Why Not To Use Pruned Topiaries on Your Front Porch


& How To Do It If You Insist

-Match type of plant with light available

-Turn pot during the growing season

-Super sharp pruning tools

-Allow new growth to harden off prior to shape pruning

-Stop all pruning 2 months before first frosts

Topiaries are classics for beside the front door.  They provide height, structure, and definition to your entryway.  Topiaries are more formal than a planter of flowers at your entrance and make a statement.  Topiaries are easier than ever with the selection including faux plants, dried plants, crafts, frame moss or ivy and real living sculpted plant topiaries.

See below for more appropriate ivy covered or moss filled frames.

  • Types
  • Plants Used
  • Costs
  • Care
  • Tools
  • Pruning
  • Shapes

If you are a casual gardener, STOP trying to use a live, pruned topiary by your covered front porch door!  Yes, they look great (when you buy them). You will have to get a new one each year, and not any fault of the plant, the nursery who grew it, or the nursery who you bought it from.

Most covered front doors are simply not suited to topiary growth.  Topiaries thrive in full sun, ON ALL SIDES and deep roots to help recover from pruning to whatever shape you want.  

They also need to GROW every year.  Bigger, every year. Yes, they are pruned to maintain shape, let grow about an inch every year.  Just like the kids, bigger every year. The reason why the topiary plant needs to grow in all directions every year is that even evergreen plants drop their older leaves every year.  You may not notice it, because it is the inner leaves that are shaded by newer growth, but it happens to all plants every year. Depending on species, usually between 3-5 years old leaves are dropped.

Plants leaves are not designed to live for more than that, even if not shaded by new growth.  Just like the cells in your body are continually renewing, plants need renewing too, especially the hard-working, energy powerhouses of the leaves.  

If you have a topiary that is in great conditions otherwise, if you trim off all new growth every year, in the name of keeping the shape, in 3-5 years you will find your topiary looking poor and bald patches beginning.

This is due to the plants normal rejuvenation growth process that was subverted by too close pruning.  Let the plant put on about an inch a year, not just in height, but in width too.

Design wise, you want a certain height and width to look proportional to your door, entrance, house, etc.  That size cannot be maintained static with a live pruned topiary plant. Ivy trained on a frame, yes, moss in a form, yes.  Pruned plant topiary, no.

I love topiaries. They can be very flamboyant in shapes like elephants or cats, or geometric shapes like balls, spirals, and columns. They can be huge extraordinary sculptures or more simple but powerful accents. By your front door, stick to the smaller or simpler specimens.

There is no reason why you can not have an elephant by your front door.  But, stick with a smaller moss form elephant. Save the life-size for the 2nd mansion.  

There is nothing classier and more sophisticated than a restrained topiary by your entrance.  Classic shapes like these:

-Spiral

-Poodle

-Ball

-Cone

-Sphere

-Pyramid

-Hindu Pan

These are easy to start and maintain their shape.  This is a link to a good video to DIY your own topiary.


Types

Topiaries can be real pruned plants, real live vining plants growing on a form, real plants such as moss on a form, or artificial or faux plant topiaries. Plants Used For Pruned Topiaries:

Alberta Spruce

Cypress

Boxwood

Juniper

Eugenia

Holly

Laurel

Yew

Monk Pine, Podocarpus macrophyllus

Hibiscus

Bougainvillea

Lantana

Duranta

Hydrangea

Olive

Rosemary

Bay Laurel

Costs

Pruned topiaries cost more than plants of similar variety and age.  More labor costs are involved in producing them. The pruning which can only be done by hand, and done two (or more) times a year is a specialty skilled gardener, greatly adds to the costs of production.  

Click here to go to Topiary Plants, Trees and Animals.  They have beside the front door size from between $20- $175 for live topiaries.

Care

To care for a topiary after bringing it home, is the same as any plant grown in similar conditions.  

-Water thoroughly when needed.

-If next to your door and in a container, turn 45 degrees every week, so that a complete revolution is made each month.  This promotes even growth, and prevents bald spots on the side facing the house

Pruning to Keep Shape.

When to prune depends on what type of plant it is.   Prune most needled evergreens, like Dwarf Alberta Spruce, when dormant in late winter, and you can touch up in mid-summer 2 months before the first expected frost in your area.

Prune your boxwoods after new growth has hardened off and become leathery, so you don’t bruise the tender growth which will turn brown.  Boxwoods can also be trimmed mid-summer, again 2 months before the first frost is expected.

Sharp pruning tools encourage speedy healing from the pruning cuts, which reduces any browning from the trimming.

Plants are living, growing things, they will not look perfectly trimmed all the time!  A plant needs to grow if a plant is not growing it is dying. Expect and plan for growth, and to allow for it to grow larger every year.  I wince when I hear people talk about “keeping a plant down to size”. Plants do not grow to a certain size, and then stop and stay looking lovely there indefinitely.  Plants are not like decor or furniture in a room that you can decorate, step back and say “Yes, that’s it, it’s done.” A plant and a garden are always growing, changing and evolving.  Not static.

One easy way to accommodate this and use topiaries in containers by the front door is to plan on them growing there a year or two, then plant elsewhere in the garden and replace with fresh, younger plants to grow on until larger than you want for that space, and repeat.  Or treat like annuals and plan to get a new one every year.

The limiting factor for the topiaries by the front door is usually sun.  Specifically, not enough sun. Topiaries are better suited long term for situations where they get several hours minimum of direct, full-on sun.  

Topiaries are not meant to be easy.  That is why they are such classics and sought after in landscapes.  They are symbols of wealth and whimsy. Not easy.

Tools

For your classic smaller shapes that you find by a front door, hand-held pruning shears, freshly sharpened, is your best tool.  For smaller areas or tight spaces, a second pair of smaller floral shears is super handy.

Ivy Grown or Moss Filled Frames

This is a great way to bring that shape, elegance and look of topiaries that works great on a covered front porch.  Click here to go to a great video on refreshing these, usually once a year.

Related Questions:

What trees are used for topiary?

The most common trees used for topiaries are:

Boxwood

Eugenia

Juniper

Olive

Camillia

What plants make the best topiaries?

Plants that are evergreen, and tolerant of heavy pruning make the best choices for topiaries such as those listed above and:

  • Alberta Spruce
  • Cypress
  • Boxwood
  • Juniper
  • Eugenia
  • Holly
  • Laurel
  • Yew
  • Monk Pine, Podocarpus macrophyllus
  • Hibiscus
  • Bougainvillea
  • Lantana
  • Duranta
  • Hydrangea
  • Olive
  • Rosemary
  • Bay Laurel

What is preserved boxwood topiary?

Preserved boxwood topiary is real boxwood that has been treated for long term use.  Some methods include dyes and glycerine to preserve the color and flex to the leaves.  It is for indoor use only because preserved plants should be stored between 60 degrees to 80 degrees F, and humidity lower than 70%.  Keep out of direct sunlight to prevent fading. You can expect them to look their best for 2-5 years. Dust with a hairdryer on cool.

Are topiary trees evergreen?

Most topiaries are created from evergreen trees because of the year-round draw of evergreens.  There is not any reason why you can not make a topiary from a deciduous plant, one that loses its leaves in the fall.  Topiary is simply a style of pruning, like espalier.

Recent Posts