How to Sculpt a Tree or Shrub

Written by alexis lawrence
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How to Sculpt a Tree or Shrub
Sculpting a tree or shrub into a shape is known as "topiary." (Jupiterimages/ Images)

If you want to add an artistic element to the landscaping of your home, one way that you can do so is to sculpt your property's trees and shrubs. The art of sculpting a tree or shrub into a specific shape or design is known as topiary. While topiary can be a difficult art to master, many amateur sculptors can manage the more common shapes found in topiary, such as balls and cones.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

Things you need

  • Pruning shears
  • Topiary shears

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  1. 1

    Choose a shape based on the natural shape of the plant. A tree with one central branch and a vertical shape with a larger diameter at the bottom and narrower diameter at the top can more easily be sculpted into a cone. A shrub with an oval shape can be more easily sculpted into a ball.

  2. 2

    Sculpt the tree or shrub in the late spring when there is no risk of frost. If you cut topiary plants too early, the frost may damage any area of the tree that has open cuts. Choose a cloudy day or a shady area in which to sculpt the topiary. If you cut the tree in direct sunlight, you risk burns on the areas where the bark has been removed.

  3. 3

    Begin working from the top of the tree downward. Stand off to the side of whatever area of the tree that you are cutting to get a view of the tree or shrub from the top to the bottom.

  4. 4

    Start the shape of the tree or shrub by cutting the top of the plant into its shape first. With a cone-shaped topiary, trim the stems back to create a rounded triangle shape. For a ball shape, cut back the limbs to so that they immediately begin sloping evenly downward from the top centre of the plant.

  5. 5

    Continue down the plant. With a cone shape, cut at an even angle from the bottom of the rounded triangle you created all the way around the tree to try to get the tree into a Christmas tree shape. For a ball shape, slope your cuts downward and outward to the centre of the shrub and then start inward again once you reach the halfway point.

  6. 6

    Take a step back from the tree or shrub every few inches of cutting to see how the shape is coming out. One of the most difficult aspects of topiary is that it is mostly done by sight.

Tips and warnings

  • If you don't believe you can sculpt a tree or shrub into a shape by sight, you can always use a topiary form. A topiary form goes over the top of a tree or shrub and you trim the plant down to meet the form.

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