How to Shape Evergreen Trees Into Spirals

Written by cat mccabe
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How to Shape Evergreen Trees Into Spirals
Topiary is limited only by your imagination. (Digital Vision/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

The art of topiary can be both elegant and fanciful. Like any type of sculpture, it's what you take away that creates the form and delights the eye. Pruning an evergreen into a spiral begins with careful consideration and study of the tree's shape -- before picking up the shears. Start with an evergreen no more than 4 feet tall and choose one with a straight stem and thick, healthy foliage for best results.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • Short-handled pruning shears

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  1. 1

    Stand back from the evergreen and mentally picture the spiral from the ground up. Picture that it begins 6 inches above the lowest foliage. Count how many circuits of the tree you want to make, according to how tight or loose you want the spiral. The looser the spiral, the fewer circuits and the less foliage you have to cut.

  2. 2

    Plant your feet on either side of the evergreen and lean over it to make the first cut. Starting 6 inches above the lowest foliage, cut entire branches at the trunk with small, sharp shears, leaving several inches of the trunk bare so that the empty space angles up at a curve.

  3. 3

    Stop and move up another 6 inches, repeating the curve of negative space by clipping branches in exactly the same proportions. Repeat Steps 2 and 3 until you reach the top of the tree.

  4. 4

    Stand back, and you'll see the spiral beginning to emerge. Step in again, and shear the remaining foliage to create a curved shape. The finished spiral will look a little bare for the first year, but gradually will fill in.

  5. 5

    Use the shears minimally as the evergreen grows into the spiral shape over the next few years. Pruning late in the season is best for the plant, with light pruning in midseason to control new growth.

Tips and warnings

  • Always wash pruning equipment after use and allow it to air dry thoroughly before storage. This will help prevent transfer of bacteria, fungus and insects into pruning wounds.
  • Stand back frequently from your work if you've never created topiary before. A good moment of study goes a long way toward keeping your evergreen healthy and increases your chances of getting the shape you want.

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