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Topiary Guide

Martha Stewart Living Television

Cultivating beautiful topiaries is not out of reach for the average home gardener, as long as you are committed and patient. One of the most popular ways of creating a topiary is the frameless method, in which the plant stands on its own. A stake is required for support, especially when training begins or when the plant is young, but no other prop is needed. The foliage outline created is strictly a result of the gardener's artistry in trimming the branches back.

Frameless Topiary How-To
1. To start a round, ball-shaped topiary, pot a woody plant in a sterile potting medium that's 70 percent peat and 30 percent perlite. Place a stake in the pot, and tie the main stem to the stake with soft green stretch tape.

2. As the plant grows upward, tape the stem every two inches. To encourage full, bushy growth, pinch back the lateral growth on the main stem right away. Keep the lateral stems pinched back to three nodes. With every cutting, the lateral growth will grow back with more fullness.

3. When the terminal shoot at the top of the cutting has grown to the desired height, cut it off with a razor to discourage further upward growth.

Topiaries cannot survive repeated frosts, so move your topiary indoors when cool weather sets in.

Topiary History
Some of the earliest topiaries date back to ancient Rome, when gardeners trained plants to grow into decorative forms by directed, intensive pruning. Roman gardens were the showcases for these topiaries, but when Rome fell in the fifth century A.D., the art of topiary was neglected until the twelfth or thirteenth century. By the Italian Renaissance, yew trees were being shaped into topiaries resembling oversized animals. Cones, globes, and other geometric shapes soon became popular, and topiary eventually became integral to French and English gardens. The art of the topiary was later brought to the New World by European settlers.