How to Trim Hedges to Look Like Animals

Written by tracy morris
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How to Trim Hedges to Look Like Animals
Topiary refers to shrubs trimmed into fanciful shapes. (front lawn image by Tracy Horning from

Topiary is the art of sculpting plants into artificial shapes. These shapes may be geometric, or whimsical. Some topiary hedges are even trimmed to look like animals. Although professional topiary artists can train and maintain shrubs that look like animals without guidance, amateur gardeners may wish to use a topiary frame. A topiary frame is a three-dimensional wire sculpture that can be placed around a shrub. By trimming a shrub down to the frame guide, you train the topiary into that particular shape.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Long-handled hedge trimmers
  • Hand-pruning shears
  • Bleach
  • Water
  • Spray bottle
  • Topiary frame

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  1. 1

    Select a topiary frame in the shape of the animal that you wish your shrub to resemble. You can purchase topiary wire frames from garden centres and garden ornament supply stores, as well as from artists who build and sell topiary frames commercially.

  2. 2

    Mix a solution of 1 part bleach and 9 parts water. Place this solution into a spray bottle and spray the blades of your pruning shears. Spray the blades of the shears in between each hedge that you trim, to help kill and prevent the spread of disease.

  3. 3

    Open a wire topiary frame along its hinges. Wire topiary frames are typically hinged into two parts so that they may be easily placed around a shrub.

  4. 4

    Place each half of the topiary frame around the hedge. Close the hinges and latch them to lock the two halves of the frame around the shrub. Insert the stakes at the bottom of the topiary frame into the ground.

  5. 5

    Pull all of the shrub's branches out of the frame and fluff them to hide the frame's presence inside the shrub.

  6. 6

    Shorten the shrub's longest branches to a point just inches away from the topiary frame, using the hedge trimmers.

  7. 7

    Trim the shrub's branches up to the surface of the wire frame.

  8. 8

    Pinch the ends of each branch out to soften the texture of the shrub and remove any half-cut leaves. For shrubs such as boxwood, this will cause the branches to become fuller.

  9. 9

    Plan to trim your shrub every three months to maintain the shape.

Tips and warnings

  • Never remove more than 1/3 of the shrub's total size in a single trimming session. Removing more than 1/3 of a shrub's mass will weaken the shrub and may contribute to its decline and eventual death. If you must remove more than 1/3 of the shrub's size, plan to do so over a series of three-month sessions.

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