How to Make a Succulent Topiary

One of the oldest forms of sculpture, topiary art, involves meticulous pruning and shaping of plants over the years to create three-dimensional masterpieces. Today, creating your own topiaries at home may be easier than you think.

Succulents are a great starter plant for a project like this. They are easy to propagate, need very little care, and most have compact growth habits that work well for keeping a tight form. DIY succulent topiary is easy to make by following these steps for preparation and planting.

1. Collecting Plants

Succulents are great plants for your first topiary creation. Try to collect or purchase plants that are compact in the form so that they maintain the desired shape of your object rather than growing tall and distorting the form. You can collect cuttings from a generous friend or purchase cuttings directly from a supplier. If you are purchasing potted plants, go ahead and clip off your stems for the topiary but keep the pots, most of these will regrow quickly to a full plant. As you prepare your cuttings, simply remove the lower leaves from approximately 1 inch (2.5 cm) of the stem. This will be the part that goes in the frame. It will help to collect the plants a few days before planting your topiary so that these new wounds can callous over.

2. Choosing a Frame

The key qualities desired for a frame are sturdiness and an ample amount of space to plant cuttings. If your topiary is going to stand on its own, it will need to have a heavy or wide base to support the weight of the plants and planting media. Shapes can range from a very formal sphere to a decorative type of wire chicken or a simple cone for a tree topiary. A visit to your local hobby store will give you a wide variety of ideas and possibilities.

3. Prepping Your Topiary Frame

Your supplies for this process are going to be very simple: long-fibered sphagnum moss or a mixture of the moss and potting soil, monofilament (fishing line), gloves, and perhaps a light floral wire. Sphagnum moss works very well for topiaries because it holds water well, is easy to compact, and at the same time will also expand to help hold cuttings and small plants in place until they root.

Soak the sphagnum moss in a bucket of water until it is fully saturated. Wear gloves when handling the sphagnum moss to fill your frame. If the spaces in your form are too wide to keep the moss in, simply use a light floral wire to create a netting that will help keep the moss in the firm. You will be packing the form very tight, and it will be helpful to have a strong form to push against. As you put in small amounts of sphagnum at a time, continue to push it in so that the form ends up being almost hard to the touch. If you can push your finger in and make an indent, then you definitely need to pack it tighter.

Do not worry about extra pieces of moss hanging out or an untidy look, as this next and final step of preparation will make it look like a store-bought topiary. You will use your fishing line to tightly wrap the frame over and over until all of the small pieces are pulled in. The fishing line will not show in the final product, so make sure to wrap the frame very liberally.

4. Planting

This is the rewarding part of the process. Planting your cuttings in the prepared frame is as simple as using a pen or pencil to make a hole in the sphagnum moss. The moss should be tough to poke the pen into, so move quickly to push your succulent stem into this opening after the pen is removed. The opening will stay visible for a few seconds before the moss starts to tighten back in around the stem and hold it in place.

Work with your largest cuttings first and then finish with the smaller ones. Using an assortment of different plants will add color and texture to your topiary, while a more formal look can be achieved by using a single variety for the entire frame. Your succulents should be rooted in two to three weeks. Keep the frame in a bright area and resist the temptation to water often. As the sphagnum moss starts to dry out, it will turn lighter in color to indicate that it is time to water the form.

5. Topiary Care

Your succulent topiary will grow, and spaces will fill in over the next couple of months. Most topiary forms with succulents will need to be watered once a week. For best results, shower your frame with water for several minutes until the moss is fully saturated. A light application of water-soluble fertilizer every other month will keep your plants healthy. If your topiary starts to look a little "unruly" as plants begin to grow, simply take a pair of pruners and cut back any long plants. These will soon regrow, and the pieces that you cut off can fill in gaps or be the start of your next project.



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There are essentially two kinds of topiaries: vine topiaries, where vines are encouraged to grow over topiary forms, and shrub topiaries, where a shrub is cut into a form.

Make your own topiary with vines

  1. Choose topiary forms – whether you are making a topiary tree or something more elaborate, if you decide to use vining plants to make a topiary, you will need to choose a topiary form. This will allow the vine to crawl up the form and cover the shape.
  2. Choose a vining plant – English ivy is a common choice for a vining plant topiary, though any plant that vines can be used, such as periwinkle or Boston ivy. English ivy is generally chosen due to the fact that it grows quickly, is tolerant of many conditions, and looks lovely.
  3. Fill the form with sphagnum moss – While filling the topiary forms with sphagnum moss is not essential, it will help your topiary take on a fuller look much faster.
  4. Plant the vine around the form – Whether a potted topiary or an outdoor topiary in the ground, plant the vine around the form so that it can grow up the form. If you are using a large form or if you simply want to cover the form faster, you can use several plants around the form.
  5. Train and prune appropriately – As the plants grow, train them to the form by helping them wrap around the form. Also, prune or pinch back any shoots that cannot be easily trained to the topiary forms.

The time it will take to have a fully covered topiary varies depending on how many plants you use and the size of the topiary, but we can guarantee that when it is all filled in, you will be thrilled with the results.

Make your own topiary with shrubs

Making a topiary with a shrub is more difficult but still very fun.

  1. Choose the plant – It’s easiest to start a shrub topiary with a small juvenile shrub that can be molded as it grows, but you can accomplish an outdoor topiary effect with mature plants as well.
  2. Frame or no frame – If you are new to topiary, you’ll want to put topiary forms over the shrubs you choose to sculpt. As the plant grows, the frame will help guide you on your pruning decisions. If you are an experienced topiary artist, you can attempt to create topiary without topiary forms. Be aware that even experienced topiary artists will use frames to make things easier. If you have a larger shrub, you may need to build the frame around the topiary.
  3. Training and pruning – When creating a shrub outdoor topiary, you have to take things slowly. Envision how you want your final topiary to look and trim off no more than 3 inches (7.5 cm.) in working towards that shape. If you are working on growing a small shrub, prune 1 inch (2.5 cm.) off in areas where you need to fill in. Pruning will encourage additional, bushier growth. If you’re working on shaping a large shrub, take no more than 3 inches (7.5 cm.) off in areas where you wish to cut back. Any more than this will only kill off parts of the shrub and will ruin the process. Remember, when creating a shrub topiary, you are creating a sculpture in slow motion.
  4. Training and pruning again – We repeated this step because you will need to repeat this step — a lot. Train and prune the shrub a little more about every three months during active growth.

Take your time when you make your own topiary and take it slow. Your patience will be rewarded with a fabulous outdoor topiary.

How to Make a Succulent Topiary

This container garden with a twist bursts with colorful succulents. Not only is this topiary eye-catching, but it's easy to care for.

This colorful succulent topiary sits pretty in any garden setting. Prep succulents a day before you start this project—the succulent cuttings will need to develop scabs where the stem is cut. To prepare, simply remove succulent plants from their pots and wipe away any excess dirt. Clip succulents, leaving a stem to insert into the topiary. The day of, prepare your moss by dampening. Soak your sphagnum moss in a bucket and squeeze out any excess water.

Place floral foam block in center of pot. Insert dowel into block (making sure that it's straight) and secure with hot glue. Fill pot with rocks to secure dowel's position.

To make your own moss ball: Make this a day before you start your topiary project. Soak sphagnum moss and squeeze excess water out. Apply sphagnum moss evenly to the outside of floral foam ball. Cover that layer with sheet moss and secure with floral wire.

Use screwdriver or awl to poke a hole into the ball and use wooden dowel to deepen hole. Remove and fill hole with hot glue. Insert dowel and let dry.

Watch the video: Easy Topiary Garden Ideas

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