes, pyramids, domes, spirals and a menagerie of animal shapes are among the trendiest things you can grow, they quickly lose their appeal when a crisp outline is lost beneath a shaggy coat of new growth. The answer: give plants a trim in June.

When to prune

Box will burst into life in March and lots of lime-coloured shoots will soon conceal the dark green shape beneath. Although you'll be itching to prune shoots back as soon as possible, don't.

Trimming young, sappy growth in the spring is likely to bruise the foliage, leaving you with a topiary shape that is unsightly. It is best to prune in mid-June, when the leaves are hard and leathery, and again in late summer if necessary. Don't worry if you did prune in the spring, the bruising will be eventually hidden by the subsequent flush of growth.

How to prune

It's possible to trim simple shapes - such as cones and balls - by eye, but for greater accuracy use a garden cane as a cutting guide for straight edges or make a template.   

To prune balls, take a length of garden wire and twist it into a circular shape that can be held and moved over the plant as you prune. To ensure you are left with a perfect sphere, make the frame smaller than the mass of foliage.

Restore a cone shape by standing above the plant and pruning in an outward direction from the centre, working around the plant.  Alternatively, rest three canes on the sides of the cone and push into the ground. Secure the canes at the top to make a wigwam and bind the sides together with garden wire. Use your shears to prune to this framework.

Topiary spirals may look complicated, but it is easy to re-establish an overgrown specimen.  Working from top to bottom, prune the upper surface of the spiral making sure you remove the foliage as far back as the main stem. Next, trim the upper and then the lower turn of the spiral to create its curved edges.

With practice, pruning topiary is a doddle. For the greatest success use a pair of hand held trimmers - these look a bit like sheep shears - to leave a lovely clean finish, and regularly step back to double check your progress - unfortunately, if you make a mistake there's no turning back.

Further information

Burgon & Ball sell an extensive range of topiary shears

To buy topiary shapes, try The Romantic Garden Nursery


  • Pruning

    Healthier plants at a snip

    If the thought of pruning shrubs fills you with dread? Take heart, you are not alone, writes Martyn Cox

    Read on

  • Clemantis

    Pruning clematis

    Clematis are sometimes described as the 'queen of climbers' for their stately show of flowers, but without some care a regal display can soon turn into a right royal disaster.

    Read on

  • Wisteria

    Pruning wisteria

    Precise pruning will bring forth a more spectacular display of flowers.

    Read on

  • A well-maintained garden can add value to your property

    Kerb appeal

    Property experts estimate that an attractive garden can add thousands to the selling price, so find out how to to maximise the value of your garden

    Read on

  • Home thumbnail

    Home insurance

    Cover of up to £75,000 for contents and up to £1,000,000 for buildings.


  • Personal accident thumbnail

    Personal Accident insurance

    A choice of two levels of cover from just £6.50 a month.


  • Motor thumbnail

    Car insurance

    Superb cover and excellent customer service, that's why over one million drivers insure with us.


  • Siobhan

    Posted: Sunday 27 July 2014

    My reasons: I am a devoted gardener who has downsized from massive to tiny town garden. I have exhausted all development possibilities and space for planting in soil. I need a project to keep me going - but also to add another 'type' of garden object to my place. I favour Box Ball topiary as I find the animals a bit twee. I am not controlling (I love wildflower gardening) or bored it is just a practical next step in a town garden. Good luck with your project!

  • Liz

    Posted: Friday 21 June 2013

    Ashley, i am purchasing a smaller topiary "kit" as a gift for the guy who has everything and has been impossible to buy for. His wife is on holiday for several weeks and i thought it would give him something to do while she is gone. No idea if this will be a success. I would say he is a guy who likes his garden, has had some success with bonsai so i know he is patient and also likes to try doing new and quirky things. Hope this helps

  • ashley

    Posted: Monday 22 April 2013

    what type of person goes into topiary? a creative one? a controlling one? someone who is just bored? i am doing a college project on a topiary and your help would be greatly appreciated. i would love to hear what type of person you are


Type your comment here

 characters remaining.

More gardening articles

Browse our extensive archive for more gardening news and tips from our gardening experts.

How to prune topiary

Topiary can add shape and structure to your garden, even during the winter months. Keep it in good shape with a trim in June

Saga Magazine

For more fascinating stories and insightful articles, why not try Saga Magazine for just £1 for 3 issues.

More gardening articles

Browse our extensive archive for more gardening news and advice from our gardening experts.

Warner Leisure Hotels

Exclusive free night offers for Saga customers

Book a seven-night break and get two nights free, or book a five-night break and get one night free.