Garden Variety: Grow your own topiary

Looking for a fun indoor gardening project or a creative handmade gift? Try making your own miniature topiary by growing ivy, herbs or other plants over a simple frame.

Start by deciding on the look you wish to achieve and considering your creativity and experience levels. Two-dimensional topiaries are created by growing a plant over a flat frame, while three-dimensional topiaries are created by using a broader frame or by starting with a larger, fuller plant.

A two-dimensional topiary might be as simple as a small-leaved ivy growing over a wire shaped into a circle or star. A three-dimensional topiary could also use ivy to grow over a wire frame shaped into a ball, or it could use a shrub-like boxwood to create plants shaped into animals or with pompoms on stems.

If topiary is a new hobby or is meant for a gift, two-dimensional is probably the way to go.

For two-dimensional topiary, purchase a flat frame at a garden center or craft store or use pliers and wire cutters to shape a frame using light-gauge wire or an old wire clothes hanger. Shape the wire into a circle, heart, star or other design. Leave a straight piece on the bottom to stick into the soil for anchoring the frame into the pot. Make it sturdy as the plant will add weight to the frame.

Small-leaved ivy, philodendron, pothos, baby’s tears, creeping fig, rosemary and lavender are a few examples of suitable topiary plants. Use one plant in the center of a sturdy pot, or plant 2-3 plants around the base of the frame to fill in more quickly. Set the frame as close as possible to the plant(s) and train stems up and around the frame. Use florists’ tape (available at many garden centers) or twist ties to secure the plant(s) if necessary.

Care for two-dimensional topiaries is similar to any plant. Provide water, light, and fertilizer as needed for the species. Continue training stems around the frame as the plant grows. Once the plant fills in, trim stems with florist scissors or plant shears. The plants will take a bit of maintenance to keep their shape, but the chore is part of the fun of growing topiary.

For three-dimensional topiary, purchase a dimensional frame, build one if you are especially crafty, or choose a plant that has enough support of its own to be shaped without a frame. This is where topiary really gets fun with animal shapes, pompom shrubs, and living wreaths. The plants listed for two-dimensional topiary work for three-dimensional frames as well. Try stuffing the frame with sphagnum moss and transplanting plants into it instead of growing them in soil in a pot below the frame. You may need to create pockets of potting soil in the moss to keep plants from drying out too quickly.

For a shaped plant, try sweet bay. If the topiary will be kept outside, boxwood, yew, and other shrubs are good options. Once the plant is large enough, start pruning it into shape. Use plant shears or bypass pruners to make cuts. Start with a ball or other simple shape and work your way up to butterflies and elephants.

Living wreaths are topiary if planted with a vining plant that is pruned to maintain shape as described above. They can also be planted with sedums or other small plants that will simply fill in to create a beautiful display and another fun project.

— Jennifer Smith is a former horticulture extension agent for K-State Research and Extension and horticulturist for Lawrence Parks and Recreation. She is the host of “The Garden Show” and has been a gardener since childhood. Send your gardening questions and feedback to