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How To Start A Boxwood Standard Topiary

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If you are anything like me, you love topiary. It’s an intertwining of man and nature and an attempt of one taming the other. Although topiary has been traced back as far as the time of the Romans, this skillful art saw a rebirth in 15th Century Europe and has made it’s permanent mark in many of the most beautiful and significant formal gardens on the planet.

Far from being formal or significant, but nonetheless beautiful, my garden has a need for structure and topiary is a great way to provide just that. There are many traditional plants utilized for topiary such as boxwood, yew, arborvitae, privet, myrtle, laurel, and even herbs such as rosemary.

Most cultivar of boxwood tend to be slow growers, so it will take some time for your topiary to fill in. If you want to start a topiary that will fill in much faster, you will want to start with a much faster growing plant such as rosemary.

Start with a healthy plant with a strong center stem.

How To Begin Your Topiary

  1. I don’t usually start a boxwood topiary off by cutting, simply because rooting takes a little longer than I like with this species. Instead, I start off by selecting a small boxwood plant with a strong central stem that can form your trunk. If the plant you are looking at automatically forks off at the soil, it’s not going to be ideal for this type of topiary. You also want to inspect it to be sure it is healthy and doesn’t have any patching or yellowing , which can be an indicator of disease.
  2. Once you are ready to pot up your topiary plant, be sure you have a pot big enough for the roots to grow. Also, I prefer to use terracotta, because it is ideal for healthy planting. Moisture can evaporate evenly and rapidly, which cuts down on issues like root rot and fungal disease. Carefully pot up the young plants and be sure to completely cover the root system. Pack the soil firmly and water to eliminate any air pockets and set the soil.
  3. I like to let my future topiary sit in their new pots for a day or so before any pruning, but that is entirely preference.
  4. Once you are ready to begin to shape your boxwood, locate the center stem and trim all branches up to the top 1/3. Using the ratio of 2/3 trunk and 1/3 leaf ball lends itself to an aesthetically pleasing topiary. You may not have much in the way of branches left when you are done. It will fill in given enough time. Also, pinching off the terminal buds, or tips of the existing branches from the top 1/3 of the plant will signal for it to stop growing upward and force it to branch our more, thus helping it fill in.
  5. I like to stake my topiaries to provide them more stability as they mature and fill in. Carefully stake close to the central stem of the potted boxwood. Keep in mind, you don’t want to damage the roots of your newly potted plant. I tie the plant loosely to the stake with some garden twist ties in several places for added support.
  6. Now that the boxwood has been potted and staked, you can place the topiary in a filtered sunny location to acclimate. You can slowly move it to a more sunny area, as more sun will help with growth. Just be sure it isn’t in direct sun for more than 4-6 hours a day, as you don’t want to burn your topiary while you are attempting to train it.
  7. If your boxwood begins to grow any branches below the top 1/3 you will want to remove them as soon as possible.
  8. Once you have significant growth at the top of your boxwood, you can more closely trim it into the lollipop shape that is so highly coveted.
  9. Be sure to water your topiary regularly when the soil is dry to touch.
After the initial pruning, your topiary will need some time fill in.

Now you are well on your way to starting your very own boxwood standard topiary from scratch. Please let me know if you have any questions, or want more details about any particular step of the process. Good Luck!


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